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I've quit...but should I go?

So you have handed in your resignation and you have now received a flurry of offers and counter-offers from your employers to induce you to stay. Your resolve to leave the organisation is now being tested, and you find yourself second-guessing your original intent to quit; you are torn between leaving and staying! Welcome to cognitive dissonance, a psychological no-man's-land where you question the veracity of your initial decision, and wonder if indeed you have made the wrong choice. It is the mind's version of being stuck between a rock and a hard place!

This can happen in any situation, not just in a resignation. When you are in two minds about something, and where you feel that you are being pulled in opposite directions, that is when there is dissonance. And if you cannot address that, you will end up being paralysed as to what to do next. In this article, I shall share how the brain works, how decisions are made, the power of your subconscious in decision making, and how you can overcome cognitive dissonance by listening to your heart.

Primacy of the status quo

Before we move on, I would like to acknowledge the power of status quo. Some people are wont to move out of stasis because they dislike to venture into the unknown. They use the phrase, "Better the devil that you know than the one that you don't". This is the reason why battered wives will remain in an abusive relationship, and mistreated staff, under a bad boss. They cannot contemplate moving on, because of the uncertainty that change brings with it. There is comfort in knowing that some things don't change, and if they can somehow learn to live with the status quo, they will be okay. Unfortunately, it is only when the pain of staying is more than the pain of leaving, will they take action; oftentimes on the back of a catastrophic event! It does not have to be so painful!

How we make decisions

Neuroscience has confirmed the way the brain biologically handles decisions. As you may know, there are three parts of the brain - the reptilian, the mammalian, and the primate brains.

Structure of the brain

The reptilian brain is the oldest part of the brain, and this links the brain stem to all the parts of the body. This is the part that controls all involuntary human functions like breathing, swallowing, digestion, etc.

The mammalian brain is also known as the limbic system, and in its centre is the amygdala, which controls the secretion of neurochemicals like adrenaline, the "fight-or-flight" hormone. This is the seat of emotion and also the centre of action. So, for instance, when a man sees an attractive lady, the mammalian brain will trigger hormones and cause him to act upon them, for example, to approach her and chat her up. Hence, the limbic brain is responsible for action in a person.

The primate brain is also known as the neocortex; "neo" meaning "new", and "cortex" meaning "bark". So this is the newest part of the brain, and is the seat of reasoning. Here is where all the higher order thinking takes place, like judgement, introspection, and decision-making.

Now, when an external stimulus hits the brain, for example a fast moving car speeding towards you, your senses will first send the information to the mammalian brain, which will secrete adrenaline to trigger the fight or flight response, so that you can jump out of its path. There is no time to think and contemplate what that is coming at you. A split second after that, the information is routed to your primate brain which will process the information and tell your mammalian brain whether the threat was real, by which time the mammalian brain had already reacted to it; or find out that there was really no threat and your body resumes its normal functions.

In other words, your mammalian brain, the seat of your emotions, causes you to act; and the only way to overcome this is to apply higher-order thinking brought about by your primate brain. But since there is a split second time lag between the two, you may short-circui