The answer to the above question is, of course, that we use both intuition and logic in our decision making. As these are quite distinctive and separate mental processes, with different strengths and weaknesses, we need to be aware of these differences and how they might impact on the quality of our thinking and decision making.
By intuition I mean the voice of experience. Our intuitive mind seeks to make sense of current realities by referencing them to similar ‘stories’ from the past. It assigns causative factors based on what fits best with our past experience. No effort is required when we act out of our intuitive mind e.g. if something feels ‘right’ we just do it . When we trust our instincts we do so without necessarily understanding why we are acting in the way we do. An intuitive response includes acting out of habit, based on often long held beliefs and assumptions about the kind of decision or situation we are facing.
Our rational mind on the other hand seeks to reach conclusions by applying the rules of logic. It is about engaging our critical, rational mind. It differs from intuition in that it needs to be consciously engaged and seek ‘facts’ in an effort to be objective, which may or may not be accurate or relevant. It can require a lot of mental effort and discipline to gather evidence, identify and analyse possible outcomes, and assign probabilities before deciding and acting. However, while providing key objective input, relying exclusively on analysis to make decisions can result in an over simplification of complex issues.
The problem with the intuitive mind is that it is potentially delusional. It is prone to bias, based on incorrect or out of date assumptions and is overly influenced by recent events/influences and the untested views of those we trust (or the last person to whom we have spoken). Our impatience or need for instant gratification, which is not necessarily for our long term benefit, comes from intuitive responses which screen out downsides or considerations that are not immediately apparent.
What the intuitive mind regards as plausible outcomes may be long shots with low probabilities. The intuitive mind will tend to assume extreme outcomes – positive or negative, while in most cases actual outcomes will be somewhere in the middle, as the laws of probability have their way! That said, our intuitive mind is the place where valuable life experiences are stored and it is the source of our creativity.
The temptation, however, is to rely too much on our intuition because it takes no effort, and we are wired to be mentally lazy. The rational mind will agree that it is ‘logical’ to expend the least effort to get a result.
Overall it is reasonable for us to rely mostly on our intuition for day to day decisions. But when it comes to the big decisions, with significant consequences for ‘getting it wrong’, we need to research the ‘facts’ and consciously engage our critical faculties so that our decision making is as fully informed as possible.
Finally, we need to be mindful of a human tendency towards over confidence in the quality of our decision making – there are always gaps in our knowledge of relevant facts and the future is inherently uncertain.