Logic vs. Emotion

Many consider emotions and logic to be two diametrically opposed poles. The extreme ends of a long and varied spectrum; one couldn’t be farther from the other. In many ways, this is true. But in different ways, they are intrinsically linked, with one informing and shaping the other, and vice versa.

Emotions, in their most basic sense, are the way we naturally feel about the world around us. They are reflexive and automatic. When we see a loved one after a time apart, you feel joy. When we hear that a favorite musician has passed away, we feel sadness. We don’t have to think either of these things through; they just happen. They are an unconscious response.

Logic, on the other hand, is the result of extensive conscious and critical thought. Where emotions are inherently subjective, logic focuses on objectivity as much as possible. Logical thinking stems from reasoning, facts, and an underlying system of principles that tie together decisions. That, of course, feels like the opposite of emotion.

Logic certainly has its strengths; they are readily apparent. But instinct and emotion can have advantages as well. And for many people, it can be impossible to truly separate emotion from logic. Let’s walk step by step through a break down of what each concept means, their relative strengths and weaknesses, and what you can do to cultivate each one to make the best decisions possible.

What is Emotion

Emotion is an intuitive feeling. It arises without conscious effort, often outside of our control, in the unconscious parts of our brain. Emotions can be deep and forceful, or shallow and fleeting. And they play a significant role in governing the way we interact with the world around us. Our emotional responses are often shaped by our experiences, personalities, and the traumas of our past.

These combine to shape both our unconscious emotions and our conscious interpretations thereof. Our brains effectively learn how to respond to different stimuli—after the passing of a loved one, for example, a formerly positive association may now cause pain. You don’t need to think about it; it just happens.

One crucial distinction to remember is that we can’t control what emotions arise in us…. But we can control the way we respond to them. Attempts to suppress emotions can actually serve to amplify them instead. And they leave you less prepared to handle the feeling in a healthy, productive way. We’ll have more on this later.

What is Logic

Logic is defined by strict adherence to objective reason to the highest possible degree. Logical decision-makers like to step back and analyze a situation as comprehensively as possible before moving forward, to ensure they have as complete an understanding of the facts as they can.

Logical thinkers may also have a single pattern of thought underpinning their decision-making process. That allows them to judge each situation by the same standard. Maintaining objectivity across varying scenarios can be a challenge; utilizing a consistent pattern of thought is a significant step in making that happen.

In many ways, logic does appear to be the polar opposite of emotion. Pop culture’s most famous advocate of logic, Star Trek’s Spock, is portrayed as being almost entirely devoid of emotion. But this isn’t always the case. For many people, their personal use of logic is shaped by their emotions, often without even knowing it. More on this later.

In short, logical decision making is the process of observing a situation, gathering data, and using a consistent pattern of thought to make an objective, fact-based decision. That sounds like the perfect decision-making process, and often it is! But sometimes it’s just not that simple.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Now we know what emotions are and what logic is, so which one is better suited for making decisions? Of course, it’s not that simple. Each approach has its own unique strengths and weaknesses, and one may be better suited for certain situations than the other. And often, they are both directly intertwined. Let’s start with the benefits and drawbacks of emotional decision making:

Strengths and Weaknesses of Emotions

Emotion-based decision making is quick and instinctive. You don’t need to labor over the decision for hours, days, or weeks—you simply know what feels right. That is often described as “trusting your gut.” Whatever your instinct tells you to do, you go with it. Where logical decision making can be methodical to the point of being plodding, emotional decision making is instantaneous.

It also gives you a unique ability to sell your decisions to other people. Emotions can tell stories that allow people to connect. While it seems logical that logic would be a more effective selling point, data indicates that people respond better to emotional-based arguments for decision making. We’ll have much more about this to come.

While emotional decisions are intuitive and immediate, sometimes this can be a double-edged sword. When our first reaction is later refuted by additional information, the emotional charge associated with the decision can cause some to ignore this new information and carry on anyway.

Emotions can also be fickle. There is a fine line between intuitive and impulsive. If you’re going to strive for an emotion-based approach to decision making, be sure to take steps to get in touch with your emotions, which we will help guide you through later on.

