Logic vs. Emotion when decision making
Written by: Linsey Warren
Maybe I set myself up for this ‘confrontation’. Maybe it was a long-time building. Maybe the water had been boiling for a while and this was the boil over point. Years of relentlessly pursuing the hundred highest peaks in Washington (aka the Bulger list) had pushed me just as far emotionally as it had physically. I was hoping to make this the last year. And that hope was out of control.
It was April. A relatively mild year up to this point coupled with the aforementioned hope convinced me to try and get a jump start on the mountains this season by getting in a window in the Spring. That and I was trying desperately to avoid what I knew would be a monstrous bushwhack later in the year. After a two-day approach, that included a ferry up-lake, a local hitch-hike as far up the road was possible and a day and a half of navigating the untrodden backcountry hills with fully weighted packs on snowshoes, we arrived at the upper basin. We were primed to make a go at the summit the next morning and I was wound like a rubber band. Everything was in place, until we woke the next morning to deteriorating conditions and a hard decision.
There was a part of my brain that objectively took in the hazards. A foot of new snow overnight, terrain traps, prime slide angles, and if that wasn’t enough, hearing the actively triggering slides go off in the white out dawn conditions. And yet, through all of that, the emotional part of my brain was winning out to make a bad decision. All of the emotions were weighing me down as heavy as the snow continuing to fall around us. A bitter taste of disappointment rose up in me because the weather had fouled up when I’d taken PTO. And overwhelming me was a sense of failure, that anything short of success was letting my friends and family down. The same friends and family who’d supported me for years. Who’d put up with my absences during the holidays, weddings, and birthdays, and who’d still, for the most part, been supportive. Compounding it further still was the fact that I was exhausted. Long weekend after long weekend, despite it being everything I love, left me scrambling to cram social expectations and work onto weekdays as well as researching, packing and trying to squeeze in some sleep. Everyone knew I was aiming to finish the hundred highest this year. I was on a very tight schedule to make that happen and this was a setback.
The weight of everything came crashing down on me in that moment. It felt like it all was riding on this one mountain. This one decision. Rationally, a part of my brain knew that wasn’t true. But, the logistics and my mountain math were not far off either. Missing this peak now would make it very hard to make up later, in a summer that was almost entirely booked for the next five months. Something was going to have to give, and in the moment, I just wanted it to be me. To give the mountain a go. I was scared since I knew it was dangerous. However, in this instance, fear wasn’t enough to deter me.
We talked about it as a team. We’d roped up once in the pre-dawn darkness and turned around hoping the conditions would at least clear so we could see the route and make a somewhat more informed decision. But it didn’t. We got out of the tent again as the clouds lifted ever so slightly and light filtered through the thick grey clouds. I knew what the safe decision was, and yet, I was unwilling to make it. My absolutely amazing partners were hesitant because they knew what the safe decision was too, but ultimately, they were supportive of me and my goals and I wanted to do it. And then, as it seemed settled in my mind, I turned around and looked at my partners through vision unfiltered by my own selfishness and saw two guys with friends and family. Two guys with people who loved them. One even with young kids! And it all crumbled inside of me. I may have been willing to take the crazy gamble, but I certainly couldn’t be responsible for pulling them along with me when it was a dice roll, snow loaded against us. I wasn’t willing to gamble for them. I gave it up. I stood there in the basin, looking at the route and let the tears fall. It must have been a pitiful sight. My shoulders gently shaking as I tried to repress the sobs. The setback felt crushing and overwhelming. I felt like the mountains were doing it on purpose; making me fight harder because I was tired. I had personified the mountains into an entity that was just taunting me in my weary state!
My partner came up and put his arm on my shoulder and told me, “It’s alright Linsey. You’ll come back.” He was right. And I did. I managed to carve out another trip in August and it was every bit the heinous bushwhack I expected. My partner who wasn’t as emotionally invested decided to forgo the remaining bushwhack and summit. So, it was with fateful symmetry, in the end I did navigate the route by myself. But this time, it felt better. And though it wasn’t something I started out to summit solo, there was a sort of cathartic release. A deep emotional, soulful exhale. That being said, after I had time to reflect on the situation, I came to the startling realization that I’d unconsciously been driven to a fairly extreme place. It forced me to sit back and evaluate what had happened and why; to take a deeper look at everything that’d led me to that point of nearly risking lives for a summit. In all honesty, I wasn’t entirely pleased with what I found, but I understood it; better than any objective person could understand the crippling weight of emotions.
In this instance, interestingly, emotion is what ultimately made the decision. Just not emotion steeped in selfish desire and disappointed hopes. I prefer to think it was the responsibility and love I felt for others that overrode it all. Ironic really – emotion beat emotion to make the logical decision. But at the time it was hard to see clearly – literally and figuratively! I’m not going to pretend that years of experience in the mountains have made me a great decision maker. In fact, that’s why I’m sharing this. To share a moment when the decision was not clear or easy; at least not for me. And illustrate the struggles we all face. Some days we make the wrong decision and some days we make the right decision. But, before we can even make it, we factor in a lot of our own history, experience and emotions. Every situation elicits a different decision depending on who we are that day and in that moment. I like to think that the evolution of a person is the evolution of a decision; constantly changing.
And making decisions is deeply personal and difficult for each of us. However, it is universal that a safe decision is never the wrong decision. But does that make it the right decision for every person? This is the crux of the personal choice. It may be hard to understand some people’s choices, but I believe we can all empathize that it’s not usually as simple as it appears on the surface. Maybe one day I’ll share a few of the times I made the ‘wrong’ decision!! Since I’ve made it safely out the other side, I can! There are certainly more than a few to choose from, and some are quite the stories in retrospect!
Featured Image: A beautiful start on the Lady of the Lake boat uplake on Chelan. Photo: Linsey Warren.