Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


4 Ways Emotions Can Screw Up Your Decisions

3. Sadness can make you settle.

Source: PathDoc/Shutterstock

Ever look back at a terrible decision you've made and wonder, "What was I thinking?" Well, there's actually a chance you weren't thinking. Instead, you may have been acting on emotion, not logic.

Whether it's dating an attractive person who treats you horribly, or wasting a lot of money on a bad investment, your feelings can lead you astray if you're not careful. And the more intense the emotions, the more your judgment may be clouded.

We make the best decisions when we can achieve a careful balance between emotions and logic. When your emotions run too high, your logic will be low, which can lead to irrational decisions:

1. Excitement can cause you to overestimate your chances of success.

There's a reason why casinos employ bright lights and loud noises: They want you to get excited. The more excited you feel, the more likely you'll be to spend large amounts of money.

When you feel really excited about something, you are more likely to underestimate a risk. Whether you take out a loan for a thrilling opportunity, or bet all your cash on a seemingly promising horse, you'll be more likely to underestimate your risk when you're feeling excited.

2. Anxiety in one area of your life spills over into other areas.

If you're anxious about something in your personal life—perhaps you're worried about a health scare or nervous about buying a new home—it can cause you to feel anxious about your business decisions as well. Even though the situations are completely unrelated, research shows you'll likely have trouble separating the two.

Anxiety over one specific issue can linger. When you're feeling nervous, you may refuse to create change or you may struggle to make decisions. As a result, your thinking is likely to be clouded.

3. Feelings of sadness can cause you to settle.

Research shows you're likely to set your goals lower when you're feeling sad. In one study, researchers asked participants to sell various objects. Participants who felt sad set their prices lower than the other participants. Researchers suspect that the participants' sadness led them to set the bar low, in hopes that achieving their goal would improve their mood.

Creating low expectations for yourself can prevent you from reaching your greatest potential. You may decide not to apply for a promotion or you may not negotiate for what you want, just because you're feeling down.

4. Anger and embarrassment can lead to taking a long shot.

Intense emotions can lead to rash decisions, and anger and embarrassment may make you particularly vulnerable to high-risk, low-payoff choices. Researchers suspect intense uncomfortable emotions impair self-regulation skills.

Of course, when you're feeling really emotional, your risks can become self-destructive, and when those big risks don't pay off, your anger and embarrassment are likely to intensify.

Balance Emotion and Logic

Emotions certainly play an important role in your decision-making process. Anxiety, for example, can keep you from making a poor choice, and boredom can ignite a spark that leads you to follow your passion.

To make balanced choices, acknowledge your emotions. Pay attention to the way you're feeling and recognize how those emotions may distort your thinking and influence your behavior. Raise your logic and decrease your emotional reactivity by listing the pros and cons of any tough decision. Seeing the facts on paper can help you think rationally about your options and prevent emotions from getting the best of you.

Learn more in 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do.

This article first appeared on Inc.

More from Amy Morin
More from Psychology Today