Can You Be Too Rational?
We are taught to use our thinking to decide things, but it isn’t always the best tool for the job. If you asked them, most people would say that the best way of resolving a dilemma or solving a problem is through thinking about it. It often seems undeniable that the best way to choose between jobs, or cars, or laptops is a logical and rational assessment of features and benefits, risks and liabilities, price and convenience, and that through a logical process we will arrive at a solution that is right for us and makes us happy. Is it useful for us to keep believing in the superiority of thinking? Or are we being too rational?
The superiority of thinking
An interesting point about this is the untested assumption that through a non-emotional process we will come to a solution which meets an emotional need. It would seem our rationality can be used to satisfy a need to be happy or content, or that we will be able to avoid some unwelcome feelings such as disappointment, anger or frustration.
Undeniably, there are some decisions which are best served through this process, and that often using a logical, rational approach gives us a good chance of a good outcome, especially if the decisions are ones that involve numbers, statistics or other ‘assessable’ facts. In the these times, the superiority of thinking wins out.
Rationality isn't ‘it'
However, there are many decisions where using our rationality may not solve the problem. In many cases, these are the decisions that feel like they aren’t decisions at all, situations where we somehow muddle through and end up at an outcome. Yet these are also the big decisions; who do we partner with, will we have children, who do we have for friends, will we stay in this marriage, will we take steps to change our lives?
All of these are big decisions but trying to solve them rationally will only get you so far; at some point the bulk of the impact on our lives is going to be emotional (either positively or negatively), so why not use our emotions as at least one of the inputs for making these decisions? These are decisions for which it doesn't make sense to be too rational.
Here’s how. When you think about something you want to do, take a moment to notice how you feel. Are you comfortable or uncomfortable? Excited or scared? Slightly sick in the stomach? Bored? Numb? Use these feelings as a clue. Good decisions bring in our thinking part, or feeling part and our action part.
An uncomfortable idea
The very idea of this leaves us uneasy. We don’t trust how we feel, and we believe this is a crazy way to live. Many of us are trying to restore a bit of rationality in our lives, to get free from impulsive acts and get a little more thinking in, and that’s usually a good thing. However, we can also become too rational.
My suggestion is to take the middle road; use your rationality for decisions that require assessment, but respect the messages that you are getting from your feelings too. After all, we are made up of many parts.
Let me know what you think in the comments. Now, read about how overthinking things is not necessarily all bad.
– Tim Hill