Which comes first? The feelings, the facts, or the story we tell ourselves that leads to the feelings?
It’s surprising that I ended up at the college I went to.
Back in 1978, there were two ways to visit campus if you were taking a subway from the airport. One route went through Harvard Square, with its magical campus, and then via bus down youth-friendly Mass. Ave., past Steve’s famous ice cream parlor and on to the small school. The other route, the route the admissions office suggested when I called them, went through gritty Lechmere, then by bus past wood-frame houses built in the 1950s, then some more grittiness and then on to the back of the campus.
It would have been easy to use the feelings that the second route created in me, a solo traveler barely 17 years old, to invent a narrative about what was missing from this choice of school.
We like to think we make complicated decisions based on rational analysis, but most of the time, we actually make an emotional decision and then invent a rational analysis to justify it.
That’s why so many kids pick a school based on how it felt to go to a football game there in October. Or why it matters if it’s raining on the day you visit. Feelings first, then they create a story. Facts come in third.
If our goal is to help people make better choices, it helps to first create better feelings.