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Decision-Making under Stress: Sleep on It!

3/16/2013 12:46:10 PM

It used to be that when I was upset, I either made a rash decision or said something I would later regret. I don’t know about you, but that never worked for me!
 
I may have learned it the hard way (a few times over), but I did learn. The fact is, we don’t think as clearly when we’re in a highly emotional state. There’s too much distraction and we don’t think objectively. 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 my thinking is clearer and more objective the next day.
 
Why do we tend to make poor choices when we’re under stress? It’s because of our physiology—that’s right, it’s how we’re wired. But we can learn to compensate.
 
Being in a stressful situation messes with your brain—and can impair your decision-making capabilities. Why? 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, don’t you?)
 
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. Learn to recognize and release your stress. You’ll be glad you did!
 
Have you noticed 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.
 
 




Tagged as: decision making, productivity, stress, decisions, life wisdom

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