06/12/2012 04:40 pm ET Updated Aug 12, 2012

Pre-Deciding Your Fate

One of the biggest issues with tilt, the state of being so upset you cannot think rationally, is that when a person is not thinking rationally they usually don't know it. That is because when we aren't rational we can't think rationally about whether we are being rational. I know that sounds like a brain teaser. But it really is. In order to know that we are making a good decision, we also have to know that we are in a rational state of mind. That is because a decision might seem quite logical despite not being rational. For example, let's say you are a schizophrenic and you believe that people are following you who want to kill you. If that were true, then staying home to avoid them or carrying a weapon on you and shooting those who are following you are actually pretty good decisions. The problem is that the premise is delusional but the schizophrenic doesn't know it.

Now, of course that is an extreme case, but less extreme cases come up all the time. The most common example of tilt affecting a decision is drunk driving. When a person is drunk, which means they cannot possibly be thinking rationally, they are not good judges of how drunk they are or whether they are safe to drive a car. In fact, it is impossible in a state of inebriation to make a rational decision about driving. But the person who is drunk often does not know just how drunk they are and so does not know that they are not rational enough to make the decision at the time. That is why drunk people insist all the time that they are fine to drive. In fact, some drunk people insist they drive better when they are drunk. I am sure they are also better handling chainsaws when they are drunk, too, and that particular group of people should probably be offered that challenge.

At any rate, the puzzle here is that if someone is drunk, you can't make them think rationally. So how do you get them to be a good decision-maker about driving? The key is, and this applies to any of these types of decisions, to get the person to pre-decide. That is, get them to make a decision about driving when they are likely in a rational state of mind, meaning when they are sober. This is where the concept of a designated driver comes in. Handing someone your keys before you are drunk and unable to make a decision about it stops you from ever getting in a car when you are drunk and don't know that you shouldn't be driving.

I use the pre-decision strategy with my teenagers all the time. As anyone who has teenagers knows, they can really push your buttons in an argument. I have gotten more tilted from arguments with my teenagers than with anyone else. But I recognize in those circumstances that most likely nothing will ever be solved in the moment of the argument when you are dealing with an impulsive, hormonal teenager and a mom on tilt. So a while ago, I made the pre-decision that whenever we were in the midst of an argument I would make no decisions until I had calmed down. What that means is that I tell my child that I am walking away because I am upset and we can talk about whatever it is we are arguing about again in an hour (or a day sometimes) when we both have calmed down. I can only do this consistently because I have decided in advance that this will be my strategy, since in the moment I would always want to win the argument right then.

Another example where pre-deciding is useful has to do with food. Human beings tend to behave very irrationally toward food, hence the obesity epidemic in this country. The irrational behavior of overeating has a lot to do with the way humans are wired, since we evolved in conditions of scarcity of resources. That means we tend to eat what is in front of us because there might not be any food coming our way for a while. If you make a commitment in a rational moment to eat more healthy food choices, pre-deciding will be really helpful. Taking all the bad food out of your house and replacing it with good food choices at a moment when you are thinking clearly prevents you from going on a late-night cookie and potato chip binge, simply because you took those choices away from yourself when you were thinking clearly about it. I personally carry raw nuts in my purse so that I don't stray in those moments of panic when the only food source is a 7-Eleven. Putting the healthy choice in my purse is a form of pre-deciding.

It is a good exercise to think about the important decisions you might have to make while on tilt. Identify them and think about whether you can make an advance decision that will prevent you from making irrational choices in the moment. The more you can turn irrational decisions into rational ones by using this strategy, certainly the fewer DUI's will be coming your way.

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