When to Use Emotional Decision Making

Let emotions guide your decision making when you’re in a situation that requires quick, decisive action, as well as buy-in from others. Trust your gut, and craft a narrative that appeals to the emotions of the other members of your team.

Emotional decision making isn’t perfect in every scenario. But it does allow you to lead decisively and get others on board with your vision. If you work to cultivate your emotional intelligence, your instinctive decisions will be all the more effective.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Logic

Logic-based decision making tends to be more objectively sound. Where emotional decision-makers follow their first instinct, people who use logic wait to gather all the facts and analyze the situation from there. That takes more time, but it also gives the decision making process more of a sound foundation.

While it may not elicit wide-scale buy-in as effectively as emotional pleas, if you have to sell a superior on your decision, it can be beneficial to have robust data to back you up. When you use logic, your entire decision-making process will be grounded in facts and data; this can be very useful when pitching to a skeptical boss.

Unfortunately, as we’ve said before, logical decision making can work much slower than emotion. That is particularly true when you’ve gathered all the data, and it doesn’t clearly point in one way or the other. Or, you can simply be overwhelmed by the sheer number of options.

That can lead to a phenomenon called paralysis by analysis, wherein the quest to find the perfect decision can prevent one from making any decision at all. Logical analysis is great, but sometimes you need to incorporate some instincts as well.

When to Use Logical Decision Making

One of the best times to use logic is when you’re planning out a long-term, high-stakes project. It’s perfect for situations where you have plenty of time to analyze, and you must get everything right.

The higher-stakes the project, and the more time you have, the more appropriate a logical decision-making process can be.

How They Interact

We’ve broken down the relative virtues of logic and emotions as distinct, independent concepts. But as we’ve hinted at so far, emotion and logic can often be inextricably intertwined. It’s not always as simple as logic vs. emotion. In many ways, our emotions can guide the way we pursue logical thought. And over time, logic can inform the way we respond to our emotions.

“Logic” is not a singular, discrete concept that is the same for everyone. Different people have different approaches to critical thought, which can be influenced by several different attributes. Very prominent among these is our personality, and the ways we see the world. The thought processes that underpin our personal brands of logic systems are shaped by who we are. Which is, of course, affected by our emotions and the way we experience them.

Decision-making processes are often at their best when both logic and emotion are employed in conjunction with one another. In the above breakdown, you may have noticed that the relative strengths and weaknesses of logical and emotional decision making are, in large part, complementary mirror images of one another.

Emotional decisions are automatic and can induce buy-in from a large team, but can be fickle and have little to fall back on if a superior is skeptical. Logical decisions are more objectively sound, and better stand up to scrutiny, but can take too long and are far less inspiring.

That could make for a difficult choice if this were truly an either/or. But it doesn’t have to be. In many situations the most effective move can be to use a hybrid logical/emotional approach. If you do a preliminary logical analysis of the case, while relying on your emotional instincts for guidance, that approach can apply to nearly all decision-making scenarios. In fact, there is evidence that at least some amount of emotion may be necessary to make decisions at all:

The Neuroscience of Decision Making

It makes sense to think that logic would be the primary driving force behind most people’s choices. Gather the facts, think things through, evaluate the best objective path forward. But as you may have experienced yourself, this often isn’t the case. In fact, studies have shown that our brains are actually incapable of making decisions solely based on logic, without at least a little emotion involved.

In the year 2000, researchers explored this phenomenon by studying people whose brains had been damaged in the area where emotions are generated. They otherwise acted and presented just like ordinary people, but they could not feel emotions. The research revealed a surprising commonality among them: they were often paralyzed when it came time to make decisions.

The subjects were able to think through their options logically and even describe what they should be doing. But when it came time to make a final decision, they were stuck. With no emotional instinct to push them over the edge, they were unable to commit one way or the other. The implications of this study are immense: if the emotion is so directly tied to the ability to make decisions, it’s possible that no decision is made without entirely without the use of emotion.

