Reading: How We Decide

It’s that inevitable moment in the car, again. My wife and I are sitting there, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, just a little past the peak of hunger, and I am about to turn the key. We both know what’s going to happen, but the question is who is going to ask it first.

“Where shall we have lunch?”

Why is that question so vexing? A million thoughts come to mind, and some are even delicious. But…I can’t settle on one. This one is a little expensive. That one’s a little too far. Do we have coupons for that other place?

How We DecideHow We Decide may very well help me with my dilemma. The author, Jonah Lehrer, provides vivid examples of the decision-making process, from why people take out a sub-prime loan to how airline pilots land a plane they can no longer steer, and explains the neuroscience behind good decisions and bad ones. I feel more capable of investing in the stock market thanks to this book, which is more than I can say for most finance books I’ve read. The book makes me think about thinking, and that can be a very good thing.

I most enjoyed reading about the rational brain versus the emotional brain. I tend to try to be a rational decider. Before I bought a dishwasher, I spent hours poring over the interactive charts on consumer sites. I read endless reviews. I compared prices. This had to be the best way to make a decision. And yet, in the end, I still struggled with which dishwasher to buy.

How We Decide points out something I had missed. We humans are emotional deciders. The grandest circuitry in our brain is tied tightly with our emotional state. I should have learned this from years of watching Star Trek certainly — Kirk would get the technobabble details from Spock, but in the end, he’d go with his gut. That’s not to put down the value of the rational mind, the scientific approach; it’s a necessary and powerful tool in the decision-making process, especially when you’re making an emotion-wrought decision. As Lehrer says,“The rational brain can’t silence emotions, but it can help figure out which ones should be followed.”

Best of all, there’s a final chapter that outlines how to use the tools at your disposal to make decisions, a fantastic guide to what you should take from the book.

So, if you find yourself sitting in the driveway, trying to decide where to have lunch, go to the bookstore instead.