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March 2019


Making wise decisions

Every day we make thousands of decisions, most of them completely unconscious and fortunately of little consequence. Leaders report that they also have to make "big" decisions in ever shorter time and under high pressure. There is no time for rational thinking through and weighing up all the advantages and disadvantages, because otherwise, for example, competitors will overtake them. Findings from neuroscience help to make decisions with maximum awareness.

Simplified decision-making processes follow the pattern of "perceiving a complex situation - evaluating - acting/deciding". Perception and evaluation take place largely unconsciously, often within a few milliseconds. The sticking point here is that we often do not evaluate the current situation itself, but a similar situation from the past. This earlier information has been memorized as a so-called somatic marker, i.e. body reactions such as sweating hands, shivers, hereditary pallor, etc.. Antonio Damasio, a Portuguese neuroscientist who introduced the concept, separates the terms "emotion" (caused by the current situation) and "feeling" (caused by learned somatic markers).

For a wise decision, feelings and reason (i.e. the evaluation of the real situation) should fit together. To do this, we need to learn how to read our own somatic markers. It takes a little time, but it is a sustainable investment. Sleep has also been shown to help link both. Another neuroscientist, Gerhard Roth, has investigated this. His recommendation: "Sleep on it for at least one night, then decide".