Dan and I have had lots of conversations about communication and decision-making recently.
We’re at a stage in our relationship where we’re past the initial “oh my god you’re amazing” phase, but not quite at the “you’re my life partner” phase, and this journey traversing our current in-between state (if you will) involves lots of learning, communication, and decision-making.
And as we all know, any kind of long term close interpersonal interaction (not just between romantic partners but also close friends, family, etc.) brings with it a host of relational quandries throughout its development and progression.
There are many academic fields devoted to decoding our decision-making. The behavioral economists, marketers, psychologists, etc., have all contributed to the body of knowledge on how exactly we humans make choices and thereby execute behaviors.
But when you’re faced with a (seemingly, because sometimes perspective or hindsight will demonstrate otherwise) life-changing decision, it’s unlikely that you call up your local economist at a nearby University and ask him/her what you should do.
You could: seek research, history books, experts, academic studies, or other points of factual insight to try and gain an idea of what to do, or you could talk at length with friends, family, or colleagues, think about your past behavior or the behavior of others you know who have faced a similar situation, you could flip a coin, make a list of pros and cons, and the techniques go on…
The interesting thing though, is that if you were to ask folks how they often make the major decisions in their life (i.e., what profession to pursue, whether to marry someone, whether to have children, whether to opt for a major surgery, etc.), they will frequently tell you they just “went with their gut” or they “just knew.”
For those out there who don’t believe in intuition or the like, I’m not necessarily talking about some sort of prophecy or spiritual connectedness to the future, although those things could certainly influence one’s gut in some cases. What I’m really referring to is how when you’re faced with a decision, and for reasons you can’t quite explain, making one choice compared to another choice, just feels right.
Dan offered this academic article on the topic (PDF file): The Emotional Oracle Effect
And here is an article from the Financial Times published in 2010: Calculators Away
The Emotional Oracle paper provides evidence suggesting that individuals with higher trust in their feelings, tend to make better predictions about future outcomes. What I found especially interesting about this study is that it offers the idea that one’s gut essentially conducts a “meta summary” of all of the inputs one has (conscious, subconscious, emotional, factual, etc.) and thereby includes factors that may influence the ability to make a predictive decision that we may not be able to put a finger on in our conscious state.
The Financial Times (FT) article discusses how happiness can often be found in the situations we choose for ourselves (i.e., if my choice was to become an environmental lawyer vs. a corporate lawyer, I will in some sense, find sources of happiness in being an environmental lawyer and conclude that my choice was a “good” one), and how economic theory doesn’t always factor in the emotional components of a decision, merely the direct behaviors to lead one to a particular outcome. And how most people will resort to their “gut” at the end of the day.
I brought in these outside sources because so often I have been hesitant to fully trust my inner-most feelings when making major decisions. The decisions just seem too huge, and the results of a “bad” choice too costly, to completely rely on my gut. So I consult with all of those in my inner-circle, I deliberate for days/weeks/months (depending on how much time I have), I read articles, search the Web, consult with any needed experts/specialists, ask mentors and colleagues what they suggest, etc.
And (as the FT article suggests), at the end of the day, all that information gathering usually ends up reinforcing the initial gut feeling I started out with all along. Sometimes the data might have attenuated it or offered variations within the same theme, but generally speaking, I tend to end up with the same internal feeling.
So does this then mean that going forward I will make all my major decisions by simply listening to my gut first and dispensing with all the careful consideration, conversation and fact-finding? Not exactly. But I do think that over time, there’s the possibility that after having made decisions with my gut’s initial reaction as the benchmark, that I may become more confident in listening to my inner self sans as much external input.
After all, the sources, the research, and the people I consult are all useful, but at the end of the day, my life is my own.
Sometimes Nike’s slogan rings true: just do it.