How Do You Make Decisions?

09 Oct

Concerned about your job? Need to improve your relationships? Worried about your health? Confused about which candidate is the best? Afraid of being ripped off when you purchase goods or services? Fearful about the safety of your retirement investments?

Your ability to deal positively and effectively with such issues depends on whether you are an emotional reactor, or a rational thinker.

From all appearances, rational thinking is in short supply these days. Our culture seems intent on placing the emotional caboose in front of the logical engine. We feel that something must be so, because, well, that’s how we feel! Sometimes our feelings are based on assumptions that have been pounded into us since childhood. At other times these feelings are based on the latest snippets of pseudo-news fed to us by the cackling heads in the media. So we just grab the dogma that suits our style, pull it around us like a comfortable old shawl, and rock away our concerns.

And why not? To actually justify a feel-good conclusion would require careful research, skeptical review of the data, and the application of logic. After all that effort, we may not even arrive at a solid conclusion, only a probable one. Therefore, why bother? Why not just skip to the emotionally satisfying and crowd-pleasing conclusion, and dispense with all that intermediate hard work?

The problem with a feel-good approach to life’s issues is that it creates hidden hazards, serious hazards that can threaten your pocketbook, your freedom, and even your life. If you fail to invest in the modest work required for rational thinking, then you are like a sailboat without anchor or rudder, dependent on nature’s whims and unlikely to reach safe harbor, particularly when the seas are boiling.

To many of your fellow citizens, particularly those less desirable types who make a living off of manipulation, or those who are intent on selling you the latest inferior service or doodad, if you are an emotional reactor then you are also a sucker, a pawn, a patsy.

The antidote is Engineering Thinking (see the Why Read This Blog? page).

A point that should be emphasized is that engineers are not necessarily better or smarter than anyone else. For example, engineers blabbing about politics or sports over a beer can be just as emotionally and irrationally exuberant as those without a science background.

The difference is the context in which engineers do their serious thinking. When constrained by the discipline of peer review, Engineering Thinking provides engineers with a tool that, on average and over time, yields better answers. The proof is in front of us. As mentioned in the Introduction to this blog, “Engineering thinking is a proven method for achieving success. Just take a look around you and count the number of gadgets and gizmos that make your world comfortable, productive, and fun.”

In brief, Engineering Thinking teaches us how to minimize our emotions and to maximize our logic. This does not guarantee perfect results, but it greatly improves the odds of making wise decisions. If you want to improve your chances for success in any aspect of life — tuning up a relationship, advancing your career, investing wisely, avoiding scams — you can use Engineering Thinking to your advantage too.

-Ed Walker



3 responses to “How Do You Make Decisions?

  1. Barbara LoFrisco

    October 10, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    So, are you saying feelings aren’t important? That people should just ignore their feeling, even if it’s a “gut” feeling? What do you see as the role of feelings in all of this?

    • engineeringthinking

      October 10, 2010 at 3:55 pm

      In a nutshell, Engineering Thinking says that feelings (in general) should be a reward for coming to a well-thought-out decision, not a reason for making a decision.

      Gut feelings (“intuition”) can be valuable and important, but they can also be completely wrong. Please see “Why Not Go With The Gut?

  2. Kiran Garimella

    January 5, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    Gut feelings are subconscious syntheses of perceptions, observations, learnings, and conscious thinking.

    That we all have gut feelings is indisputable. We have no choice about whether to have them or not. However, we do have a choice about how to influence their formation.

    Most people form gut feelings through unquestioned social osmosis (for example, the gut feeling that an atheist is immoral – almost by definition – is the result of an unquestioned belief that morality is derived solely from God).

    The alternative is to examine our core beliefs using reason as our guide. Over time, such discipline changes our gut feelings. The person whose feelings, ‘gut’ or otherwise, are in accordance with reason, is fully integrated as a rational being. Such a person, contrary to popular belief (another gut feeling fostered by irrational religious thinking) that a rational person is unemotional and devoid of joy, is one of the most joyful and confident of people.

    Successful traders, for example, work very hard at examining their failed trades, learning lessons, incorporating learnings into their trading system, and using discipline. Over time, they can look at a trading situation and have their ‘gut’ tell them whether the trade is workable or not. A successful traders’ mind would be radiantly confident and happy even when the trading is not going well.

    A novice trader, looking at that same situation, also has a gut feeling, but it is most likely to lead to disaster. A novice trader’s mind, in general, would be a confused and dark emotional roller coster, unable to relax into a happy and confident state even when the trading is going well.


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