I am an intuitive decision maker, which is probably why I have impulsive tendencies while making most decisions. This approach has it’s ups and downs. Recently, I was thinking about why I am impulsive while making decisions and if that is the right way to approach things, which lead me to some research and some thoughts and ideas of my own.
Every time you have to make a decision or solve a problem, you are either using intuition or logic or a mix of both. Logic is a way of using a set of concrete rules and formulas you have learnt over time to come up with a decision. Intuition on the other hand is a way of using abstract information you have received from different aspects of your life to create a sensible reasoning to come up with a decision. Both processes have their own merits and demerits, and everyone has their own ways of using them to making decisions. However, is there such a thing as the “right way” of making decisions? Is one better than the other? Can both be used at the same time? Lets explore.
Both logic and intuition have their own use cases where they shine. Logic is mostly used in hard sciences where precision is required, such as while solving math or science problems. Intuition is used mostly while doing autopilot tasks like running, walking, moving your arms, driving etc. that we usually take for granted and where the variables are very dynamic. For example, while walking your foot adjusts the angle it lands on the ground at depending on the angle of the rock that is on the ground, however none of this information is measured and no logic is actively applied while your body makes this decision. Arguably the best use case for intuition is when a living being’s survival instinct kicks in, usually in life or death situations. In those situations intuitions are usually right and rightfully so as intuition evolved in living beings for that specific purpose, survival.
Logical reasoning is precise, as it operates by applying a precise set of rules or instructions on a set of data to produce a reasoning or output data to aid the reasoning. This is why it is so useful in situations where you have a good understanding and a big picture of the problem in hand, and enough data to let you follow through the logical steps. Think of it like using a formula and steps in your math class to come up with a solution to a math problem. Logic also requires ideal conditions to work on, as the set of logical rules you use could produce precisely inaccurate (if you have the wrong data / environment, the data will definitely be wrong) results if the environment it is used in is not the same as the one used while developing it.
Intuition on the other hand is almost the opposite. It does not require a big picture or full understanding of the problem, as it uses a lot of tid-bits of abstract information that you have in your memory to create a reasoning leading to your decision just from the limited information you have about the problem in hand. For example, if you are walking through a forest and sense something following you, you intuitively decide to go into alert mode and prepare to defend yourself. Even though you do not know if the thing following you is a friendly kitty or a lion, tid-bits of information such as the fact that forests are dangerous and if something is following you it could be dangerous etc. tell you to stay alert. Intuition is much less precise and much more error prone and risky, but that is okay as it should be used in use cases where those things do not matter. Even though its more risk prone, the rewards are usually worth the risk in most use cases. NASA would not use intuition to find out what degrees of trajectory to launch a rocket ship to send it to the moon, however if you were trying to solve some sort of a word problem in your math class you would use intuition to find out which logical step (addition, subtraction, which formula to use etc) to take to resolve the problem which is also a good example of intuition and logic working together to create decisions.
Logic is productive as it is usually tried and tested and results are pretty much guaranteed as long as the right input is given. While intuition is very fast which can cause impulsive behaviors, logic is a slow process as it requires step by step execution of the logical steps. This usually helps with the precision of the output as every step has to be evaluated slowly (comparatively) leaving more time to catch errors when they happen. Logic can also produce more logic or knowledge as you can connect multiple logical steps to create a new logic system which can accomplish a bigger task. For example if you know the steps to make dough from flour and if you also know how to create cookies from dough, you can connect those two to create a new logic that lets you create cake from flour. The biggest limitation of logic is that it cannot be used to solve problems that you do not have much information about, also called random problems or bizarre problems.
Unlike logic, intuition cannot create new knowledge or new solution. You cannot even quantify intuition as it’s such an abstract thing that there is no unit to it. However, intuition is very powerful and it gets better the more you use it. For example, a soccer player (football for the whole world except America) will develop more intuition on how to handle a ball that is on his feet the more he practices it. Intuition is learnt, and it grows and gets more and more powerful the more you use it. It requires prior experience and training which helps our brain gather the tid-bits of data it needs to create a decision. Intuition can however be used to build logic, as you can use intuition to test combining multiple logical ideas to create an even bigger logic. It leads to discoveries and creativity through this process. Collection of powerful intuitions is what we call “wisdom”. Being wise simply means having better intuitions about things.
Now that we have looked into how both ways of decision making work, the big question still remains: What should I use? Nobody will be able to answer that for you other than yourself. There is no right or wrong way of making decisions, but most people tend to lean on one or the other side of the scale. Some people tend to use their intuition more which leads them to be more impulsive but as their intuitions develops they can reap bigger benefits, and some people tend to use their logic more which lets them have precision and productivity but hinders creativity and discovery. Using the right thing in the right situation is the way to go, and that is technically an intuition that develops over time (did we just create a paradox here?).
That being said, I have a general rule of thumb in my head that I try to use (I say try because the world is not perfect and you cannot always follow rules in every situation) while making decisions. Take this as a grain of salt because this might not work for everyone (I do not even know if it works properly for myself 😂). I first check if my result needs to be precise or not, if it does I try to use logic. Then I check if the decision is time sensitive and needs to happen right away or not. If it does I go with my intuition. Then I categorize if the end result of my decision is going to have critical effects or not, where critical means if the result can affect anything major or cause any damage if its wrong. If the result needs to be critical, I try to use what my intuition says and then double check that with logic if possible. If it the end result does not have critical effects, I usually go with my instinct and intuition. I have created this little flowchart with my horrible flowchart making skills:
A lot of you might have scratched your head when I said use intuition and use logic to verify that above. Let me give you an example. Think of when you are driving. You do not know precisely how much you need to turn the steering wheel of your car to make your car follow a curvy road, but you use intuition to approximate how much wheel you need to turn, and as you’re turning you use logic to verify how much your car has turned since you turned the wheel and when you need to stop turning. Again, these are just general guidelines I try to follow but it really depends on the situation and the nature of decision.
At the end of the day, all of us humans are unique and everyone has a different way of doing things, including decision making. Just like most other things in life, balance is the key to making right decisions, in this case, a balance of logic and intuition. I would love to hear if you have any suggestions or comments on the comments section below!