The thoughts you are having around this one decision, are determined by the actions of specific neuronal circuits in your brain. Whether you make this decision (or not), is a function of your hardwired circuits, your neurotransmitters and how you have set up your internal brain programmes in the past. A new field of neurobiology is emerging to explain this process and is known as decision neuroscience. It is uncovering many new circuits, channels and links - thereby mapping thinking on a cellular level.
So how can we use these new brain decision maps? Well try to think of an argumentative situation or negotiation, where you had all the cold hard facts, all the reason and logic on your side; you believed there was absolutely no way the other person could say no to your perfectly constructed argument and proposal. To do so would be impossible because there was no other logical solution or answer. Indeed, any neutral third party would agree you had all the 'facts' on your side. But the other person digs in their heels and refuses to agree or acknowledge the strength of your argument. They were not swayed by your logic. When this situation arises, are you amazed, angered or resigned to their poor decision process?
Well, there is some great new research out there about how the brain can make these illogical and 'poor' decisions. At the point of that decision, the emotions become critical for choosing and override mere logic. In fact, even with what we believe are logical decisions, the very point of choice is arguably always based on emotion. Understanding the neuroscience behind making a decision can be helpful when targeting new behaviours and changing bad habits. When you reach a fork in the road and need to make the right decision for your long-term health and well-being, using the brain science behind decision-making is a useful tool.
Decision-making is in the locus of your control. You have the power to break patterns of behaviour simply by making better decisions. You can change your mind and your actions at any time. Even when you're stuck in a cycle of rut-like thinking and behaviour, a change of attitude and decision-making can turn your life around.
Researchers are beginning to see in real time what exactly happens in our brains when we are making good or bad decisions. Although still a young field, research in this area has exploded in the last decade, with findings suggesting it is possible to separate out the complexity of thinking into its individual components and chunks. They are closer to finding how they make rapid decision in our daily lives. Hopefully, having a better understanding of the neuroscience behind decision-making will help you make decisions that lead to positive outcomes in the future.
In 2014, researchers in Switzerland discovered that the prefrontal cortex not only shows increased activity during decisions requiring self-control but during all decision-making processes. Sarah Rudorf and Todd Hare of the Department of Economics of the University of Zurich were able to identify specific regions of the prefrontal cortex that are most active in the process of making a decision. In particular, this study published in the Journal of Neuroscience was critical. Previous studies have shown that a particular network in the brain is active when a person has to decide between various choices in different situations. This research emphasises the importance of the interaction between neurones in two different brain areas within the prefrontal cortex. The results of this study indicate that the neuronal interactions between the dorsolateral and ventromedial prefrontal cortex not only play a central role when a person needs to decide between several options during goal-directed behaviour, but are also active during flexible decision-making.
Eventually, such findings will lead to a better understanding of a wide range of mental disorders, from depression to schizophrenia, as well as explain how exactly we make the multitude of decisions that ultimately shape our destiny. We all harbour negative thinking patterns; some studies estimate that about 60% of our automatic thoughts are negative. But just because it's okay to engage in negative mental habits doesn't mean it's good. Stressful thinking habits can lower your mood, make you irritable without your even knowing why, damage your feelings about yourself, cause unhappiness, wreck healthy relationships, and even flood your body with stress chemicals that can lead to physical illness.
The bad news is that bad thoughts can quickly become habits, like repetitive songs that stick in your mind. The good news is you can decide to ease this mental suffering and find more peace of mind. By choosing to use the thinking part of your brain to override your negative thinking pattern. Negative mental habits, like harmful behaviour patterns, operate largely below your conscious awareness. To take your negative mental patterns off autopilot, you will need to decide to activate the thinking part of your brain (the prefrontal cortex) to catch and challenge your negative thoughts.
A 2013 study found that 15-minutes of mindfulness meditation can help people make smarter choices. The findings from the Wharton School of business where published in the Journal of Psychological Science. A series of studies led by Andrew Hafenbrack found that mindfulness helped counteract deep-rooted tendencies and lead to better decision-making. The researchers found that a brief period of mindfulness allowed people to make more rational decisions by considering the information available in the present moment, which led to more positive outcomes in the future.
Using mindfulness could give various regions of your striatum and prefrontal cortex time to relay the exact neuro-economic costs of a decision and help you make smarter choices. Mindful decision-making can derail compulsive or addictive patterns of behaviour and take you down a path that's in your best interest for long-term health, happiness, and overall well-being.
Mental habits are much harder to change than behavioural habits. Don't get discouraged if you need to practice new mental habits again and again. As Henry David Thoreau once said,
“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”
Tim Dingle BSc (Hons), PGCE, MBA, has been involved in education, management, comedy, research, the Law and training for the last 30 years. Tim is a former Headmaster of a top school and gained an MBA with a distinction (his dissertation was on body language and Interview skills).
He has a unique insight into teaching, leadership, comedy and management and has now written 26 books on a variety of topics including motivation, leadership, education, training, communication, interview success and business.
His background in management also includes being the Chairman on England Schools Rugby and an active member of the RFU and MCC. His academic pedigree (in Biology, Teaching and Business) combined with his Mediation skills, gained him a place on the Board of the Global Negotiation Insight Institute (which used to be the Harvard Negotiation project). He has lectured all around the world with keynote speeches at many national and international events. His facilitation skills are in constant use for difficult and complex problems. His training company works across a variety of sectors and is making a massive impact, dedicated to making everyone feel empowered, successful and having fun. He writes jokes as well as running a comedy club and training school in London.