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Hot vs Cold Decisions: How to Honor Your Goals When Emotions Are High

Do you struggle to stick to your goals in social situations?

Maybe you eat and train in alignment with your plan during the week, but the wheels come off when you’re having fun with friends or family on the weekends.

Or maybe you process the emotions of a hard day with your ice cream scoop as soon as you walk in the door.

Let’s talk about why we tend to make different choices in emotionally-charged situations.

In psychology, this is called “hot cognition” and it refers to thoughts, reasoning, and decisions that are influenced by our feelings.

This “in-the-heat-of-the-moment” thinking leads us toward instant gratification and often results in outcomes we may not have chosen in a non-emotional state.

As you can probably guess, making choices about what to eat, drink, or do when emotions are involved can lead us away from our goals and leave us feeling frustrated.

Example Scenario:

Imagine you join friends for happy hour after a long day. Everyone has a drink in-hand when you arrive and they are laughing and having a good time.

You hadn't planned for drinks tonight but when someone offers you a beer, you take it without thinking. When a platter of appetizers arrives, you have some of those too.

You get home late and wake up tired and bloated the next morning. You decide to skip your workout and go back to sleep.

What affected these decisions?

  • You were tired after a long day which can mean low willpower and high decision fatigue, so you welcome the ease of going with the flow

  • You want to join in the fun with your friends and feel pressure to do as they are doing

  • A lack of clear boundaries around your needs makes saying no to what doesn’t serve you feel like you’re rejecting others

  • Maybe you’re hungry or really do want a drink

What could you do differently to stay in alignment with your goals?

How to Stay in Alignment With Your Goals in Social or Emotional Situations: Using “Cold Cognition” to Show Up With a Plan

Cold Cognition = Thoughts, reasoning, and decisions made in a calm and non-emotional state

When you decide how you want things to go BEFORE you enter emotionally-charged situations, you can make well thought-out choices.

How do we do this?

In the example above, a little pre-planning before happy hour (in a time of cold cognition) might look like this:

  • Think about what you want- will you eat before you go or enjoy a meal with your friends?

  • What will you eat and drink?

  • How long will you stay?

  • What might make it difficult to stick to your plan? How will you handle that?

  • How will you respond to questions about your choices? (tip: keep it simple- you don’t need to over-explain yourself)

Get REALLY clear on how you want things to go and set boundaries that eliminate the need for any "hot" decisions.

Remember, boundaries are self-care

They are not about controlling, punishing, or rejecting others. They are promises you make to yourself to enable you to feel your best physically and emotionally.By honoring your boundaries, you are respecting and caring for yourself.


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