Humans believe they are rational, when in reality, we act based off of our emotions and then rationalize our actions in hindsight.
Then we claim we’re rational.
We don’t like to “look bad” in front of other people, so we rationalize our behavior when we act in a way that may go against our beliefs, when we belittle another person, or when we get into trouble.
“I fell behind at work because my girlfriend is stressing me out.”
“I was speeding because everyone else was speeding. Besides, the police are preying on people to meet quotas. I’M THE REAL VICTIM HERE!”
“That audience wasn’t there to think, which is why they didn’t laugh. No wonder no one is happy at work, they’re all stuck in the old way of thinking.”
We’ve all looked back at something and thought along the lines of “It couldn’t have been me” or “Something else has to be at work here,” when really, we don’t want to admit that we’ve allowed our emotions to overtake us, and that’s why we acted how we did.
That’s okay! It’s human nature.
It has been wired into our brains since animals have had brains in the first place.
Fight or flight was vital for our survival, but now that we live in safe and abundant environments, our brains have kept this old technology and there’s a disconnect between our emotions and cognitive thought.
The rationalization of emotion-based irrational behavior does three things:
- Makes us veer toward ideas that soothe our ego
- Makes us look for evidence that confirms what we already want to believe
- Makes us see what we want to see, depending on our mood
IT MADE SENSE FOR ME TO PUNCH THAT WALL, WALK OUT OF MY JOB, AND GET IN AN ARGUMENT ABOUT THE PRESIDENT ALL WITHIN 5 MINUTES.
The key to avoid giving into the emotions that lead to doing things we regret is to take a moment and ask ourselves the question “What is objectively true?” Answer with no emotional keywords and no rationalization, just objective facts.
I had a recent presentation not go well, and at first, I rationalized why it didn’t seem to have the impact I wanted. For instance, the audience had just sat down with their lunches the moment I was getting introduced, so it was hard to connect with them since most of their focus was on their food. All of the participation bits and my jokes fell flat because of this… at least that’s what I told myself. Then I watched video of the presentation and realized that the story I was telling myself soothed my ego, was focused on evidence that confirmed my beliefs, and made me see what I wanted to see. None of this helped me other than making me feel temporarily better. However, here are the facts:
- I gave a presentation in front of an audience of 100.
- It was my first time giving this particular presentation.
- I had been up until 3 AM the night before, making changes.
- I only ran through the presentation once before actually giving it.
- The audience didn’t laugh at my jokes or give me energy.
- I stumbled over middle parts of my presentation, had to refer to my notes multiple times, and forgot some important points
- The feedback I received reflected these objective facts
Allowing my emotions to dictate my perspective to make me feel better about myself made it impossible to do anything about what had happened. But looking at those objective facts showed me a clear course of action in order to continue to grow as a speaker.
With this knowledge, I gave the same presentation a month ago and have received positive feedback and inquiries about follow-up speaking gigs.
All because I chose to take a step back, admit my irrationality, and look at things as objectively as possible, I improved my long-term situation. We can use our emotions as a tool to ask ourselves “What else could be true?” and “What can I do about it?” That’s how we can bridge the gap between our lizard brain and cognitive thought.
What are the objective facts of a situation in your life that didn’t go your way? How are you rationalizing what happened? What can you do about the new facts you have in front of you?