‘Emotion’ the enemy of ‘reason’?


When you are making decisions in your life you will always encounter reason and emotion. This blog post will define what is reason and emotion and how this process actually works. I will provide some guidelines from theory to handle your reason and emotion during decision-making. To put this theory into practice I will answer the question if reason or emotion dominates my decision-making process and if this suits my personality? The decision-making problem that I am facing relates to the choice if I am going to pursue a professional career in Accounting/Strategic Management or to become an entrepreneur and start my own company like I explained in my last blog?

When you are talking about reason and emotion you will always get the feeling that they influence each other. You could say, reason is from the mind and emotion is from the heart. When people are thinking of the process of decision-making they usually think that there is not much room for emotion because thinking rational would optimize utility and including emotion would distort this process. But is this the case?

In the YouTube video below you can see an interesting video by Walt Disney (1943) about Reason and Emotion and how it interacts with each other:

Interesting theory

In the last decades a lot of research has been done on the subject of reason and emotion. One interesting article by P. Zimmerman and J. S Lerner from Harvard University called: The emotional Decision Maker’ makes an interesting statement: ‘’before you can even form a thought, emotions are influencing your judgments’’. And they distinguish two types of emotions namely: Integral Emotions and Incidental emotions. Integral emotions are valid decision inputs from a rational perspective because they arise from your personal judgment and Incidental emotions are a not valid decision input because they come from past events and can influence your present decisions. For example new emotions like fear in new decisions are valid but fear from past decisions can influence new decisions which are not rational valid emotions. The authors came up with three solutions to reduce incidental emotions:

1. Diagnose your emotions

2. Absorb other perspectives.

3. Treat each situation as different

 Their major point is that you cannot simple write off your emotions and that you have first to investigate them thorough before you decide what their role is in your decision-making process.


Coming back to my own experience with reason and emotion and the decision-making problem that I am currently facing which can benefit from the before explained theory. When I am fully thinking rational the logic decision would be to pursue a ‘safe’ career in Accounting because the job has numerous benefits and in the current economic climate it is a safe bet. But my emotion says that I don’t want to do the same thing for the rest of my life stuck behind a desk. My emotion says to just to take the risk and to start my own company. But if you prepare a cost benefit-analysis you will still find that pursuing a professional career is a logic choice. But following the theory of Zimmerman and Lerner, my emotion would be placed in the category of ‘integral emotion’ which is defined as a rational emotion that is a valid input in the ‘cost benefit analysis’.

Does it help me?

Coming back to the statement: ‘Emotion’ the enemy of ‘reason’?, I can conclude this is not always the case. In some decision-making problems, emotion is a valid input and it is therefore not an ‘enemy’ of reason. It can be a valuable aspect to your personal decision making process. So investigate your emotions before you wright them off. Following Zimmerman and Lerner, emotions are ‘time-tested evolutionary adaptions to universal life challenges’. And when I am thinking of my problem, I will for sure investigate my emotions more thorough so I can include them in my rational decision-making process before coming to a final verdict. Does this suit my personality? I am a rational thinker but maybe I have to give my emotion the benefit of the doubt! Like Steve Jobs would say: ‘Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition, they somehow already know what you truly want to become’.



‘Dream big or go home’

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Dreams are successions of images, ideas, emotions and sensations that occur involuntarily in the mind during certain stages of sleep’.

But the dreams that I am referring to in this blog post are personal defined ‘dreams’ about a future state of something of somewhat. Dreams that you and I define as something you really desire and would like to realize in the ‘near’ future. Another way to express this kind of ‘dreams’ is to refer to it as: personal wishes. My motivation regarding my personal ‘dreams’ can be best expressed with the quote: ‘Dream big or go home’!

The bigger picture

I think we can define wishes in two ways, namely short term wishes and long term wishes. If you are dreaming of a wealthy life and all the perks that are included with this kind of lifestyle you can see this as a personal long term wish or dream. But to fulfill this wish you have to complete certain steps to reach this goal. The steps to reach this goal can be defined as more short term wishes in this bigger picture. But to realize this dream into reality is a difficult procedure, but there are different theories that can help you with solving this problem.

The spiral of creation

One theory that can help you with realizing your wishes is a theory defined by Marinus Knoope called the ‘spiral of creation’It is a simple and compact model that describes 12 steps that you have to follow to materialize your personal dreams/wishes. To apply this model regarding my own wishes and to apply it in my ‘bigger picture’ I choose to include my short and long term wishes.

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Realizing my dreams

My long term wish or dream is to live a wealthy and social life that gives me satisfaction. But before this long term dream can be realized I first have to realize some short term wishes. One important dream is to finish my masters in Accounting and Strategic Management at Tilburg University. If you apply the ‘spiral of creation’ framework to this wish you can see that I am almost at the end of the spiral at step 10: Persevering. But to fulfill my long term dream I have also other dreams I want to realize in the near future. One of them is to create my own company and to become a successful entrepreneur. And one of my ideas to realize this is to turn my hobby into my ‘work’. The hobby I am referring to is not an ‘average’ hobby as you could say; my hobby is brewing my own beer! I started this hobby with a couple of friends and it has become a fulfilling journey. My dream is eventually to create my own brand and to put this on the market. And because of my business economics background I can turn my gained knowledge into practice in a very interesting way.

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The road to cover

But before realizing my dream I have a lot of road to cover. If you apply the ‘spiral of creation’ framework to my ‘beer brand dream’ you can discover that I am only at the beginning of the circle at step 5: Researching. This framework showed me that I have to actively try to realize my dream and that I have to play a much more active role because my dream will not fulfill itself. But referring back to my quote ‘dream big or go home’, you may think my idea is over ambitious and hard to realize but as Steve Jobs would say: ‘stay hungry, stay foolish’!

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