Why are we unaware of the choices we make?
Most of us take decision-making for granted. We seldom take notice of the decisions we make. This could be due to many factors. One factor is that we live our lives in motion. We are always on the move mentally and physically. Our emotions are also always on the move – changing from stress to relaxation or rational thinking and emotional reactions. All these motions and sensory distractions bring our minds away in noticing how we make decisions. But as humans, what defines us from other biological creatures are the decisions we make. In the animal world, decisions are made from instincts. In the world of humans, our decisions are mostly driven by emotions. How can we make good choices as decisions define who we are?
Our decisions define who we are
We are habitually used to making the same decisions most of the time for similar situations, that our closest friends are able to guess our reactions and from those decisions, we are judged for our character – either as someone who is pleasant, or unpleasant. Most of us fall in the middle because a lot of the times as research has shown, our decisions are made based on our emotions. Our emotions are not stable since it can be caused by various factors – from not accepting change to reacting and exaggerating what we like or dislike, to physical causes such as having a migraine or not being in a good mood due to hormonal changes.
What defines good decisions?
Good decisions are defined as choices that are made without being driven by emotional reactions or self-serving intentions, for the benefit of oneself and society. Good decisions are therefore made from an ethical point of view. For example, we have seen anger and fear in global politics driving nationalistic tendencies and resulting in decisions that ‘benefit” a specific group. Some decisions made from nativist tendencies contribute to the further warming of our climate. A warming globe affects us all, regardless of our nationalities. Not forgetting the 2008 global financial crisis, caused by bankers juicing up their profits and selling unsustainable subprime mortgages to investors, creating a meltdown in the Western world’s financial system. Also, to contain the Wuhan virus spreading in the world, decisive systematic action based on careful decision-making, need to be implemented in order to prevent a global health emergency. In order to be able to make beneficial choices for the good of all, we have to first learn to regulate our emotions.
What can we do to regulate our emotions?
A study was done on a group of experienced mindfulness practitioners and novice mindfulness practitioners. Non-emotional and emotional pictures were shown and neuro-imaging was used to see what happens to the brain. The novice practitioners were shown the pictures before and after they were instructed in mindfulness practice. The results showed a deactivation of the default mode network (DMN) areas in experienced mindfulness practitioners. The DMN region functions as the brain’s autopilot mode (non-awareness). The experiment also did not influence responses in brain regions responsible for emotional reactivity in experienced practitioners. On the other hand, the left amygdala (responsible for emotions and storage of emotional memories) were down-regulated in novice practitioners. The research showed that mindfulness practice leads to emotional stability and enhanced present-moment awareness.
Mindfulness makes us aware of our decisions
Mindfulness is a mental state not affected by emotional reactivity and auto-pilot mode. We have grown used to living in an automated state. We go about our lives depending on the automated regions in our brain organising information as we pass through the motions of life. Most of us have missed out on activating the conscious part of our brain for higher cognitive functions, such as present moment decision-making. Good decision-making always brings benefits for the good of the all. It is through the decisions we make, that we are either well remembered or quickly forgotten in the minds of others. Our decisions define who we are. It has become essential to practice mindfulness in order that we may make better decisions at work and at home in a world mired by uncertainties.