Even if you believe you are making a completely logical decision, some amount of emotion is naturally, unconsciously playing a role. Given this information, it makes sense to focus on channeling this emotion. Rather than let it affect you unwittingly, use it to your advantage so that you can make the most informed decision possible.

How to Cultivate Each Skill

We know the strengths and weaknesses of logic and emotion and the importance of using the two of them in conjunction with one another. But what can you do with this knowledge?

If your goal is to develop the best decision-making process and problem-solving abilities you can, there are steps you can take to improve both the emotional and logical side of the process. Read on for more.

How to Improve Emotional Intelligence

We know now that decision making can be close to impossible without emotion. We can think things through as logically as possible, but when making the final call, some emotional input is necessary. Further, our emotions can play a significant unconscious role in the way we use logic in the first place.

Therefore, it is imperative that you get in touch with your emotions to the highest degree possible. Rather than letting them guide you blindly, take control. Use them as an asset, rather than passively allowing your instincts to lead you astray.

Emotions arise in our unconscious and are often beyond our control. But we can control our familiarity with them and the way we respond to them. These are learnable skills. Our tips include:

  • Learn to Calm Your Mind
  • Talk to Others About Your Emotions
  • Practice Empathy

For a breakdown of each one, follow along below.

Learn to Calm Your Mind

If you are going to be in touch with your emotions, you first have to be able to identify them. When you are in a high-stress situation, your mind is likely buzzing with all different types of thoughts and feelings. It becomes difficult to evaluate the situation at hand or even evaluate our own emotions and state of mind.

When you get in this state, the ability to quiet your thoughts and calm your mind can be essential. While this may sound easier said than done, there are several effective tactics that anyone can employ. It starts, simply enough, by controlling your breathing.

When you experience stress, your heart rate naturally elevates, and your breathing gets shorter and quicker. By taking control of your breathing, and taking longer, deeper breaths, you can take control of your body and cause yourself to naturally relax. It may sound simple, and it is! But it can also be very effective.

When you quiet your mind, you are able to get a firmer grasp on your emotions, and a more precise focus on the task at hand. It is difficult to follow your emotional instinct if you can’t even identify how you genuinely feel about a situation. By calming your mind, you are able to eliminate this significant obstacle.

Talk to Others About Your Emotions

Here is a tip that can be incredibly challenging for some people. But the more daunting it feels to you, the more valuable it may be. One of the reasons it can be challenging to get in touch with your emotions is that you are too close to them. They are your reality, so you don’t question them or analyze them.

By talking about your emotions with others, you are able to develop a vocabulary about what you are feeling. And you get an outside perspective as well, which can be incredibly valuable. And simply enough, it forces you to confront your emotions in the first place.

Some people are conditioned to believe that acknowledging emotions is a sign of weakness. For these people, talking to someone else about those emotions is a particularly vulnerable experience. But by going outside of your comfort zone, you are able to develop a far more profound understanding of yourself.

Practice Empathy

Empathy is the practice of directly experiencing the emotions and feelings of another person. It is a precious tool in terms of the way we treat others, as it can boost both kindness and compassion. But it can also be helpful in the way we treat ourselves.

By practicing empathy, you become adept at experiencing feelings, and also acknowledging them more objectively. If you see someone you care about putting themselves down because they are experiencing a negative emotion, you may comfort them, and tell them that it’s okay to feel that way.

And perhaps you may notice that you don’t do the same for yourself when you’re experiencing something similar. In this way, empathizing with others allows us to identify our own adverse emotional patterns.

We see other people treating themselves poorly, and not experiencing their emotions in an honest and judgment-free way, and we want to comfort them and encourage them to do so. And in so doing, we learn to do the same for ourselves.

How to Become a More Logical Thinker

We know that emotion is essential to the ability to make decisions. No matter how much logic you apply, there is some underlying emotion guiding you through where you ultimately land. But that doesn’t mean logic can be disregarded.

Indeed, you should foster your ability to analyze situations and think rationally. Even if decisions are inherently emotional, the ability to use logic will give you a sounder process and foundation. That is particularly important in situations where you have to strategize and plan ahead.

