When you think about why you’re doing something, do you give a reason or a rationalization? There’s a difference.
I’ve noticed that the higher the stakes, the more people tend to give rationalizations over reasons.
What’s the difference?
Anytime you do something, you have a reason. For every choice you make, you have a reason behind it.
We don’t do anything without a reason.
We make hundreds of tiny decisions every day, for reasons we don’t think about or know.
Maybe you choose a path because it meets your needs — either consciously or unconsciously. Or because you believe it will get you a certain result. You might take a certain action because it is aligned with your values.
Or maybe you’re not even aware of the reason on a conscious level.
Maybe the only reason you have is that you know, intuitively, that this is the action for you to take in this moment. There’s no logic to it. It hardly seems rational to an outside observer, or even to you.
You just hear the inner voice:
Take this class. Stay in this place. Sell your home. Leave your job. Turn onto this road.
Our culture values logic over intuition. We learn early in life to show our work and prove our thesis. This conditioning leaves us thinking that things must “make sense.”
Rationalizations are the stories we give that justify the decision. It’s the “reason” we give for why the decision makes sense logical sense.
I find that the people who most frequently offer rationalizations tend to be highly intellectual and intelligent thinkers.
I have been guilty of this.
Rationalizations tend to come up a lot in decisions where financial or emotional stakes are highest. When it comes to these “big” decisions — where to live, what to do with our lives, who to marry, whether to have kids, whether to take on a certain client — suddenly we think we need a “good” reason.
By “good” reason I mean: a reason that makes sense to others — and to us. A reason that stands up to logic. A rational reason.
Rationalizations Are Unproductive
Rationalizations are a lot of work. They require a lot of brain power: thinking and logic. They consume and drain energy.
Rationalizations don’t hold up over the long term. Whatever story of logic you can put together, there’s another story to refute it and support a different action.
If you’re rationalizing, you’re likely also caught in the decision spin cycle. Especially if you’re good at arguing both sides of an issue (I’m talking to you, my fellow attorneys).
The “logic” of rationalizations is always subject to attack by better logic on the other side.
On the other hand, it’s hard to argue with a reason pulled from the heart or intuition.
Distinctions: Reasons vs Rationalizations
Here’s a list of some distinctions between reasons and rationalizations:
Reasons come from the heart.
Rationalizations come from the mind.
Reasons tend to be short and to the point.
Rationalizations tend to be longer stories.
Reasons are rooted in emotion.
Rationalizations purport to be based in logic.
Reasons are simple.
Rationalizations are complex.
I’m still marinating this one. I’d love to hear if you have other distinctions between reasons and rationalizations. Please share in the comments!