When my sister, Lisa, purchased her first house, she did so many things right. She locked in on a reasonable mortgage. She narrowed her search. She didn’t panic. She didn’t rush. Eventually, she purchased a small house that sat atop a small hill near a city park on the south side of town.
After she moved in, Lisa was quick to renovate. Out went the worn carpet as the wooden floors were redone. The bubbled texture that drooped from the ceiling was cleaved. A new roof went on the garage. The basement foundation was shored up. Finally, the walls on the main floor were scraped and sanded.
Then the interlude…
I’m not sure how long it took Lisa to pick the colors. I do remember attending parties and seeing different paint samples attached to the unfinished walls. Did seasons go by? Did the samples change with the falling leaves and drifting snow? Was her decision compounded by the fact that she had four separate rooms to paint, and although they did not need to share the same color, would they need the same hue? I did not know. What I saw was someone who had worked hard and gathered momentum coming to a screeching halt. My God, which color yellow would best fit the kitchen: Icy Lemonade? Pineapple Colada? Glad Yellow? Friendly Mellow?
It doesn’t help that picking a color is a primal, like setting a mood and nobody wants to be just blue. We want something a little more. But how do you come to a decision when the landscape keeps shifting? For a time you were comfortable with Jamaican Bay, but recently you’ve been feeling a little more Capri or something like Capri…
We like to think we are rational beings but the truth is we are not. The main reason is due to our brain. The rational part of our brain can only process seven bits of information at a time. (I personally max out at 3.5.) So what happens when you have to decide on a new campaign slogan, how much to invest in Tucson, do you still want Wes on your team, and how should you respond to Debra’s group email?
To avoid drowning from the onslaught of stimuli most information is kicked to the subconscious or the emotional part of the brain, which is good. “Our emotional brain is actually much better at taking in lots of information,” says science writer, Jonah Leher. “Summarizing lots of data very efficiently, and saying, ‘Here’s a feeling. Don’t worry about the details.’” (Spencer, 2010)
President George W. Bush was famous for saying he was “The Decider” and that most of his decisions came from the gut. President Obama took a different approach and relied more on the rational part of his 7-bit brain. He relied on it so much people started comparing him to Mr. Spock from the TV show Star Trek, which is a bit ironic considering he didn’t campaign like an emotionless Vulcan and he doesn’t believe he is the stereotype. Or as he confided to Michael Lewis of Vanity Fair: “Naturally, I’m just a kid from Hawaii. But at some point in my life I overcompensated.” (Lewis, 2012)
If anything President Obama was fully aware of his circumstance of having a white American mother and a black African father and if he really wanted to inhabit the most powerful office in the world, the last thing coming from his mouth would be: “Hang loose, Brah. I’m the Decider in Chief.”
We are emotional beings who are prone to making emotional decisions and we need to realize how it affects us in unusual ways. For example, studies have shown that a sunny day will be reflected in the stock market. Conversely, a country’s stock market will decline if its soccer team is eliminated from the World Cup Soccer Tournament. It’s also important to realize our current emotional state can color a final decision. Studies have shown those in a sad or depressive states tend to reduce selling prices. (Lerner, 2015) Surprisingly, those in an angry or happy state tended to exhibit the same behaviors when making a decision, being both parties:
- Tended to share a positive attitude towards their position.
- Were prone to stereotype on preconceived judgments.
- Made riskier decisions.
So to break it down in a literary tradition:
Depressive/Sad People: Wafflers who muddle. Hamlet, Luke Skywalker and Eyore.
Happy/Angry People: Non-thinkers who make rash calls. Macbeth, Han Solo and Tigger.
From the above list who are the better deciders? You tell me. As social psychologist, Roy F. Baumeister believes: “The best decision makers are the ones who know not to trust themselves.” (Tierney, 2011)