Here are our tips to help you become a more logical thinker:

  • Exercise Your Brain
  • Be Cognizant of Irrational Thoughts
  • Practice Healthier Habits

Exercise Your Brain

Many people think of intelligence and logic as if they were completely innate, static traits. You’re born with a certain amount, and that’s how much you’re allotted in life. No better, no worse. But this simply isn’t true. You can train your brain and improve your cognitive function, as well as your ability to think in more rational ways.

There are several different ways to do this. One of the simpler things is to work on thought games and puzzles. There are logic puzzles that you can find online or in books, but you can also start with simple crossword puzzles or sudoku. Using your leisure time to engage your brain keeps your mind sharper and more able to perform when you need it.

Another simple exercise is to focus on remembering little things throughout the day. Memory is another thing that many people do not believe they can improve, but it is possible. And it is heavily linked to other forms of cognitive function. Simply by focusing on remembering small things, your memory will improve on a larger scale.

Another tip is to learn new skills. Cognitive ability plateaus when you do the same things over and over. Learning something as complex as a new language or as simple as juggling can break you out of your mental comfort zone, and cause you to think in new and exciting ways. With a sharper mind, you will be able to take a more analytical approach to decision making.

Be Cognizant of Irrational Thought

Awareness is a common theme in this subject. It’s a key to improved emotional intelligence, and it’s critical to logical thought as well. Our minds can be prone to reflexively go in irrational directions during high-stakes situations. Improving doesn’t mean preventing these irrational reflexes; it means being aware of them so that you can steer yourself back in the direction of logic.

Irrational thought can take many forms. If it’s a thought pattern you’re used to, you might not even recognize it as irrational on your own. One of the most common irrational lines of thought is catastrophizing. You are faced with a challenge, and your mind instantly goes to what might happen if things go wrong.

Suddenly the scenarios you’re imagining are worse and worse and feel almost impossible to overcome. The decision you make under these circumstances might be far overly dramatic, or you might be too paralyzed to make a decision at all. But if you’re on the lookout for irrational thoughts, you’ll be able to take a breath, step back, and realize that this catastrophe isn’t really the situation you’re facing.

Irrational thoughts aren’t always negative. Sometimes you may think too highly of yourself, or be inclined to make a decision that is far too ambitious. These irrational thoughts may be even more challenging to spot. But if you’re looking to incorporate more logic into your decision making, you’ll have to be disciplined about it. Be on the lookout for these irrational patterns, and you’ll be able to get back on track.

Practice Healthier Habits

Many people underestimate the degree to which our physical health affects the functioning of our minds. It starts with sufficient sleep. Not only should you try for 7-8 hours of sleep, but it’s just as important to try to keep a consistent sleep schedule. Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning as often as you can.

Further, changes to your diet can promote logical thought as well. We’re not talking about nebulous “healthy eating,” but rather specific brain foods that have been shown to boost neurological function. These are foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamin B, including leafy greens, fatty fish, dark chocolate, nuts, and green tea).

Varying your diet, but including a consistent dosage of those types of foods will promote brain health, and increase your ability to engage in rational, logical problem-solving. But there are even further ways that physical fitness is linked with improved cognitive abilities.

Studies have shown that consistent aerobic exercise can play a significant role in improved neurological performance. It enhances memory, your ability to quickly process information, ability to multitask successfully, and more. Couple this increased exercise with more consistent sleep and a diet of brain foods, and you’ll be making more analytically sound decisions in no time.

The Final Word

Emotion and logic are often treated as if they are mutually exclusive, opposing sides in conflict with one another. But while they are very different from one another, they can complement each other in compelling ways.

Logic allows people to solve problems and make decisions more objectively. But it can also lead to paralysis by analysis. Unconscious emotional instincts are inherently a part of any decision-making process, no matter how much you try to focus on logic.

By intentionally incorporating emotion alongside logic, you are able to take a decisive, instinctive course of action that is still backed by thorough analysis.

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