14 Dec

Listening to the Voice of the Heart and Mind


Think of a situation where you had bulletproof facts, reason, and logic on your side, and believed there was absolutely no way the other person could say no to your perfectly constructed argument and proposal

To do so would be impossible, you figured, because there was no other logical solution or answer. Then the other person wasn’t swayed by your logic and turned down your proposal. It didn’t make sense.

Aren’t we better off relying on logical reasoning?  Why do emotions have such a significant impact on our choices and decisions?  Shouldn’t we try to control our emotions and minimise their impact?

We’re trained to regard emotions as irrational impulses that are likely to lead us astray.  When we describe someone as “emotional,” it’s usually a criticism that suggests that they lack good judgment.  And the most logical and intelligent figures in popular culture are those who exert the greatest control over their emotions.

Analytical thinkers will try to weigh up pros and cons of a decision and distance themselves from the emotional component. However, the factors that influence decision-making are far beyond what appears to be logical data and reasoning. Past experiences conjure up feelings we had at the time and therefore have an indirect effect on our decision-making. So, whether we like it or not, our emotions do influence our decisions. We need to learn to listen to the voice of our heart and our mind.

The brain makes decisions based on emotions

Many of us try to rule out the emotional side of decision-making only to find we become stuck in so-called analysis-paralysis. We often avoid making decisions or make them hastily because we want to skip the feeling part, which is not only unavoidable, it’s short-sighted.

Seeking a deeper understanding of this dynamic led me to the work of Antonio Damasio, a Portuguese neuroscientist based in the US for the past 35 years.  Damasio’s books deal with the relationship between emotions and feelings, and what their brain substrates.  He argues in his well-known book entitled Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain that it is wrong to think that only minds think. The body and our emotions have a key role in the way we think and in rational decision-making.

The implications for the victims of brain trauma in the cases studied by Damasio are clear; physical damage to their brains resulted in a significant reduction in their ability to experience emotion, which profoundly diminished their capacity to reason and make decisions.  The implications for the rest of us are not nearly as straightforward, but I suspect that the ability to experience our emotions more vividly and more rapidly allows us to make more effective use of them in the reasoning process.

In fact, emotions play a critical role in the reasoning process simply by allowing us to rule out many alternatives that would likely lead to a negative outcome and to focus on those that would likely lead to a positive outcome.

The ability to access, interpret, and act upon our emotions is essential if we are to make good choices that will allow us to be more fulfilled and effective.  The process of exploring our emotions more fully will allow us to better understand, compensate for and correct those times when inaccurate or irrational emotions lead us off course.

Having the wherewithal to stop and think before responding to emails, to what somebody said or did or to something you heard, would result in a positive outcome all around. Why? Making good decisions prevents wasting time and money. Employers hope that their employees are making good decisions every day. Not allowing your emotions to hi-jack your decision-making is a vital skill to possess. So how can you ascertain whether a staff member has the necessary emotional skills to complement his decision making?


Emotional self-awareness means being able to recognise emotions that you experience, understand the feelings associated with the emotion, and understand what you think and do as a result. The results of your efforts at becoming more self-aware build authenticity within you. Self-awareness leads to self-confidence by building on knowledge of who you are. You won’t experience as many anguished decisions or the feeling of being pulled in two directions quite as often.

Self-awareness helps managers identify gaps in their management skills, which promotes skill development.  It also helps managers find situations in which they will be most effective, assists with intuitive decision making, and aids stress management and motivation of oneself and others.


Being emotionally self-aware is just the first step to emotional management. In order for you to engage your emotional intelligence, you must also be able use your emotions to make constructive decisions about your behaviour. When you become overly stressed, you can lose control of your emotions and the ability to act thoughtfully and appropriately.

Self-management or self-control is not masking or hiding your emotions but recognising and controlling them appropriately.

This means not making rash decisions or over-reacting to a situation but remaining calm and rational. It leads to being able to make balanced decisions based on what is really important, and not just how we feel at the time.

People who have good self-control generally remain calm even when stressed. They are able to think clearly under pressure and still make good decisions.

If you want to improve your approach to the decision-making process in a more balanced way, why not consider attending Maurice Kerrigan Africa’s two-day course on Personal Mastery & Emotional Intelligence (EQ) that will give you the emotional intelligence training you need to optimise your performance and leadership skills by managing your own and others’ emotions.

Book your seat at the upcoming training course scheduled for 11 – 12 February, 2019 in Johannesburg.

To find out more about the training courses offered by Maurice Kerrigan Africa or to arrange an appointment, simply call +27 11 794 1251 or email info@mauricekerrigan.com.





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