Making the Best Decision in the Heat of the Moment

Can you remember a time that you were scared, sad, angry, or hurt and made a rash decision based on emotion or said something you later regretted? We’ve all done it. And most likely, these situations never worked out very well.

As we grow older and wiser, we eventually learn that it’s never smart to make important decisions abruptly or in a highly emotional state. Simply put, there’s too much distraction and it’s nearly impossible to think objectively or clearly. Today, if I’m upset and need to make a decision, I make a tentative one, but wait until the following morning to confirm it. Generally, it proves to be a better decision because I’ve had more to consider the pros and cons and potential consequences by then. It’s amazing how often I change my mind!

Why do we tend to make poor choices when we’re under stress or filled with emotion? It’s because of our physiology—that’s right, it’s how we’re wired. But we can learn to compensate.

Stress messes with your brain—and can impair our decision-making capabilities. A new study shows that in a crisis (or even what feels like a crisis), the brain tends to focus on reward, and ignore the possible negative consequences of a decision. That’s why “feel good” decisions like eating what we shouldn’t, blowing off steam by losing our temper, giving in to peer pressure, or making a rash purchase we can’t afford are more likely to happen when we are stressed out.

Even worse, not only does stress make us focus on the ‘feel good” aspect of a risky decision or behavior, it impairs our ability to think about the negative consequences. (Frankly, I’d say that’s a pretty good recipe for potential stupidity and regret, don’t you?) As I consider my own decisions (and those of our elected officials!), I would argue that failure to consider adverse, unintended consequences, is one of our biggest mistakes. It’s all too common, especially with relationships.

When you’re in this situation, hold off until the following morning if you can. Think about the things that make for good decisions and force yourself to follow them. If you don’t have the time to physically go to sleep and make your decision the next day, here are some tips to help you clear your mind and avoid making a rash decision based on emotion:

  • Learn to recognize and release your stress
  • Consult with a trusted friend and ask for honest advice
  • Science proves that exercise actually can calm our nerves.
  • If you are religious, seek spiritual counsel
  • Go to a place you consider beautiful (a park, a beach, a walking trail) and spend some enjoying nature and breathing in the fresh air. It will be good for your body and soul, and will most likely calm you down.
  • Develop a pro/con list to ensure you’re looking at all sides of a decision
  • Be sure to consider your conscience and intuition. I’ve learned to never disregard my gut feeling about something. Pay attention to yours, too.

As we enter our teen and young adult years, our decisions often have life-altering consequences. So, it pays to evaluate each one as comprehensively and objectively as possible while we’re calm and our thinking is clear. Not only will these tips help you make better ones (especially under stress), but they’ll also help limit your life regrets. That’s huge.

Have you noticed that your decision-making improves when you’re not in an emotional state? How can this lesson be good for young people who may find themselves in stressful situations—do you see how they can be influenced to make potentially life-altering decisions when they’re in the wrong frame of mind? Share your thoughts by commenting below; we’d love to hear your perspective and experiences.

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