The Power (and the Blind Spot) of Emotions
As a proud Duke alum, I actually look forward to getting the quarterly alumni magazine. Yes, I was featured there once before (many moons ago), but I find it far more stimulating to read about other Duke grads who are changing our world for the better.
Here’s an except from a recent issue, which describes how we can use our rational brain when it comes to dating and relationships.
Scott Huettel writes, “For many decisions, trying to reason through to an optimal outcome is actually counterproductive; that is, people make worse decisions when reasoning about costs and benefits than when using simple rules, or what researchers call “heuristics. Four decades of research by psychologists and behavioral economists on heuristics has produced evidence supporting this claim. Heuristics are, in lay terms, shortcuts used in decision-making; phrases such as “choose what’s most familiar” or “stop searching when you find something good enough.” They use very limited information, tend to be very simple and fast, and often work better than complex reasoning.
Knowing when to use a heuristic and when to use reasoning isn’t always obvious. The most general rule–itself a heuristic!–is that reasoning works best for decisions that involve abstract, impersonal, and one-time choices, like retirement planning. Heuristics tend to work best for decisions that involve tangible personal outcomes with which you have considerable experience.”
You may not always know that a guy is RIGHT for you, but you can trust your gut (heuristics!) to know if he’s WRONG for you.
This is why I say that you should use your rational AND emotional brain in decision making. And why it’s more important to trust how it feels than how it looks to others or whether it matches up with your checklist. It also explains why “Believe the Negatives/Ignore the Positives” and “good relationships don’t make you anxious” are valuable concepts. You may not always know that a guy is RIGHT for you, but you can trust your gut (heuristics!) to know if he’s WRONG for you.
Mark Leary writes, “Emotions are, at heart, functional (and we could not survive if we lost our capacity to experience them). But two features of emotions can be maladaptive. Emotions can override rational considerations of how we should respond and lead us to behave in ways that work against our best interests. Angry outbursts, fearful inhibitions, jealous rages, or desperate actions seem at times impossible to control, as if we have been possessed by a powerful demon we are powerless to oppose.
In addition, emotions sometimes arise from our own thoughts even when nothing is objectively wrong at the moment. How many of us have tied ourselves into knots of anxiety while lying safe-and-sound in our beds, worrying about things that might never come to pass? When we work ourselves into strong emotional states through self-thought, we suffer unnecessarily at our own hands.
It’s not that emotions are bad; it’s that it can be detrimental to be blindly guided by emotion and to assume that because you feel something that it’s either “right” or “real”. Often, it’s neither.
DO YOU WANT TO FIX YOUR BROKEN MAN-PICKER?
Although few of us are masters of all of our emotions, some people manage their emotional life more successfully than others. Recognizing that emotions must sometimes be ignored and must often be controlled is the first step. Not all emotional reactions are rational or in one’s best interests, so intelligent living requires us to manage our emotions.”
So if I ever sound too “rational” or like I’m playing devil’s advocate on behalf of men, this is why. Emotions cloud our judgment and are more subjective than objective. When you assume the worst in men and dating, it’s coming from an emotional place and you end up with these type of cognitive distortions. It’s not that emotions are bad; it’s that it can be detrimental to be blindly guided by emotion and to assume that because you feel something that it’s either “right” or “real”.
Often, it’s neither.
Your thoughts, below, are appreciated.