November 28, 2021
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One of the most memorable quotes of the 20th century probably comes from the 1994 film Forrest Gump. The lead character Forrest Gump (played by Tom Hanks) said, “Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” How many times have you played this quote over and over again in your mind when confronted with a bewildering decision?

It shouldn’t come to anyone’s surprise that people emotionally react differently when confronted with decisions. Some people appear to be able to confidently make difficult decisions on the spot and then emotionally shut themselves off from any remorse or second-guessing. Others struggle with the decision-making process for days or weeks and then, even after the decision has been made, the options they didn’t choose continue to torment them. Why is that?

Incidentally, American physiologist Walter Cannon gave us the answer through his 1920’s concept of fight-or-flight response. Cannon realized that a chain of rapidly occurring reactions inside the body helped to mobilize the body’s resources to deal with threatening circumstances. A decision can be viewed as a threatening circumstance, in the sense that we do not know the results until we make the decision.

You could be making better decisions with less emotional stress if you viewed the decision-making process as a “fight-or-flight” response. This could prove to be an easy process that results in the right emotional outlook. For instance, people who make difficult decisions on the spot may actually be induced by the “fight” response. Such people may not actually be showing signs of visual emotional stress, but they internally want to get the “fight” done and behind them. This sort of decision-making action could lead to some very spontaneous and poor financial, educational, or life-event consequences. For the people who typically struggle over making a decision, their troubles simply come from the “flight” response. No immediate or spontaneous action occurs. They either simply attempt to prolong, evade, or over-evaluate the decision, which produces many worrisome and negative emotions.

To discover the best way to make decisions count, first determine if you are a “fight” or “flight” responder. Understanding how you react to choices paves the way toward making decisions without emotional strain. Once you know your reflexive reaction, you have the foundation for more thoughtful and confident decision-making. In either type of responses, there is a happy medium. “Flight” responders can reduce or change their ”flight” pattern to hours or minutes before making a decision instead of waiting days. Similarly, “fight” responders can extend or increase their “fight” reaction time to minutes or hours before decision-making.

Understanding whether you have the “fight” or “flight” reflex will improve important decision-making. “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get,” until you understand yourself, first.

[This article was considered for the Fall 2016 Print Edition of the Catawba Pioneer.]

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