Making decisions in a healthy frame of mind

reason_emotion-1at0lgeLife is filled with decisions. Big and small. Simple to agonizing. I tend to be either too rational or too emotional in my decision making process. The experts say that these extreme states of mind are not the best route to healthy, happy decisions. When making choices, we want to think with both the heart and the head.

Marcia Linehan, the creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, promotes a healthy, balanced state of mind which she calls wise mind. Wise mind is the balance of two other states of mind that she identifies as emotion mind and reasonable mind. Emotion mind is ruled by our feelings and tends to lead to impulsive, short-sighted decisions. However, this frame of mind allows us to fall in love or show immense bravery in the face of danger. Reasonable mind assesses the facts and details in order to make a calculated decision. Following instructions to build a piece of furniture or balancing your budget both require the reasonable mind. As you can see, each state of mind performs very important functions but either one can cause havoc if it is left entirely to its own devices.

The danger of living at either extreme is readily apparent when you consider relationships. A person who lives in emotion mind may snap at their partner without giving a thought to the consequences whereas an individual ruled by reasonable mind may never learn to express emotions and experience deep connection. The individual who uses wise mind develops an awareness of what they are feeling in the moment and makes an intentional decision about how to respond. To expand on my earlier example, instead of flipping out at our partners or bottling up our emotions we take a deep breath and think about what’s really going on inside and select a course of action that honors our feelings and our intentions.

So how does one develop wise mind? Linehan suggests that mindfulness, which teaches us to separate thoughts and emotions, is the route to developing wise mind. Notably, the wise mind is associated with the so-called “gut feeling.” It is the intuition that comes from being deeply grounded and in touch with ourselves.

Do you tend to live in emotion mind, reasonable mind or wise mind? Share your experience in the comment section!

Also, check out the resources below to learn more about DBT, mindfulness and the cultivation of wise mind.


Linehan, M. M. (1993). Cognitive-behavioral treatment of borderline personality disorder. New York: Guilford Press.

McKay, M, Wood, J.C. & Brantley, J. (2007). The dialectical behavior therapys skills workbook: Practical DBT exercises for learning mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotional regulation & distress tolerance. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Useful handout on wise mind and how to develop it

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