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Who’s Top Dog, Your Rational or Emotional Self?

Who's Top Dog, Your Rational or Emotional Self?Lots of things aren’t good for you. You know it, yet you do it. You know you should exercise more, but it’s so much easier to just veg out on the couch. You know you should limit your time on social media but it’s just so addictive. You know high-calorie foods aren’t healthy for you, yet they’re just so delicious.

What’s going on here? How come we don’t do what we know we should do? What happens to our rational mind when it’s in opposition to our emotional mind?

Most people take pride in their ability to reason, believing that it dominates their decision-making. However, except for a few totally rational beings (those we think of as sensible and sober), most of us think about what we’ll do, then act on our immediate emotional state.

How come you assured yourself you’d limit your casino losses to $100 and now you’ve lost $1,000? “I was on a winning streak. I was feeling so great, I couldn’t fold. Then before I knew it everything went south.”

How come you promised yourself that the next argument with your loved one would not escalate into a yelling match, yet it did? “When he pushes my buttons, I become a ticking time bomb of emotions. Then I lose control of everything and act in a way that I regret.”

How come you weighed the pros and cons of what car to buy, then, at the last minute, let the salesperson talk you into a more expensive model? “Yes, I thought it through. But then I thought, what the heck, you only live one life. Why not make it a good one?”

Let’s face it. Emotions dominate our decision-making. The more intense our emotional state, the less control our rational mind has. Hence, if you’re tired, angry, frustrated, or hungry, you go for the quick fix. Grab a snack, flip on the TV, check out social media. Do anything but exercise or cook a healthy meal.

All of this makes us easy targets for friends or family members who have their own agenda. (“Go to the gym tomorrow. I want to go to the mall now.”)

Flatterers who offer seductive compliments also can lead us astray. (“You look fine. Why work up a sweat working out when we can go out for a delicious meal?”) So can advertisers with their tempting offers (“Hurry on in; don’t miss this once-in-a-lifetime offer”).

Does your rational mind always need to play second fiddle to your emotional mind? Not at all. Here are three ways to help you change your patterns.

  1. Awareness helps.

    Once you’re aware of how your emotional brain sabotages your rational brain, you can stop making excuses for it. Then you’re halfway there.

  2. Change your buts to ands.

    Be on the alert for your use of the word “but.” But I’m too tired. But I’m too busy. But I forgot. Change every but to and. Then watch the magic happen:

    I’m tired and I still need to work out.

    I’m too busy to cook and I still want to eat healthy.

    I messed up and I’ll get right back on track.

  3. Make the rational part of your brain top dog.

    The emotional part of your brain wants to be in charge; it wants you to take it easy. Your rational self wants to honor your resolutions. Your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to find a way for both selves to coexist. To do this, you need to make the rational part of your brain top dog.

    This in no way implies that you want to get rid of your emotional self. How else are you going to enjoy yourself? No need to morph into Spock. Your rational self’s job is to proportion out a time to play, a time to work, a time to be lazy, a time to be get going.

    When your selves work together as a team, the end result can be phenomenal: A vigorous you with a free spirit that uses the positive energy of both of your wonderful selves.

Who’s Top Dog, Your Rational or Emotional Self?

Linda Sapadin, Ph.D

Dr. Linda Sapadin, psychologist, success coach and author is proud to announce the publication of her new book, Overcoming Your Procrastination: College Student Edition – Advice for 6 Personality Styles available on Amazon. Now more than ever with remote learning, this book is a must-have. If you’re a perfectionist, dreamer, worrier, crisis-maker, defier or please, grab your copy. No longer a student? Get my book How to Beat Procrastination in the Digital Age – 6 Change Programs for 6 Personality Styles. Visit to subscribe to my free e-newsletter. Contact her at

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APA Reference
Sapadin, L. (2018). Who’s Top Dog, Your Rational or Emotional Self?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 4 Feb 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.