Decisions, Decisions: Choosing What’s Best For You

In his new book, a local psychologist explains how our bodies’ physical changes can help us make better decisions

The holiday season leaves many of us exhausted over the plethora of decisions that must be made. Where and what to eat, who to invite, what gifts to buy. And then there are the New Year’s resolutions. In the scheme of life, of course, these are trivial decisions, and we tend to handle them in the way an experienced driver reflexively maneuvers through traffic. But much more serious choices — about career, relationships, family, friends, even pets — await all of us. Those decisions can bring on serious bouts of hemming and hawing.

“People tend to think of decision-making as a matter of weighing risks and rewards, the upside against the downside,” says Dr. Randy W. Green, a licensed psychologist who practices in Hopewell Junction and Chappaqua. “They’re trying to sift through a lot of cognitive information to come to that decision.” It’s similar, he says, to betting on horses: You pore over racing forms for every detail about every horse, make comparisons, consider track conditions. In the end, then, the decision is based solely upon external facts.

In his new book, Decisions, Decisions: How to Get Off the Fence and Choose What’s Best — For You! (Lyons Press, $14.95), Green argues that within the most primal part of the human brain resides a largely ignored resource for helping make decisions that are right for each individual.

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“Instead of that detailed cognitive analysis of information,” says Green, “what I do, which is radically different, is help you become aware of the sensory system in your body, letting your body — not your conscience — be your guide. I teach people how to become sensitive to their bodies in relation to the decisions they want to make.”

dr. randy w. green

Our bodies react physically to all new external stimuli, whether what’s in front of us is a slithering snake or a choice. “When you’re trying to make a decision, it’s already manifesting in your body before you actually make that decision,” Green says. The “reptilian” part of the brain — the stem — controls “micro-muscular” movements. “For every single behavior, you have a ‘position’ in your body,” he explains. “That means you have micro-muscular flexions in your neck or your chest or arms or legs. Your neck shifts a certain way or you elongate your spine. You have breathing changes, high in your chest or deep from your abdomen. Your eyes go up or down or sideways.” By using counseling sessions and exercises explained in his book, Green helps frustrated decision-makers recognize what their bodies are telling them when faced with choices.

“I teach people how to become sensitive to their bodies in relation to the decisions they want to make,” says Dr. Green

In a very simplified example, it’s like comparing how you feel physically while listening to your favorite ballad as compared to hearing chalk screeching on a blackboard — although Green is quick to point out that each of us reacts differently to external sounds and sights. So, too, with making decisions.

“Two people are paddling a canoe and reach the rapids. One person will have the internal experience that it’s dangerous,” Green says. “The other person will have the internal experience that it’s exhilarating. They’ll make the decision to continue or jump out. There’s no one right way to decide things.”

Green doesn’t guarantee foolproof decision-making. His goal is to help clients “adopt a form in them that makes the yes and no signals more clear.”

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