by: Harold Taylor

Slow decision-making wastes time. The worst thing you can do is to procrastinate on decision-making. Napoleon Hill, author of Think and Grow Rich, once conducted a survey of successful people and found all of them were decisive. We’re told by the experts not to be afraid of being wrong. We learn from our mistakes; and if we do nothing, we neither accomplish anything nor learn anything.

But spur-of-the moment decisions, which frequently result in costly and time-consuming mistakes, can waste time as well. So what should we do?

To answer this, we must understand how our brain works when we are about to make a decision. The amygdala area of the brain is known to generate feelings. It is the emotional part of the brain, generating such responses as fear and desire. The prefrontal cortex, on the other hand, sometimes referred to as the “manager,” houses the executive functions and is considered to be the thinking part of the brain. You might expect it to be the decision-maker.

And it is. But it works in conjunction with the more intuitive and emotional amygdala, which draws on past experiences and feelings to influence the decision. After receiving input from the amygdala and other brain areas, the resulting decision may not appear so logical if you consider only the facts relevant to the situation in question.

According to John Lehrer, in his book, How we decide, the prefrontal cortex is linked to just about every brain area, and considers all feedback before making a decision. But no decision can be completely objective – at least not as far as other people are concerned – since we all have our own realities, values, beliefs and past experiences.

As Jonah Lehrer, author of How we decide, says, “Intuition isn’t a miraculous cure-all. Sometimes the feelings can lead us astray and cause us to make all sorts of predictable mistakes.” He goes on to say that the “reptilian brain” is fighting the frontal lobes.

When it comes to decisions, sometimes the emotional part of the brain can take charge. It has been shown, for instance, that we can react to the presence of an unseen snake fractions of a second before we are even conscious of the snake’s presence. The brain’s priority seems to be to minimize danger and to maximize reward.

According to a Canadian press article appearing in the March 23, 2017 issue of, emotion colors the meaning we give to things. This supports the opinion of Princeton political scientist Larry Bartel, who was quoted in Jonah Lehrer’s book as saying that voters invent facts or ignore facts so they can rationalize decisions they’ve already made.

Mark McCormack, in his book, What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School, claims that many times we actually make a decision without realizing it, even as we are still trying to come to grips with it. He suggests that instead of laboring over the pros and cons, we should flip a coin. Heads you do; tails you don’t. Now how do you feel about the result of the coin toss? He claims you may be surprised to discover that your emotional reaction settles the issue for you – confirms what you consciously know.

If I am interpreting the brain research correctly, it would appear as though we should try to avoid snap decisions on important issues, allowing the executive center of our brain an opportunity to moderate emotional impulses. It would also appear that we should involve other people with different experiences in our decision-making process to compensate for our own biases. And we should go so far as to seek out different points of view.

But when instant decisions are critical, such in the case of a wall about to collapse, trust your instincts. After all, that part of the brain is programmed for survival, and you have to survive if you want to make more decisions in the future.

Above all, don’t waste time on past decisions. Instead of saying “I if only I had done such and such,” say instead, “Next time I will ..”

Harold L Taylor, owner of, is a member of the Sussex & District Chamber of Commerce and a columnist with the Kings County Record,

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