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Effective Decision-Making

The Decision-Making Process

Decision-making is the reasoning process we use to select a course of action from among any number of possibilities that present themselves mentally or otherwise. Making a decision either can involve a period of deliberation or seemingly none at all. For many of life’s decisions, we find ourselves having to decide precisely how we should make a decision: Should I sleep on it, go away for a few days, consult someone, flip a coin? Friends, family and others, sometimes even complete strangers, will advise us to stop and think before making a decision and never do the first thing that comes into our heads. Contrast that with wisdom passed down through the ages recommending we go with our instincts or that we listen to our hearts. (See our Recommendations)

"Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen."

– Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882

How often have you or someone you know lamented: "That was a bad decision," "I wish I had it to do over again," "I let my emotions get in the way." It turns out that our emotions are much more important in the decision-making process than previously thought. The Institute of HeartMath has conducted more than 24 years of research and has compiled substantial data about the role of emotions and the brain in decision-making. It turns out that quite often, the choices we make that end in regret are the products of unmanaged emotions, but when we allow calm and intuitive heart-based feelings to guide us the outcomes of our decisions are far more favorable.

When the Heart Decides

Researchers with HeartMath and other organizations believe intuitive feelings emanate from the heart. They have found evidence showing the human heart has an intuitive intelligence greater than science and medicine have historically believed. Even without our realizing it, the heart guides us in much of what we do, but often we allow our brains or our unmanaged emotions to take the lead role in our decision-making and later regret our choices.

"I should have gone with my heart," some people say in hindsight, unaware that the very act of making such a statement may have originated in the heart itself. We now know the heart has a powerful electromagnetic field and complex nervous system and circuitry that generate up to an estimated 60 times the electrical amplitude of the brain. The electromagnetic signal our heart rhythms produce can actually be measured in the brain waves of people around us.

We also know our heart-rhythm patterns say a lot about our emotional balance and the stress we are experiencing: The calmer we are, the more regular our heart-rhythm patterns are, and the more stress we feel, the more irregular the patterns are. Researchers at HeartMath and elsewhere have concluded the heart possesses its own organized intelligence network that enables it to act independently, learn, remember and produce feelings. Until recently it was believed only the brain was capable of these functions. Through years of studies involving thousands of people, researchers at HeartMath and elsewhere have shown when we intentionally experience positive feelings such as care and appreciation we can improve our heart-rhythm patterns. That means reduced stress, getting sick less frequently, thinking more clearly, even living longer. So go ahead, let your heart decide.

The Stress of Making Decisions

Ever wonder how many decisions you make each day. Hundreds, thousands? The conscious ones we make every few seconds: Should I get out of bed? Should I hit the snooze button? Hit it again? Remember my dreams? Plan my day? And the countless ones our body’s systems, including trillions of cells, make every fraction of a second.

In today’s fast-paced, rapidly changing world, we’re expected to make countless decisions – quickly: Give the correct answer in class; make a left turn at the signal, finish that project by 3 p.m.; meet the cable guy. The pressure to think and act quickly never seems to let up and the consequences of not keeping up are always hanging over our heads. No wonder stress levels are at all-time highs among Americans.

"An estimated 75% to 90% of visits to primary-care physicians are for stress-related problems."

– American Institute of Stress

What do we get for all the stress? Confusion, irritability, anxiety, anger, illness and more, all severely impacting effective decision-making. You can, however, control negative emotional responses – the primary causes of stress – thereby reducing your stress to manageable levels. The knowledge HeartMath has gained and the scientifically validated tools we have developed have aided thousands of people in many walks of life to master their emotions and begin making the kinds of decisions that improve the quality of their own and other people’s lives. (See our Recommendations)

Life’s Big Decisions

Not all decisions are equal, and not all take the same toll on us. "What should I have for lunch?" or "Should I go somewhere this weekend?" don’t compare to "Should we start saving for the kids’ college education or pay off our debts first?" or "Should I change careers?"

The big decisions take much more intellectual thought, clarity and focus. Weighty decisions such as these are stressful enough, but if we put them off until later, we’re bargaining for the stress that comes with indecision and we don’t need any more stess.

HeartMath’s Freeze-Frame® Technique is so uniquely suited to managing the nagging of lesser day-to-day decisions and the "stress emergencies" of life’s big decisions that it’s taught in most HeartMath training programs for Fortune 100 companies, health-care organizations and school systems. Freeze-Frame is a multipurpose technique for reducing stress and emotional chaos and improving decision-making.

Organizational Decision-Making

"The results (of HeartMath interventions) speak for themselves. Our airline, Cathay Pacific, now prides itself on delivering an individual style of service, straight from the heart. This has resulted in consistently being rated as having the best in-flight service in the world."

