Why Are We Bad at Making Rational Decisions?

We are all irrational sometimes. The more complex our pending decisions are, the most irrational we tend to be.
Why Are We Bad at Making Rational Decisions?

Last update: 15 December, 2018

It seems like more and more people are letting emotions, not logic, influence their decisions. So why is it so hard for us to make rational decisions? This question is the center of many debates, research, and scientific theories. In this article, we’ll look at some of the key aspects of the issue.

We’ll try to show that people are much more rational than people tend to think and systematically explain reasoning. No one is exempt from using faulty logic. We’re all irrational part of the time. The more complex our pending decisions are, the most irrational we tend to be.

We can only define irrationality in contrast to rationality. So, first, we’ll talk about what it means to be rational. Rationality takes two forms:

  • The first is rational thought. Rational thought leads to the conclusion that is likely correct, keeping in mind all available knowledge. It’s more complicated to make decisions this way because you have to have all of the variables into consideration.
  • The other type of rationality is acting in such a way that the individual, with the knowledge available to them, has the best probability of reaching their goal.
A woman in front of a chalk board.

Why is it so difficult to make rational decisions?

The book Irrationality: The Enemy Within answers the question of why we make so many mistakes when we try to reason and solve problems. It offers a skeptic but hopeful view of our ability to think logically and act accordingly. What’s more, it teaches readers different procedures that they can follow to improve their abilities.

You won’t be able to solve all your problems with the procedures that the author, Stuart Sutherland, suggests. However, if you had the information from this book before, you would have been less likely to make bad decisions.

Studying the mechanisms of irrationality is a path towards self-knowledge. It also gives you a better understanding of how society works. Obedience, conformism, availability error, organizational insanity, erroneous coherence, the halo effect, the bystander effect, stereotypes… These are some of the things that scientists study as possible sources of bad reasoning.

On the other hand, rationality also has to do with decision-making. People tend to think that if your choices lead you to your end-goals, then you’re a rational person. If not, then you aren’t. There are different psychological factors that lead you to make good decisions. The main ones are the ability to postpone judgment, the complexity of the decision, and emotional influence.

Are you aware that you fall into the trap of your own irrational thinking?

Beliefs don’t come straight from reality. Sometimes they come from the need to maintain your self-image. For example, if you believe that others are untrustworthy, it might be because you need to see yourself as an honest person in comparison.

Thus, your most iron-clad beliefs sometimes just hide deep fears. They could also be a projection of characteristics or traits you don’t want to accept because they come into conflict with the idealized image you have of yourself.

A man wearing glasses and thinking.

Sometimes, we’re too comfortable and we don’t want to change. When you believe something, you choose the most comfortable position that allows you to stay static. You don’t have to change or keep looking. It doesn’t matter what you believe. Once you decide that your belief is true, your search is over. That’s one thing that can lead to logic flaws.

“A few observation and much reasoning lead to error; many observations and a little reasoning to truth.”

-Alexis Carrel-

Can you train yourself to make rational decisions?

You can train yourself to think a certain way. Since you were little, the people in your life taught you all sorts of behavior related to personal hygiene. Washing your teeth, taking a shower, doing your nails, eating, learning to dress, etc. But what about mental hygiene? What about taking care of your psyche?

To begin, you have to recognize that sometimes your mind deceives you. The reality that you observe around you passes through some filters before you process it. That means that the same event (changes, breakups, or unexpected situations, for example) can be interpreted very differently. You could see it as a wonderful opportunity or something very bad.

These mental filters are so powerful that they can become traps. They trap you and sometimes cause unpleasant emotions. What’s more, they might lead you to make bad decisions or jump to false conclusions.

The good news is that if you take care of your mind, you can escape from your own intellectual traps. How? Follow these rational guidelines and you’ll find it easier to make rational decisions and solve your problems:

  • Look for proof or arguments that go against your beliefs.
  • Don’t take a statement as true just because you believe part of it.
  • Remember that changing your mind in light of new evidence is a sign of strength, not weakness.
  • Try not to let yourself get carried away towards an action that you wouldn’t have chosen in the first place.
  • Don’t let yourself get caught up in mob mentalityIf you wouldn’t do it on your own, don’t do it just because others are doing it.

You might not solve all of your decision-making mistakes with the tips in this article. However, with a little bit of effort, you can probably make more rational decisions and better understand how the world really works.

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”


This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.