Decision-making is the “reasoning” process we use to select a course of action from among any number of possibilities. Making a decision either can involve a period of deliberation or seemingly none at all. For some of life’s decisions, we find ourselves having to decide precisely how we should make a decision: Should I sleep on it, go away for a few days, consult someone, flip a coin? Friends, family and others, sometimes even complete strangers, may advise us to stop and think before making a decision and never do the first thing that comes into our heads. Contrast that with wisdom passed down through the ages recommending we go with our instincts or that we listen to our hearts.
How often have you or someone you know lamented, “That was a bad decision,” “I wish I had it to do over again,” or “I let my emotions get in the way”? It turns out that our emotions are much more involved in the decision-making process than previously thought. Researchers have compiled substantial data about the role of emotions and the brain in decision-making. It turns out that quite often, the choices we make that end in regret are the products of unmanaged emotions, but when we allow calm and intuitive heart-based feelings to guide us, the outcomes of our decisions are far more favorable.
When the Heart Decides
Researchers at HeartMath believe intuitive feelings emanate from the heart. They have found evidence showing the human heart has an intuitive intelligence, which is changing what science and medicine have historically believed. Even without our realizing it, the heart guides us in much of what we do, but often we allow our brains or our unmanaged emotions to take the lead role in our decision-making and later regret our choices.
Neuro-cardiologists have discovered that the heart has an intrinsic nervous system which can operate independently from the brain. The neurons in the heart have been shown to have both short and long-term memory. Until recently it was believed only the brain was capable of these functions. They now know the heart has a powerful electromagnetic field and its complex nervous system and circuitry generate up to an estimated 60 times the electrical amplitude of the brain. The electromagnetic signal our heart rhythms produce can actually be measured in the brain waves of people around us. We also know our heart-rhythm patterns say a lot about our emotional balance and the stress we are experiencing: the calmer we are, the smoother our heart-rhythm patterns are, while the more stress we feel, the more chaotic the patterns are.
Through years of studies involving thousands of people, researchers at HeartMath and elsewhere have found that when we intentionally generate positive feelings such as care and appreciation we can smooth heart-rhythm patterns. That means reduced stress, getting sick less frequently, thinking more clearly, and even living longer. So go ahead, let your heart decide.
The Stress of Making Decisions
Ever wonder how many decisions you make each day: hundreds, thousands? Should I get out of bed? Should I hit the snooze button? Hit it again? Remember my dreams? Plan my day? In today’s fast-paced, rapidly changing world, we’re expected to make countless decisions – quickly. The pressure to think and act quickly never seems to let up and the consequences of not keeping up are always hanging over our heads. No wonder stress levels are at an all-time high.
What do we get for all the stress? Confusion, irritability, anxiety, anger, illness and more, all severely impacting effective decision-making. We can, however, learn to control negative emotional responses – the primary cause of stress – and the fast-paced decision making process, thereby reducing stress to manageable levels.
Life’s Big Decisions
Not all decisions are equal, and not all take the same toll on us. “What should I have for lunch?” or “Should I go somewhere this weekend?” don’t compare to, “Should we start saving for the kids’ college education or pay off our debts first?” or “Should I change careers?” The big decisions take much more intellectual thought, clarity and focus. Weighty decisions such as these are stressful enough, but if we put them off too long, we’re also bargaining for the stress that comes with indecision. We don’t need that added stress.
So what can we do? HeartMath created a technique that many people find useful. Called the Freeze-Frame® Technique, it is uniquely suited for managing the nagging of lesser day-to-day decisions and the “stress emergencies” of life’s bigger decisions. Freeze-Frame is a multipurpose technique for reducing stress and emotional chaos and improving decision-making.
For most decisions, try the following adaptation of the Freeze-Frame® technique to shift your emotional state by sending positive emotions through your system and opening up the pathways of communication between your heart and brain. With practice, you can routinely achieve the clarity and coherence necessary for optimal heart-brain decision-making.
- Take a time-out: Disengage from your thoughts and feelings about the decision.
- Heart Focus: Shift your attention to the area of the heart and breathe slowly and deeply. Do this a few times.
- Heart Feeling: Activate and sustain a genuine feeling of appreciation or care for someone or something in your life. Focus on the good heart feeling as you continue to breathe through the area of your heart.
- Ask yourself what would be an effective action to help you relieve stress about your decision.
- Quietly sense your heart perception. Compare what your heart intelligence has to say with what you thought before doing this tip.
For help with more complex, life-changing decisions, we recommend the complete Freeze-Frame technique described in depth in the book Transforming Stress.