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Our fight or flight decisions

Daniel Pirrone
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Every day of our life we face emotional and stressful decisions; even moreso in the post-COVID world. But how do we manage our emotional response in order to navigate these stressful moments and ensure we’re making the right decisions?

Recently, Six Degrees Executive teamed up with behavioural economist and psychologist, Phil Slade from Decida to host a webinar exploring how we navigate our emotions during in stressful situations. Phil focuses on what happens when we let our hardwired, primate emotions takeover; in his words, when we go “ape s#!t”.

What are our “two brains”?

It is critical to understand how different types of emotions impact our decision making, but in order to do so we first need to understand that our brain is divided into two system. System 1 encompasses basic functions; among our earliest neural pathways that begin developing in the womb. It manages our emotions and our memories, and what is essentially our ‘fight or flight’ brain. System 2 is our consciousness. It develops based on feelings and memories, and allows us to consider situations in relation to how we’ve experienced before. System 1 jumps to conclusions and System 2 allows space for rational thought.

How do we manage our thoughts?

Both of these systems tend to work in flow with one another to manage our basic daily tasks, but problems can emerge when System 1 overrides everything else. As the brain has to process massive amounts of information, it can create shortcuts, and these shortcuts tend to disregard logic as we reflexively make decisions and judgements. In short, we go back to our primitive behaviour, and engage our ape brain.

So, how do we halt primitive decisions and bring our modern experience and rational thought into play? Phil’s approach focuses on taking time to centre yourself via a range of small triggers to reset out thought process. With a number of simple methods that he has developed through Decida, it’s about rewiring your brain back to the moment, rather than allowing that spark to fly and making a knee jerk, irrational decision that might have long-term effects.

How do we manage someone else’s ape brain?

Problems can also occur beyond our control as we live in a stressful world with more information available than is manageable. Our workplaces can be full of people who allow their ape brain to take over a little too easily. You’re probably thinking of someone right now who does this! But what do we do when we’re in the path of someone acting primitively? Phil’s answer is simple, if you are encountering someone with their ape in full swing your best bet is to have them explain their feeling in order to determine the crux of their response; not try to ignore or dismiss it. Get them to say it out loud to you – perhaps hearing it will make them understand where it lacks rational thought that would be driven by our System 2.

What is the right choice to make?

Our brains will always look to past outcomes in order to make decisions and justify choices, however the right choice doesn’t always guarantee the desired outcome, and vice versa. This sort of bias is underpinned by System 1; our inherent bias are something that Six Degrees have invested significantly in educating ourselves and our clients given the critical role they can play in the recruitment process. The Slade Decision Making Framework pioneered by Phil and the team at Decida helps you learn what type of decision maker you are. With this knowledge, you are in a great position to learn more about what it means to live with your primitive brain, and use it to your advantage. Understanding your ape brain is the first step in order to increase the quality, speed and confidence of your decision making. Check out the Decida website for a range of helpful resources.


Watch the full online session here