From People Skills to Strategy: How Do We Make Decisions?

How Do We Make Decisions?

Considering we make a seemingly infinite amount of decisions on a daily basis, it's not surprising that there are multiple factors that contribute towards the choices we make. No single decision is simply a whim where the answer is plucked out of thin air. Every choice we make is based upon a number of factors from the innate behavior we've developed over the years to the emotions we feel in the split second where a decision needs to be made. In fact, according to scientists, our emotional state is a critical element of decision making.

With so many options and alternatives to choose from, how do we make decisions?

Making decisions is a part of life, but when our bad decisions begin to outweigh our good decisions, it's time to take a closer look at ourselves. Here, we'll be exploring how we make decisions, why bad decisions occur and how we can all start to make better decisions moving forward.

Neuroscientist and USC professor Dr. Antonio Damasio even went as far as to develop a somatic marker hypothesis that helps describe how our most basic emotions can determine our decisions. Dr. Damasio's theory is that the amygdala (the part in our brain that holds our most visceral emotions) and the orbitofrontal cortex (the decision-making factory in our brains) are crucial to the neural circuit that helps us create judgments and decisions.

In his book Descarte's Error, Dr. Damasio wrote: “nature appears to have built the apparatus of rationality not just on top of the apparatus of biological regulation, but also from it and with it." He believes our feelings are intrinsically connected to our rational (or, occasionally, irrational) functions. Ultimately, making decisions would be impossible without emotions according to his hypothesis, as we'd lack any motivation to make them.

Of course, our feelings aren't the only factors that can affect our judgments. Another is the fact that decisions have real consequences and, in a sense, can cost us. A study undertaken by the University of Minnesota found that making decisions can result in reduced “self-regulation".

That can encapsulate less stamina, less motivation following failure, increased procrastination, and overall, just putting less effort into life to ensure we don't lose out.

This is closely linked with the inevitable expectations that can affect the decisions we make.

If we have very low expectations, which is usually caused by the core beliefs we hold about ourselves and society as a whole, and these expectations are met, we're more likely to make more decisions. However, if a decision we make goes unrewarded in our eyes, it can really put us off making similar choices in the future.

Why Do We Make Bad Decisions?

For many of us, bad decisions are simply written off as mistakes. Unfortunately, this changes once we begin to realize that our bad choices are happening far more often than good choices, that the balance is out of alignment and mistakes are far too common. Since emotions have such a big impact on our decisions and choices, surely they must have something to do with the bad decisions we make?

Everyone knows that bad decisions are made when we have to rush or if we are stressed, but could there be something more? For one of the best answers, we must return to the work of Dr. Damasio and consider one of the most decision-heavy games in existence, one where your victory is based entirely upon your choices: poker. According to an 888poker article that delves into the world of poker psychology, even the best poker players in the world can't stop themselves from making bad decisions every so often.

Dr. Damasio conducted an experiment to see how a card player's emotions affected their skills, finding that emotional intuition often kicked in long before a player could possibly know if their cards were good or bad. It was after this experiment that he concluded that stored emotional memories could impact decision making on an unconscious level. So, not only can bad decisions be caused if you're flustered at the moment, but it's also possible if you have negative emotional memories stored in your mind.

It's clear that emotions play massively important roles in how we make decisions. Despite these being deeply personal factors, external influences can also cause us to make bad decisions.

Decisions often require more than a yes or no answer.

Many of us rely heavily on social information collected from our family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers and others on social media. Over time, this can lessen our innate instinct to rely on our own thoughts and feelings about a situation and cause us to go with the group mentality.

Poker requires many decisions, but even the most experienced poker players can make mistakes.

If we're members of a well-functioning group with great information, positive social dynamics, and reasonable opinions, then bad decisions may remain few and far between. However, if we find ourselves in a group where there's a lot of negativity and, let's be real here, idiots, then we're more likely to make bad decisions. Ultimately, bad choices are formed from bad information. This could be from a bad situation you find yourself in, bad memories, or a bad social circle. If you find yourself making bad decisions far too often, then it's time to make some changes in your life.

How Can We Make Better Decisions?

To put it simply, in order to make better decisions moving forward, you have to get better information: good information that can inform your choices. You should rarely base your personal or business decisions off of what others are doing, but it always helps to start by surrounding yourself with positive, emotionally intelligent people. Think of your decision-making processes as a computer – if you have only negative data going in from unreliable sources, chances are, you're not going to function very well.

Next, you must begin to work on your own internal struggles. Figure out why it is that you make certain poor judgments. Is there an emotional memory stored away that either stops you from making the right decision or causes you to make the same bad choices repeatedly in the hopes of a different outcome? Perhaps you are more preoccupied with the cost that making a decision could leave you with, so you simply make the choice that best suits your low expectations?

By asking yourself these questions and really getting to the heart of your decision-making abilities you may be able to rebuild your whole decision-processing facilities. In time, you'll be making good decisions as if there were never any negative choices to make at all.

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Patriarchy Stress Disorder is A Real Thing and this Psychologist Is Helping Women Overcome It

For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.

As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.

Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.

What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.

Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein

This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.

Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.

While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.

"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.

Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.

In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.

"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."