Undecided Voters "Brain-Science Guide" to Making Up Your Mind

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The following is a simple, unbiased framework, rooted in brain science, to help undecided voters make their decision during this election year.

Why It’s So Hard To Choose
Difficulty in making a decision is the natural result of several factors all converging at once.

When we feel we MUST make a choice (The car died, so I must buy a new one. I am a responsible citizen, so I must vote), but we aren’t inspired by any of our options, that decision becomes a matter of reacting to the options placed before us. The bigger the consequences, and the less we like the options, the more reactive that choice feels.

Regardless of its source, reactivity triggers the chemicals our brains release when we are in physical danger. One function of those fight-or-flight chemicals like adrenaline is to raise our level of anxiety – a good thing when we need to flee danger. When there is no physical danger, though, those chemicals leave us feeling anxious about deciding who to vote for or which car to buy.

But that’s not all.

At election time, most political conversations are about the hardships facing people in our country, perhaps even you. Those relentless, problem-focused messages are another trigger for the fight-or-flight chemicals in our brains. That is often an intentional campaign strategy, because when we humans are afraid, we are easier to manipulate.

And while that fear strategy may motivate some people, for most people, prolonged exposure to fear doesn’t lead to action; it simply makes us numb. As each new piece of information enters this environment, it simply fuels that cycle, and we quickly feel overwhelmed.

There are two common responses to that cycle, neither of which leaves the undecided voter feeling good:

1) No response. As frustration mounts, we give up. “Screw it, I’ll just fix my old car” becomes “Screw it, I just won’t vote.”

2) Fear-based decisions. When our rational mind and our fear-center disagree, the powerful fear-based chemicals frequently prevail. Unfortunately, once the election is over and the fear is gone, such decisions often lead to remorse, as our rational minds once again take control.

Simple Factors that Comprise Your Decision
The following exercise is part of a larger framework called Catalytic Thinking. The goal is to help you activate the rational, creative parts of your brain, to weigh the factors that will lead to a sound decision.

These exercises will expose the factors that comprise your gut feeling about a candidate – a combination of your fears, aspirations, and values, all rooted in your beliefs and experience. Once those factors are brought to the surface, you may find the decision makes itself!

The factors you will consider will therefore include
• Your aspirations for what is possible
• Your fears about what might happen
• Your values

Instructions
1) Answer ALL the questions for both candidates.
To make legitimate comparisons, you must see all the decision-factors clearly and distinctly. You can only do that if you answer ALL the questions for BOTH candidates.

2) List as many answers as you can for each question, for each candidate.
It may require sitting with these questions several times, but be sure to capture all the issues that are important to you.

3) Be as specific as possible.
“Things would be better than they are now” or “The economy would be better” are NOT specific answers. “There would be more jobs, and training for people who have lost their jobs in the changing economy” is far more specific.

The Decision Framework
The framework has only 2 sets of questions, one directly addressing your aspirations, the other your fears.

Aspirational Questions:

Part A:

• If Donald Trump were president, specifically what would be better in our country? What would Donald Trump’s presidency make possible for our country? (List as many as you think of. Be specific.)

• If Hillary Clinton were president, specifically what would be better in our country? What would Hillary Clinton’s presidency make possible for our country? (List as many as you think of. Be specific.)

Part B:

Next to each item on those lists, answer the following:

“What is important to you about that item?”

Your sense of potential is rooted in your values. Reflecting on this “values” question for each answer in this section will help you your rational brain to examine not just what is really important to you, but why.

Fear-based Questions

• If Donald Trump were president, what is the worst that could happen? What might the consequences be for our country? What do you fear could actually happen? (List as many as you think of. Be specific.)

• If Hillary Clinton were president, what is the worst that could happen? What might the consequences be for our country? What do you fear could actually happen? (List as many as you think of. Be specific.)

Sometimes our fears are tied to our values, and sometimes not. Test whether that is the case for you by asking, “What is important to me about that situation?”

Making the Decision
Now you have data for comparing apples to apples – aspirations to aspirations, and fears to fears. (Note: The reason pros and cons rarely creates decision-confidence is because it is comparing aspirations to fears.)

For the Aspirational Questions, which results excite you most (not the candidate, the results – the answers to the questions)? Which results align most with your values?

For the Fear-based Questions, which results scare you the most (not the candidate, the results – the answers to the questions)?

Now you can make a decision. If the two align, great! If they do not align, you can decide if you are more afraid of the fears, or more eager for the potential. Only you can make that call.

Regardless of who you choose, you will have a path to clearly articulating the “why” of your vote. In the end, that “why” will answer the most basic question of all: “What kind of world do you want your vote to create?”

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