I like to think I’m a logical and strategic person, so do most people probably.
Who wants to admit: “I’m really emotional and I make all of my decisions and life choices on my emotional whims?” Nobody.
But we do. All of us do. All of our decisions are driven by emotion. This is okay! We don’t need to try to kill this fact, we just need to recognize we’re not as rational as we think, myself included, and use that to better understand our decisions and why we make them.
The Science Behind How We Make Decisions
We essentially have dog brains with a human cortex stuck on top— how we’re able to be “civilized.” This cortex is recent in evolutionary history and what enables us to plan, deliberate, and decide things that are longer term. But not a second goes by that our ancient dog brains aren’t conferring with our modern cortexes to influence their choices.
Studies showed that patients with damage to the part of the prefrontal cortex that processes emotions (or, in a way, “listens” to them) and those with injuries to parts of the limbic system, an ancient group of brain structures important in generating emotions, often struggle with making decisions. There’s something critical to decision making in the conversation between emotion and reason in the brain, but what?
The brain is constantly working out the risks and rewards for actions. These risks and rewards are primarily emotionally based. You take a new job because of the pay bump it offers because now you can pay for electricity, water, medical bills, etc. but it’s not just because you want logistical needs met. You keep going after pay increases because of what it says about your status in society, the kinds of things you can now afford and the way that makes you feel, a sense of responsibility and accomplishment, the thrill of the chase of newness etc.
Much of the traffic between the primitive and modern parts of our brains is devoted to the conscious calculation of risks and rewards.
Rational vs. Emotional Decisions
In an economics experiment, participants were pit against each other in a simple negotiation: One player has $10 to split with a second player.
The first player can offer the second player any amount, from $0-$10, and she gets to keep the change—but only if you accept her offer. If you don’t accept the offer then neither of you gets anything (this is very similar to the show “Friend or Foe” if you remember this 2000’s game show).
WRONG. In these experiments, when the offer dwindles to a few dollars, people on the receiving end consistently turn it down. When asked why not take the free money, the participants said, in so many words, that they rejected the lowball offer because they were mad at the stingy partner—who of course also gets nothing if the offer is denied.
This doesn’t make rational sense because then everyone loses...But this is what most people chose.
Because the truth is that all of our decisions are rooted in emotions. the rational pieces and logistics are just a part of the calculation process. The deciding factor is how we feel about that decision. Emotions win.
How Do We Make Sense of This?
Understanding that humans make their decisions with emotions and not logic is important. This is why a lot of our habits, reactions, relationships, etc., often don’t make “sense.” We’re not using logical sense to decide if we want to break up with a toxic spouse, or to stay up late every night instead of going to bed early, or to skip the extra large fries, or to pay off debt before we buy a new pair of expensive boots…we make decisions on the emotions attached and the level of emotional investment.
We’re always “emotional” — a dreaded word and accusation I know…to make anyone angry all you need to say is “you’re being emotional right now…” But we are. All of us, both women and men. The difference is how we exhibit these emotions in societally acceptable ways.
In order to be more objective and rational in our decisions, we need to step back and realize we’re making decisions with our emotions. We need to look at black and white facts and measure up how they fit with our emotions about it. If they don’t match that’s fine but, a new understanding is born of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
But If It’s Bad For Us, Why Do We Keep It?
Because it’s not bad for us, not totally. We get a good feeling and have some kind of positive reward for that “bad” thing or relationship we hang onto. We also probably have sunk costs of emotions into certain things so we feel we can't cut and run because we’ve already invested so much so to start over would be devastating.
For me, I realized I was doing this when I was working towards becoming a published songwriter.
Why Was I Working for Free?
I love singing and I love songwriting. The next “logical” step then is to go after being a professional songwriter/artist. So that’s why I quit my marketing career back in 2019 to do. Here’s how that went:
In the professional songwriting world, you have TONS of unpaid cowrites (you write songs with other songwriters), almost every day in the hopes that something gets “cut” by an artist (they record your song) or a publisher becomes interested and wants to sign you onto a deal. You work long hours and creatively give everything you’ve got day after day in the hopes that something works out.
At a certain point, I was cowriting every day, sometimes twice a day, for almost a year. I became so burnt out that eventually I would see my calendar and think “god I hope they cancel…” When they didn’t cancel, I would begrudgingly show up and phone it in and play at writing a song and interacting.
I didn’t realize this wasn’t working for me because I had so many emotions attached to this idea of what I was going after. There were also all the dopamine hits of writing new parts of a song, a good conversation with another songwriter, that high when you know you’ve written something good and feel a connection to another person, the happiness I imagined when I got a Billboard #1…etc.
I wasn’t able to realize this path wasn’t working for me until at the end of the year when I looked at the facts in black and white on my income spreadsheet…
The Facts in Black and White
All of this unpaid labor of course had gotten me nothing financially and was obviously taking away from time I could’ve been doing something more fiscally responsible for myself. I was creating a situation where I was always anxious about money because I wasn’t making “enough.”
BUT this was because I was spending that time on things that might never make any money, I was working for free on hopes and dreams. I was making choices based on emotion and not logic. Until I was burnt out and looked at that spreadsheet and suddenly 2+2 no longer equaled 4 for me.
There in numerical black and white, it was clear that something needed to change.
I decided to not schedule any more cowrites and to politely cancel all the ones that I didn’t feel super great about. I also decided to focus my time and effort on the income streams that were making me the most money.
For me, I still don’t know in the songwriting and artist realm but I realized it doesn’t matter right now. I can change my mind and that’s okay.
What mattered to me, and still does as of this writing, that I wanted to make a more logic and rational based decision for my income than an emotional one.
Making this specific emotional decision was creating anxiety in me that no matter what I said to justify it to myself, it just didn’t sit right and wouldn’t stop the constant worry and obsession with money that I had at the time because I didn’t have “enough.”
The way to quell that anxiety was to change my decisions and actions.
Letting Go and Moving Forward
I let go of the person I thought I wanted to be, how I believed I wanted to live my life, the future I saw for me and my family, etc.
This decision to stop cowriting and let go of all the things that were much more energy output than were energy input, is what led me to create Bare Minimum Babe. It’s what made me realize that I didn’t hate marketing like I thought I did.
What I hated in my previous corporate marketing jobs was being told what to do by bosses I didn’t respect, executing on tasks that I thought were dumb and pointless.
But I do like helping people. Just like I liked helping artists share their story in songwriting, I now help businesses and entrepreneurs share their story and increase sales with marketing and consulting.
But this realization that I like helping people lean into what they’re good at and what’s true to them only came about because I let go of what no longer was serving me because I let go of the emotional attachments of another version of me.
I realized what was missing before in corporate jobs before for me was freedom and meaning. I have that now with Bare Minimum Babe.
If you looked at the facts in black and white and emotions weren’t involved…what would you cut from your life?
What would you add?
Who wants to admit: “I’m really emotional and I make all of my decisions and life choices on my emotional whims?” Nobody. But we do. All of our decisions are driven by emotion. This is okay! We don’t need to try to kill this fact, we just need to recognize we’re not as rational as we think and use that to better understand our decisions and why we make them.
In this episode we discuss:
the science behind how we make decisions
why we choose outcomes that hurt us
how your decisions could look if you took emotions out of them
a personal story of letting go of emotional decisions that no longer served me
Mentions in this episode:
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Check out the episode notes: bareminimumbabe.com/post/why-we-hold-onto-things