In order to make a decision, you have to perceive a situation correctly. Which is why I’m unable to deliberate when I’m depressed: I can’t see. With the amygdala and hippocampus regions of the brain suffering cell shrinkage and death–spreading a message of panic throughout my entire nervous system–I’m positioned worse than a deer in headlights.
I have to resist the “fight or flight” command from my brain’s “fear system” (the amygdala)–which holds unconscious, anxiety-based memories–and to give the job of analyzing my world to the more sophisticated parts (the upper regions) of my brain.
In other words, to make decisions (or at least good ones), I have to learn how to see correctly.
My theology professor, Keith Egan, used to tell his students to take a “long, loving look at the real.” Every day he’d give us that instruction for a class called “Exploring Beauty.” (No, we didn’t look through the Victoria’s Secret catalog for homework.) It stuck–this loving look at the real stuff. Whenever I’d see a classmate at the dining hall, I’d ask her if she’d taken her long, loving look at the real yet that day (as if it were equivalent to a workout or shower).
But it’s true that in order to choose A over B and C, you have to perceive A, B, and C correctly. First, you have to train your mind to see reality. Then you have to get comfy with reality. And finally you begin to love reality.
I’m as far away from that last sentence as most college boys are from marriage plans–reality ain’t all that pretty to these eyes. It still hurts too much. BUT I think I am getting better at recognizing it–much like I can recognize my daughter’s cry coming from the nursery while I’m on the treadmill at the gym. And that’s great news for a person who puts decision-making after folding laundry on her list of most enjoyable activities.
P.S. I sent Keith this blog post, and he replied: “Alas–you didn’t recall my line from Eliot: “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.” So I guess we are supposed to go easy (everything in moderation, even moderation) with the long loving looks at the real.