Sometimes it’s easy to choose between two options: we know right away which one is correct. But, unfortunately, decisions are not always so easy to make. We doubt when we read the menu of a restaurant, when we choose between buying one or another shirt or at the time we choose one of the supermarket queues, but also when we are presented with two suppliers with similar offers or we have to choose between two candidates for a job.
We go around again and again to the same thing and, in the end, we choose one of the options without being clear if, perhaps, we’ve made the wrong decision. Sometimes, we even consider if it would not be better not to have options, or to take these completely randomly, by tossing a coin. What we don’t know is that, in fact, the latter can be the most efficient method to find the best decision.
As the leadership experts Friederike Fabritius and Hans W. Hagemann explain in their book The Leading Brain: Neuroscience Hacks to Work Smarter, Better, and Happier, flipping a coin can be a great way to make a decision.
“If you are doubtful between two options that seem apparently equally good, throw a coin,” the authors explain in the book. “If you are satisfied or relieved by the decision that the currency has taken for you, take it. If, on the other hand, the decision resulting from throwing the coin leaves you uncomfortable and even makes you wonder why you played a big decision in the first place, then opt for the other option. Your ‘instinct’ alerted you to the right decision.”
A method that helps our brain to think.
It may seem that this technique is bullshit, but Fabritius and Hagemann explain in the book that it’s perfect to make conscious decisions marry the unconscious ones, forcing the brain to have a hot reaction to a given option.
“Although there is a misconception that intuitive decisions are random and imply a lack of ability, the opposite occurs,” the authors write. “Intuitive decisions are often the product of years of experience and thousands of hours of practice. They represent the most efficient use of accumulated experience.”
Although intuition is a rather philosophical concept, it has also been studied in psychology and, of course, in neurology. The decisions that we consider intuitive are made by the basal ganglia and the insula, two different regions of the brain.
The basal ganglia administer the routines and stored patterns that make up your experiences. The insula deals with consciousness and is very sensitive to any change in the body. When making a decision, the unconscious part of the work begins to work on the problem immediately, although you are not even consciously thinking about it. So, when you finally have to make a conscious decision, your brain compares this with the one that previously the unconscious had already taken.
This is why it’s so useful to throw a coin, because you force the brain to “confront its conscious and unconscious opinion”. If these do not coincide, you feel that something is wrong, then you still have time to rectify.