The 10-Minute No Pain, No Gain Secret to Better Decisions

It’s counterintuitive, but science shows that to make good decisions, you must learn to hold conflicting ideas in your head at the same time. Here’s why.

As humans, our urge is to myopically pursue a desired goal. As a culture, and especially in the business realm, we bow at the altar of Getting Shit Done. So it’s easy to mistake having a single-tracked mind as a virtue. As a result, we tend to evade advocates in favor of picking a single strategy and setting out on a warpath.

Chalk it up to biology: our brains are wired to tell stories that are consistent and make sense, even if those stories lead us the wrong way. It takes a big effort to seriously consider different views. In fact, doing it takes so much effort that it causes real pain, very much like the pain of pushing through a challenging workout.

Psychologists call the source of this pain cognitive dissonance ( And while the pain is only in our head, the bad decisions we make to avoid that pain hurt our performance in the real world. Even worse, neurologists have found that just being asked to consider different views can cause the anger centers of our brain to light up, which is not a helpful impulse for team decision-making in today’s complex and layered business world.

To boost your decision-making performance and get your team to the next level, it’s key to look at the pain head on. Embrace it, feel the burn, and get stronger.

Here is a tough, 10-minute “no pain, no gain” exercise that will improve your performance:

  1. Think about the five most important areas of your business that will be impacted by the decision. These might be specific annual or quarterly goals, or more general business drivers like growth, profitability or customer satisfaction. Write them down.

2. Notice the strongest emotions that the decision evokes in you. Are you eager, afraid, confused, hopeful, embarrassed? Write down your five strongest emotions.

3.Now make a focused effort to set your emotions aside, as if you believe there is no reason to feel that way. To do this, imagine what would have to be true about each area affected to cause your strongest emotions to fade away.

4. This will be hard, especially at first. You will have to think of ideas that conflict with your current opinions, which is especially difficult if you feel strongly about the decision. Meditation might help (

Noticing our emotions and then letting them go is an excellent way to clear our heads and reduce stress. It’s also an excellent way to tamp down emotions and improve our decision-making (

To get in optimal decision-making shape, pick a decision you are facing and push yourself through this exercise every week or so. It will never happen without struggle, and the effort of holding conflicting ideas will always painful. But if you can learn to push through the pain, and use tools to help, then your decision-making skills will get stronger.

So push through the pain, and embrace conflicting perspectives. Don’t get bitten by the big risks hiding out in your blindspot.

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