The decision

Kevin stared at the Brisbane river from his 22nd floor office window. Since he had graduated from law school 12 years earlier, he’d worked for a well-known law firm and had done very well.  He’d created some great relationships and secured some really good case wins in his area of corporate law.  Right now he faced the prospect of a possible partnership, something he always imagined he was working towards.  The partnership would raise his income, his status, and his profile substantially, but it would also raise his already insane workload to a new, impossible level.

The thought of having an even better office, a fancier job title, a big fat pay packet certainly appealed to Kevin. However, the price he would most certainly be paying for it made it seem less attractive It perplexed Kevin that this decision, if offered a few years earlier would have been a ‘no brainer’, but now he felt differently.  He let his mind wander and thought back to some advice his father Bill, also a solicitor, had given him years ago before he died”

Get in, learn what you can, then get out there and start your own business.  You’ll never really know how good you are until you have to support yourself and a team of people.

Kevin had been wrestling with this decision for several days.  Each time he tried to come to an outcome, different ‘mental maps’ would appear.  Some days the decision would be easy; biased one way or the other, while other days, it seemed much less clear.  The words of his father, or least his memory’s version of the words, rang in his ear.  As he thought about the possible scenarios, he would worry about his wife and the three young children he had to support, and what it might cost to set out on his own.

Other days, the goings on at the office had a direct impact on how he thought he should make his decision.  A careless or cruel remark from a senior partner could have different impacts on him depending on what he was thinking about. Either way, he noticed that whenever he just really tried to sit and focus on the decision, his mind ended up going off on some wild tangents, which brought up all kinds of memories, some of which he thought he’d forgotten long ago.  What to do?


Emotion – the wildcard

There’s an important reason for Keven’s numerous and sometimes conflicting thoughts during the decision-making process. Because so many factors are involved – his ambitions, his family, his income, his future security – all of which trigger different experiences and lead to a different set of consequences, Kevin feels overwhelmed.

Being bombarded with images as you wrestle with what seems to be just a business-related decision is common, if unexpected; each thought triggers cascade of memories, which can influence your thinking in various ways.  As much as you fight against it, your brain constantly ‘interrupts’ you with experiences from the past when you are trying really hard to concentrate on making a decision in the here and now.

In order for decisions to be made, the brain must call upon information that is stored away in long-term memory.  Short-term memory – or active memory  – is kept for approximately 20 to 30 seconds.  Long-term memory refers to the continued storage of information.

Episodic memory is particularly important in decision making – this is the store of stories or episodes of our life that hold emotions for us as they are recalled and can lead to a re-experiencing of these emotions upon the recall of these stories/events.

Decisions are made largely on the basis of past experiences.  Because memories are connected to emotions, decison-making is often an emotional process, no matter how much we want it to be otherwise. All too often there has been little or no reflection on the outcomes of past decisions or problem solving.  Therefore, when a memory is recalled it may not necessarily be supportive to the decision making and problem solving process.


The way forward

There are ways around the emotional wildcard. Ask yourself the following reflective questions:

  • Is there a past situation (memory) useful for the decision I need to make?
  • Have I faced a similar issue or situation before?
  • What did I do in that situation that worked or did not work?
  • What did I learn that I can apply here?

Take some time to consider your answers to these questions. While your emotions will still be involved, they will be working for you rather than against you!