– Peter Buecking, Sales/Marketing Director, Cathay Pacific Airways

Buecking and many others with public- and private-sector organizations have learned coherent alignment of the heart and mind through HeartMath training. Employees at all levels gain greater ability to manage emotions, igniting the higher centers of the brain, sparking greater insight and better decision-making skills.

Researchers investigated the impact of HeartMath’s Inner Quality Management program on managers and staff within the California Personnel Retirement System’s Information Technology Services Division, which had recently initiated profound changes to meet the changing information services marketplace. Learning new technology skills proved challenging. The results suggested that by facilitating increased self-management of the participants’ mental and emotional turmoil, the program enhanced employees’ ability to defuse personal and organizational stress. Check out the HeartMath book From Chaos to Coherence for further details on the Inner Quality Management program. (See our Recommendations)


A HeartMath Tip: For most decisions, try the following to rapidly shift your emotional state by sending positive emotions through your system and opening up the pathways of communication between your heart and brain. With practice you can routinely achieve the clarity and "heart coherence" necessary for optimal heart-brain decision-making.

  1. Heart focus: Shift your attention to the area of the heart and breathe slowly and deeply.
  2. Heart breathing: Keep your focus in the heart by gently breathing – five seconds in and five seconds out – through your heart. Do this two or three times.
  3. Heart feeling: Activate and sustain a genuine feeling of appreciation or care for someone or something in your life. Focus on the good heart feeling as you continue to breathe through the area of your heart.

    (Adapted from HeartMath’s acclaimed Quick Coherence™ technique, which is included in the book Transforming Stress.)

For more complex, life-changing decisions, we recommend the Freeze-Frame technique.

Benefits of Successful Decision-Making

  • Less stress
  • Emotional balance
  • Time and resources used more efficiently
  • Better communication and success at home, school, work and socially
  • Fewer regrets


Tools For Effective Decision-Making

The Institute of HeartMath has developed a variety tools that have helped thousands of people recognize and break down old, negative and harmful emotional patterns and intentionally experience new constructive ones by using their heart intelligence. They now are leading healthier, more rewarding lives.

  • emWave®2: Regular use of this entertaining and scientifically validated, heart-rate monitor helps you build resilience – a state of poise and readiness for effectively dealing with stressful feelings that can deplete your mental, emotional and physical systems. Easy to use and noninvasive, you can use it as a handheld or connect to your computer to review past sessions or play any of the resilience building games.

  • emWave® Desktop for Mac and PC: The emWave Desktop turns your computer into an advanced heart-rate monitor. When combined with HeartMath’s widely acclaimed resilience and coherence building techniques, you’ll soon learn how easily you can create an optimal state in which your heart, mind and emotions are more in-sync and balanced. In this balanced state, individuals tend to experience more energy, focus and mental clarity. With practice of the HeartMath System can help you begin feeling healthier and happier and start living life more fully.

    † Formerly known as Freeze-Framer®

  • Transforming Stress: Childre, Rozman, 2004. Learn about the warning signs of chronic stress and what you should know about your intelligent heart and its capacity to help you immediately begin reducing the stress in your life, the cause of so much negativity, ill health and poor decision-making in today’s fast-paced climate. Includes a chapter devoted to the Quick Coherence technique and instructions and practical uses for other HeartMath tools.

(Note: Use the emWave2 or emWave Desktop for Mac and PC to help regulate your emotions in preparation for events you know may trigger your stress response and to help you recover from stressful episodes and get back on an even keel fast.)

Learn more…

  • Before Cognition: The Active Contribution of the Heart/ANS to Intuitive Decision Making as Measured on Repeat Entrepreneurs in the Cambridge Technopol: This paper, presented in February 2007 at the Fourth AGSE International Entrepreneurship Research Exchange in Brisbane, Australia, gives the preliminary results of a recent study exploring the psychophysiological basis of entrepreneurial intuition – that sector of entrepreneurial decision-making and action, particularly in the business world, that is not based on reason or logic, or memories or extrapolations from the past, but on accurate foreknowledge of the future. Researchers believe the body’s psychophysiological systems, especially the heart and the brain, are key factors in this intuitive decision-making process.
  • Resilience Training Program Reduces Physiological and Psychological Stress in Police Officers: Results of this study showed a wide range of benefits resulting from HeartMath training in emotional self-management, including self- recognition and management of stress and negative emotions and increases in positive emotions and physical vitality. Learn how this training affected police officers’ judgment and decision-making while out on the job.

Take me to the HeartMath Store now to learn more about IHM’s life-changing tools, training programs and other resources, or call us: (800) 711-6221.