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Posts Tagged ‘Jonah Lehrer’

How We Decide

Posted by Karen on February 9, 2009

Saw Jonah Lehrer on The Colbert Report talking about his book “How We Decide“. It stirred up a few things in me about how we make decisions in career exploration.

Lehrer mentioned how we (I think he meant culturally/scientifically) used to talk about reason being the charioteer to the horses of emotion, and how lately the metaphor has changed to this: emotion is the elephant and reason is the small rider perched on top. Which is an image I love because the longer I work with people (and myself for that matter) the more I realize that we are all riding these huge elephants with the illusion of control, but one mouse squeaks underfoot and we’re holding on for dear life while the elephant busts the hell out of there.

And that’s scary right? It’s scary that you could try and come to all these reasonable, practical solutions…or even really thought-out big beautiful dreams and then your emotional elephant decides to take a bath and it all goes out the window faster than you can say “NOOOO TURN THIS WAY YOU BIG-EARED HEFFELUMP!” (which reminds me…I have been on the back of an elephant – bareback actually – and when that thing stood up it was like CRAZY how high and broad and PRICKLY it was. And she just watched me from the back of her eye the whole time, while the neighbourhood gathered to watch the crazy white lady straddling an elephant in a skirt. My honeymoon. Good times.)

Okay so just when you were about to wish the elephant of emotion away though, Lehrer brings up another excellent fact. He and Stephen are talking about the state of objectivity and if someone can use “pure reason” on a decision or if it’s always got some emotional context wrapped up in it. And Lehrer mentions that people who don’t have an emotional context – who can’t feel pleasure or pain – are so impaired that tests have shown they can’t choose between a blue pen and a black pen for an extended period of time. He calls “pure reason” a disease.

Emotions signal to us what we WANT.

They tell us what to choose, where to go, what we like and what we prefer. Without emotions we could analyze the top three directions but we wouldn’t be able to feel the truth of which one would be best for us.

Thus we need emotion in our decision-making process. Too often I see people trying to fight it because they are afraid of what the emotion is going to tell them.

This can often be unconsciously. Sometimes someone will say that they “can’t feel anything”. Unless they are suffering from “pure reason” in my experience these people a) have never done significant inner work to discover what makes them happy or b) they don’t want to know what makes them happy because it will challenge some other long-held and treasured belief. If this is your issue and you can figure out which one is operating, you’re gold…you’ve got a great place to start looking.

But overall, we often think of our emotion as an elephant that needs to be tamed and caged and to know its place because if we listened to it we’d be 100 miles away in the middle of the wilderness with no way home.

So many of us try and make the career exploration one of logic and assessment. A test will only tell you what it catches you reflecting as an interest or value. It can’t tell you how to put those pieces together in a way that feels good to you. It can’t measure your excitement in learning something that you didn’t expect to be interested in or the rising of your energy when you’re doing something you love. It can’t help you truly figure out the people you feel are kindred spirits and who leaves you cold. You have to be there, emotions and all, to sense how you respond.

A test can sometimes even give you “the answer” but if you can’t FEEL it, you’ll actually ignore that part of the result. And look back on the test later and smack your head because you realize it was showing up there all along, but with a different name or spin on the idea.

Embrace the emotional elephant! Harness its power without putting legcuffs on. If it wants to go in a certain direction, let it lead so it can show you why. No need to commit to the path; just explore where the elephant is leaning and

Learning to tune in to yourself and feel things in your body, not just as thoughts in your head…that’s the challenge of career exploration.

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