Monday, January 11, 2010

Choices - Part Deux

Let's not forget that the little emotions are the great captains of our lives and we obey them without realizing it. --Vincent Van Gogh 

As good news is not only what we need more of these days but also desired reading.  I'm sitting here eating a hot biscuits [I made them this morning] with organic apricot fruit spread oosing off the top I came across another story I hope will bring a little joy to you today.  It was written by Dan Ariely a columnist for the Harvard Business Review.  It explores how the lingering effects of emotional states influence our decisions.

First about 15 years ago my NYC pastor A.R. Bernard once said that it's important to begin and end on a positive.  I always remembered that and decided to apply it to areas of my life. Sometimes I must purpose to speak positively at all times because my tendency is to go to a negative darker place.  Especially when someone irritates me.  The thing is if you have a pulse, someone will be irritating to you.  It's your choice how you're going to handle that person.  Either 1)tear them a new one, 2)ignore them, or 3)teach them a lesson in the moment.  I usually select #2 or #3 depending on who that person is being at the time and more importantly who I am choosing to be.  Those past experiences have brought tears, anger, rage and joy for me and the other person.  All memories aren't pleasant but now it's history and it is what it is.  Every moment of every day I chose who I am being.  I am who I am but within 'me being me' there are choices.  I own that.  If enough of us get into the habit of that practice then the moment by moment choices will not be so conscious.  Before long we will just be WHO WE ARE.  The results of how others treat us will be the confirmation of who we ARE.  Not who we believe ourselves to be.

My litmus test [as silly as it sounds] is watching how infants and animals respond to certain people.  If babies always cry when you're around and dogs won't even approach you or some other person. I'd beware. Try it some time, don't just write it off as a moody child or unsocial pet.  Innocence detects.  Darkness cannot exist where light is present.  However light can penetrate the dark.  Boy did I digress that time.  Without further ado the article:

Column: The Long-Term Effects of Short-Term Emotions

The heat of the moment is a powerful, dangerous thing. We all know this. If we’re happy, we may be overly generous. Maybe we leave a big tip, or buy a boat. If we’re irritated, we may snap. Maybe we rifle off that nasty e-mail to the boss, or punch someone. And for that fleeting second, we feel great. But the regret—and the consequences of that decision—may last years, a whole career, or even a lifetime.
At least the regret will serve us well, right? Lesson learned—maybe.
Maybe not. My friend Eduardo Andrade and I wondered if emotions could influence how people make decisions even after the heat or anxiety or exhilaration wears off. We suspected they could. As research going back to Festinger’s cognitive dissonance theory suggests, the problem with emotional decisions is that our actions loom larger than the conditions under which the decisions were made. When we confront a situation, our mind looks for a precedent among past actions without regard to whether a decision was made in emotional or unemotional circumstances. Which means we end up repeating our mistakes, even after we’ve cooled off.
I said that Eduardo and I wondered if past emotions influence future actions, but, really, we worried about it. If we were right, and recklessly poor emotional decisions guide later “rational” moments, well, then, we’re not terribly sophisticated decision makers, are we?
To test the idea, we needed to observe some emotional decisions. So we annoyed some people, by showing them a five-minute clip from the movie Life as a House, in which an arrogant boss fires an architect who proceeds to smash the firm’s models. We made other subjects happy, by showing them—what else?—a clip from the TV show Friends. (Eduardo’s previous research had established the emotional effects of these clips).
Right after that, we had them play a classic economics game known as the ultimatum game, in which a “sender” (in this case, Eduardo and I) has $20 and offers a “receiver” (the movie watcher) a portion of the money. Some offers are fair (an even split) and some are unfair (you get $5, we get $15). The receiver can either accept or reject the offer. If he rejects it, both sides get nothing.
Traditional economics predicts that people—as rational beings—will accept any offer of money rather than reject an offer and get zero. But behavioral economics shows that people often prefer to lose money in order to punish a person making an unfair offer.
Our findings (published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes) followed suit, and, interestingly, the effect was amplified among our irritated subjects. Life as a House watchers rejected far more offers than Friends watchers, even though the content of the movie had nothing to do with the offer. Just as a fight at home may sour your mood, increasing the chances that you’ll send a snippy e-mail, being subjected to an annoying movie leads people to reject unfair offers more frequently even though the offer wasn’t the cause of their mood.
Next came the important part. We waited. And when the emotions evoked by the movie were no longer a factor, we had the participants play the game again. Our fears were confirmed. Those who had been annoyed the first time they played the game rejected far more offers this time as well. They were tapping the memory of the decisions they had made earlier, when they were responding under the influence of feeling annoyed. In other words, the tendency to reject offers remained heightened among ourLife as a House group—compared with control groups—even when they were no longer irritated.
So now I’m thinking of the manager whose personal portfolio loses 10% of its value in a week (entirely plausible these days). He’s frustrated, angry, nervous—and all the while, he’s making decisions about the day-to-day operations of his group. If he’s forced to attend to those issues right after he looks at his portfolio, he’s liable to make poor decisions, colored by his inner turmoil. Worse, though, those poor decisions become part of the blueprint for his future decisions—part of what his brain considers “the way to act.”
That makes those strategies for making decisions in the heat of the moment even more important: Take a deep breath. Count backward from 10 (or 10,000). Wait until you’ve cooled off. Sleep on it.
If you don’t, you may regret it. Many times over.

What choices are you going to make today?  Who are you being?


  1. excellent advice. Sometimes we all tend to dramatize things and by the next morning, it doesn't look quite as insurmountable a problem. I have been told (by my family) since I was as child that I am too sensitive and tend to overreact. The irony here is that is probably a part of my genetic nature. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Not that any of this has to do with the topic at hand :D

  2. Boy did I need to read this! It's just so difficult to get a grip, calm down, breathe and count! But anything worth doing is always difficult isn't it?



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