WHY GO FOR RATIONAL THINKING WHEN EMOTIONAL THINKING IS THE NORM?

My blog is based on the idea that rational thinking is a better way to think and decide what to do.  But we know that most people are emotional in their thinking and behaviour, so aren’t I trying to kick into the wind here?

And, when famous writers like Hugh Mackay state:

It makes no sense to think of humans as essentially rational creatures: we are driven more by the heart than the head… (The Art of Belonging)

I must be on the wrong side.

NO! This is exactly the point of the need to think differently. Isn’t it because we mostly think emotionally and make emotional/irrational decisions, that many of our decisions are actually so poor?

I’m not arguing that, by thinking rationally, all your decisions will be correct. Yes, we are emotional. Yes, we act irrationally. Yes, behavioural economics and psychology are better at predicting what we will actually do than will models based on rationality.

But that is exactly the point! What I’m arguing is that, by trying to think as rationally and objectively as you can, you are likely to make better decisions. Rational models, rational thinking will tell us what we should be doing.

Trying to consider more factors, trying to consider the evidence, the research, the context is likely to help you make better decisions in all areas of your life.   And for our leaders to make better decisions for the society and the organisations they run. Think differently. Think rationally. (Even when the heart is involved!)

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3 thoughts on “WHY GO FOR RATIONAL THINKING WHEN EMOTIONAL THINKING IS THE NORM?

  1. Graham
    Enjoyed reading your first handful of blogs. Agreed with some points, disagreed with others.
    I found this one rather too simplistic – it suggests that on any topic there’s a rational approach. On the contrary, I see that there are many rational approaches to any one topic, each “rational” when viewed from the originator’s perspective – and that perspective is quite likely to be an emotional one! Take the relatively mundane question of how frequently one should replace one’s car. If you start with the aim of keeping your overall costs to a minimum over the next twenty years, your rational approach will probably lead to a different conclusion from that of someone who wants to minimise carbon dioxide production in the motor vehicle industry and on the road. Both will need to use rational approaches. Will either of their conclusions be any better than that of someone who changes their car when they feel like it? Who is to judge?
    I had another example on the question of treatment of asylum seekers in Australia, but that might get too political!
    You assert – “many of our decisions are so poor”. Even that is a difficult point – how do we decide if a decision or the outcome from it is poor? Only by applying some judgment criterion that may in itself be based on emotion. Who is to judge and how?
    So I wasn’t convinced. You urge us to think “objectively and rationally”. You and I might think about an issue just as objectively and rationally as each other but then reach quite different conclusions about what we should do, because our objectivity and rationale have different bases. Have we necessarily done any better than someone who has just followed an emotional reaction?
    I used to tell my staff that they must not conduct an argument by email – it’s too negative an approach, too easy to get on one’s high horse. [Cambridge dictionary: to get on one’s high horse = to start talking angrily about something bad that someone else has done as if you feel you are better or more clever than they are.] With the same feeling, Bev says that now we need a rational decision on when we should continue this discussion over a glass of red!
    Cheers
    Colin

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  2. Colin, glad you enjoyed the posts, even if you didn’t agree with everything! but who would? The idea is to encourage people to think a bit more than (I think) they usually do.

    As to the rational v. emotional thinking, you are of course right. There are many ‘rational’ bases, as your examples indicate. And it is difficult to determine the criteria for good decisionmaking, but I’m sure you would agree that fact-based arguments go a long way towards getting better, more rational decisions. So, in your example, different people with different sets of criteria will likely come to different conclusions. I think both your rational thinkers will come to better decisions than the person who changes their car simply because they feel like it, unless we allow for ‘desire for a new car’ as a significant part of the decisionmaking criteria! By itself, this sounds like an emotional element!

    Finally, can I comment on your desire not to use email to solve problems. I understand the point – that it is easy to get angry when the other person(s) aren’t there – but I find I at least can better express a rational view on paper/email/blog than in a verbal argument. It is why I find Q&A so frustrating. There is no continuity of line of argument in the verbal sparring and jousting. It is very entertaining, but not very enlightening on the realities of whatever the issue is. And who can remember what they said a few days later? At least with the written word, you can go back to what was said and argue from there.

    Or perhaps it is just that, having written 17 books and many articles, I find writing works for me!

    Thanks again for engaging.
    Graham

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