Thursday, June 23, 2022

Making Decisions

 I recently ran across a quote that really makes you think about decision making. The quote is "Never make a permanent decision based on a temporary emotion". What great advice! However, our emotions often take charge at times in our life and make our decision making spontaneous. 

During the 1970's, psychologist Paul Eckman identified six basic emotions that were universally experienced in all human culture. The emotions he identified were happiness, sadness, disgust, fear, surprise and anger. He later expanded his list to include pride, shame, embarrassment and excitement. 

When you apply these basic emotions to the quote you can see where people get into trouble making a permanent decision based on a temporary emotion. I would also argue that "emotion" could be changed to "situation" and would make equal sense. 

We see on the nightly news emotions of fear and anger cause a permanent decision to be made that is not the best decision. Anger causes some to make the permanent decision to hurt or kill another human when they might have never done so in their normal daily living. A good example is road rage in which an angry person shoots at a car or rams a car and causes death or injury from that split second decision. That decision could result in permanent injury or death to the victim and a life sentence for the aggressor. None are good outcomes for a temporary emotion or situation. Much better to throw a few curse words around in your car and have your blood pressure elevated for a short period and then get past the temporary situation to live another day. 

The worst permanent decision based on a temporary emotion that I can think of is suicide. Too many people have taken their own life due to temporary emotions of sadness, disgust, anger, shame or embarrassment. How many young people would be alive today if they could only picture themselves making it through bullying or a romantic breakup if they could only look into the future and see the fun times ahead. As you get older, the past gets less important and you realize the important things in life are not the same as you thought in your younger years. 

In today's world a temporary decision based on emotion might include selling out of the stock market as it is declining or at the bottom due to fear. You may later realize it was a permanent decision if the market recovers, which it always does, and you lose some of you retirement nest egg for the long run. Financial news often discusses the mistake of selling in a dropping market and then buying again at a higher rate. It is the exact opposite of the buy low, sell high mantra you hear. But once the emotion of fear gets involved, the reckless decisions may soon follow.

In retirement, another permanent decision base on a temporary emotion may include moving across country because you were happy and excited for the one or two week visit you made. Often, once you move you find out the place is kind of normal and life goes on similar to your previous location and then you realize it wasn't such a good idea after all. Retirement news articles are full of stories of people who have picked up and moved without doing enough research before they did so.

Other permanent or semi permanent decisions may be making an expensive purchase based on happiness and excitement. You get excited about driving a new car and Bam! you walk out with a 6 year loan with payments only to regret it in a day or two. You get excited and happy about the tour you just did at a vacation time share and Bam! you walk away with a lifetime commitment of payments and maintenance fees. Emotions drive many of our decisions, that is why the marketing people focus so much on showing us how happy we will be when we purchase and own their products! Some marketing is even based on sadness when you think about it. When you watch a commercial with sad dogs and cats in a shelter, you get sad and want to do something about it so you write a check to the charity that just showed you the video. All emotions are in play in marketing and all designed to get us to make a permanent decision based on a temporary emotion.

Have you ever made a permanent decision on a temporary emotion? I have bought a new car or two from excitement. Have you bought things you wished you hadn't? Did you make other permanent decisions such as a divorce or damage a relationship out of anger that you later regretted? How about financially with your retirement? Have you sold at the bottom of a market and bought at the top or even sat out the market all together out of fear?


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