Dr. Ken Manges

What role does reason and deliberate consideration versus whim, circumstance and intuition have on your decision making?

Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Laureate, identified two types of decision-making systems: System 1. Intuition, decisions, those which are swift and without deliberation and System 2, the slower more pondering approach, with the weighing and mindful calculations before we make our judgement.

Aristotle had a more elaborate and precise, but nevertheless easily followed approach. His approach was competent deliberation, identified as euboulia.

But before getting too far down a rabbit hole of whim versus deliberate decision making, we cannot deny or forget about the Achilles heel of any decision we make, and that’s the influence of luck.

Although I am fond of saying everyone’s luck has their fingerprint on it, many of us believe in fate. Others believe in the consequences of prayer, morality, or the goodness of our intent are what influences the outcome of our decisions. It would be foolish not to acknowledge how luck impacts the outcome of our decisions. To paraphrase the old cliché, “even the best laid plans of mice and men get knocked off track.” Which is nature’s way of saying, hold off, who do you think is in charge?

Now that we’ve given luck its appropriate due, let’s get back to swift, versus slow and whim or intuition versus deliberate and calculated decision making.

Oh, another brief aside, I don’t agree that swift decisions are necessarily wrong, and that deliberate decisions are necessarily right. 

On the swift decisions not being necessarily wrong side, take the example of stopping a child from running into the street or refusing your brother-in-law a loan, even before he completes his sentence that “you won’t be sorry.” Both are categorically in the “swift” decision column but appear on the surface to be wise and justifiable.

So where are we? Where are you on the continuum of quick versus slow? 

We all make hundreds of decisions each day. What to wear, which road to take to get to our destination, whether to take an umbrella or risk getting wet. But on the more consequential decisions of our lives many of us do our diligent research, weigh the options, and then make our decision. 

Even after we take the steps to do the most detailed and deliberate decisions, based on the 2019 YouGov study, nine percent of us are superstitious and, even after deliberation, we keep our fingers crossed and knock-on wood three times, just to rule out bad luck.

What it this thing called intuition and how does it play into our decision making? Based on Websters’ Dictionary, intuition is something that is known or understood without proof or evidence. 

But I take umbrage with that definition. What about you? To me intuition is knowing without knowing how we know. For instance, we may have proof from our life experience or evidence from failed outcomes.

Using all of our senses, we walk, converse, and continually exchange information. Sometimes the information is on a conscious level, for instance we see a car with a flat tire, and we know its flat. Other times we see a car flying by us and see it has a tire low on air. We take in the information without the need or necessarily the desire to do anything. We may not take it too seriously but if we continue down the road and see an accident involving the car with the tire that was low on air, we might say to ourselves, I wonder if…  and realize we saw the car and mentally you put the low tire pressure and the accident together. Poof! we concluded what we believe was the cause of the accident. Of course, we could be completely wrong. Nobody said intuition is always right. But our intuition suggested that a tire low on-air pressure could cause a car to get into an accident. 

Over our years of experience, we have an information bank of knowledge to draw from. Intuition is our bank of experiences. 

Wikipedia defines intuition as the “ability to acquire knowledge without recourse to conscious reasoning.” 

Different fields define intuition differently, including direct access to unconscious knowledge; unconscious cognition; inner sensing; inner insight to unconscious pattern-recognition; and the ability to understand something instinctively, without any need for conscious reasoning.

We can be conscious but unaware of those things that influence our decisions. Intuition creeps in when we have awareness but haven’t deliberately pondered, thought about or tried to deduce why we have come up with the reason for our belief.  Being unaware of how we know something doesn’t mean we aren’t sure or reasoned in our belief. But being unaware means not knowing how we got to our opinion or decision. 

As humans we are in continually different states of consciousness and simultaneously various levels of awareness throughout the day. 

We could say our consciousness is on a continuum from full awareness to a deep sleep. When we are awake, we are sensorially aware and regardless of whether we are having a conversation or physically engaged in a sport we know what’s going on around us.

The time in- between being fully awake, and sleep are the times when we may be awake, but not aware. Can you think of such a time? A good example is when we are fantasizing or daydreaming. Other times could be after we’ve become intoxicated or when we have deliberately tuned everything out and gone into a meditative state. What does all of this have to do with decision making?

The more aware we are of the things that influence our decisions, the more likely the decision will be rational, and the outcome not come as a surprise or have us make an unnecessary mistake (luck aside).

The use of intuition in decision making is the power you harness when you make time to decide using all of your resources. As Anne Lamott's said: Some Instructions on Writing and Life,  “You get your intuition back when you make space for it, when you stop the chattering of the rational mind. The rational mind doesn't nourish you. You assume that it gives you the truth, because the rational mind is the golden calf that this culture worships, but this is not true. Rationality squeezes out much that is rich, juicy, and fascinating.”

Interestingly Albert Einstein said, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

Steve Jobs said, “Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect.”

Stephen Leybourne and Eugene Sadler-Smith, authors of a recent study on the subject said, “intuitions are rapid, affectively charged, holistic judgements arrived at without the apparent intrusion of rational thought.” 

Malcom Gladwell is a fan of intuition as well. He said, “A tremendous amount of expertise resides in the unconscious mind. These aren't things we can necessarily describe, explain, or map out. It's a steady accumulation of knowledge that lies below the surface and comes out in the form of intuition. This is one thing that distinguishes experts from non-experts. As the mind stores unconscious expertise, we become more sophisticated. Anyone juggling many different variables, dealing with incredibly new and complex issues, managing all kinds of different personalities has to, at some point, rely on this body of submerged knowledge to make sense of their tasks.”

Where do you come down on intuition? Is it conscious or unconscious? Does it matter? The simple answer to the latter point is yes. Like making sausage and making law, decision making can be a messy business but knowing how we have produced our opinion or judgement can be a powerful tool in our arsenal in making fewer bad decisions.

Can you harness your intuition? Can you learn intuition? Kurt Matzler, a professor at the University of Austria says yes absolutely! 

He says, “it’s important to recognize that people first respond emotionally to new situations, and only then do cognitive processes kick in. So, this means that to improve intuition, managers must work on harnessing their emotional intelligence that is, they need to recognize and interpret their emotions.”

Not that we will necessarily make the effort when our child is crossing the road or our brother-in-law is asking for a loan, but when the next deep dive decision is needed, consider what Debbe Geiger a journalist suggests. 

Use a spread sheet, “Along the top, list the following: thoughts, emotions, physical feelings and dreams. Fill in the boxes, then review your responses. Look to see if they are overwhelmingly positive or negative? “

For yourself, decide if you are more emotional than rational. Are you using your entire arsenal of experiences to make your choice? 

Project yourself into the future as though you have made the decision and consider the outcome from this new vantage point. Is your decision the best course of action for the outcome you would like to achieve? 

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Questions? Comments? Thoughts about future topics of discussion? Write to me at psychology@americanisraelite.com I will respond. Enjoy. Be safe.

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