Producer’s note: Someone on Quora asked: How do you decide when to use emotions and when to use logic to deal with everyday situations? Here is one of the best answers that’s been pulled from the thread.
Logic and emotion are not mutually exclusive and shouldn’t be. They work best when used together.
When I was a graduate student at Stanford, I had a classmate – nice guy, bit intense – who designed an Excel model about how to have a family.
It was the epitome of logical thinking. I’ll walk you through what I remember:
To make an Excel model, you need;
He diligently asked questions and researched facts related to his model: costs, health, time etc. He considered how much should be saved for retirement, how much is daycare, how much time together do successful marriages require (he wasn’t married). And many, many more. I think he used curves for most things.
He then answered ‘How do these variables relate to one another?’ Directly, incrementally, exponentially, not at all? And he put it all into the model
His model predicted results and trade-offs. For example, if you have a child in your 20s you will be earning less, saving less and it might affect your career, your retirement and what you can provide. If you wait until your 30s, you’ll be financially stable, however, professionally unable to take time off to have kids. (As far as I know he didn’t consider male/female division in labor.)
And finally, having done all these things, he had a set of answers, which he needed to interpret in order to drive decisions, thus;
What is the value placed on each outcome and how do they compare? This is where logic falls short and emotions – natural reactions to instincts and preconceived beliefs – are needed.
This guy was an extremely smart and sophisticated, but I don’t think he understood the limitations of his logical method. I think he believed this model would tell him what to do.
It didn’t. Couldn’t.
Unless you have measurement, a value system, you can’t make decisions between two very like things. You know what will happen in each scenario but not which to choose.
Is logic going to tell you if you care more about putting your kid into day care of getting a nanny? Sure you know cost, time spent with kid, socialization benefits etc. but if you keep asking ‘why does that matter, why, why’ you’ll be stuck and then it’s emotions that help, not logical.
Emotions and logic shouldn’t be mutually exclusive, humans need both to make difficult, important decisions.
Emotions aren’t just “I feel mad, Grrrr!”. They’re the manifestation of a tension within ourselves, or the lack thereof. Whether it’s a value being ignored, or a preference being honored – emotions remind us what really matters.
I’ve always relied on my emotions because logical equations didn’t make sense. If I felt angry, I knew something was making me feel insecure or threatened, I’d figure out what. But at logic, especially if it involved numbers, I was helpless.
Except, living on emotions isn’t good, I never felt grounded, or very smart. So I spent the last 10 years of my life getting better at logic (going to Business School, working at McKinsey).
I’m balanced now but emotions are still my primary language, so to speak.
My guess is you – like me, like most people – are naturally better at one or another. If I’ve learned anything, you need both, working together.
Don’t separate emotions and logic or assign them to different academic or life realms, embrace both and balance them in everything you do.
If I have to make a decision, I’ll use logical reasoning, because it’s not natural for me, and I’ll push it as far as I can. If I get to an obvious trade-off: Option A leads to death, Option B doesn’t – great, decision made.
If not, if I still cannot make a decision, then I gut check – how do I feel about this? Anger, then why? Happiness – why? What are my deep truths that cause these emotions?
Perhaps what I’m saying is treat your emotions logically, and your logic emotionally – and you’ll develop really amazing cognitive, judgmental, and philosophical capabilities.
Yes, I gut-checked it, that sounds right.