Choice, Risk and Fear: Thinking from the head not the gut

Fear is a part of choosing, but it’s getting in the way of making the right choice.

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Our lives at work and at home are made of choices, and often those are tough choices. That "toughness" comes from risk, and at the primal core of risk is fear. To make the best choice, we need a way to get around the fear.

Making a choice means selecting one option and rejecting all others. As such, we expose ourselves to the possibility that we have missed a "better" option (eg, safer, more profitable, less time consuming, etc). It’s that risk that produces our fear response.

In our normal, day-to-day lives (we’re not on the Serengeti dodging lions anymore), fear is not a good place from which to launch into decision making. It floods the cognitive mind with emotions, drowning out what should be a rational choice.

So, next time you find your emotions overwhelming your decision making, here’s some tips to get you thinking from the head, not your gut.

Step One: Breathe. Taking long, slow breaths is a way to take control of your sympathetic nervous system.

  • That’s the part of you that sends your body "fight or flight" signals: tensing muscles and quick, shallow breathing

Step Two: Imagine the worst thing that could happen if you make this choice.

  • Go ahead, give into your feelings and imagine the worst case scenario

Step Three: Categorize your worst-case scenario by predicting and specifying the severity and then the likelihood. By consciously challenging the emotional information flooding your mind, you are shifting to cognitive thinking.

  • Challenge that worst case scenario: how bad is it "really" going to be; "realistically", how likely is it to happen?
  • Drill down into the specifics of your conclusions
  • Compare those conclusions to your original, emotional, response

These steps are you taking control of yourself and your choice making. You are moving from the emotional to the cognitive and you are "choosing to make better choices".

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