How can an entrepreneur fight temptation in order to make better decisions?
Would you choose chocolate cake or fruit salad? Your decision making process may be more complicated than you realize.
There was an interesting study conducted at Stanford University about how and why people make certain decisions. In a nutshell: A group of several dozen students was divided in half, with one group asked to remember a 2-digit number, and the other group asked to remember a 7-digit number. Both groups were asked to select a snack of either chocolate cake or fruit salad. The result? The students asked to remember the longer string of numbers were almost twice as likely to choose the cake as students given only two digits.
Each participant knew that the healthier choice was fruit salad. Yet, overwhelmingly, we saw one of the groups succumb to emotional, rather than rational, decision making processes. According to Professor Baba Shiv who conducted the study, the effort to remember the extra five numbers pushed the students’ prefrontal cortexes to a limit, making it easier to succumb to temptation. In other words, the extra mental stress weakened their willpower.
Entrepreneurs fall victim to this phenomenon all the time. We are faced with tough challenges on a daily basis, most of which are far more difficult than remembering seven numbers. Making matters worse, we bear 100% responsibility for every decision we make. No pressure?
So if remembering an extra five numbers can alter our levels of self-discipline, can you imagine what happens when we are faced with more stressful tasks? What about when these stressful tasks take place in the midst of other chaos and disorganization? When we overwhelm our prefrontal cortexes, we are steered by emotional decisions… and when it comes to making sound business decisions, this is an inevitably dangerous way to go.
So how do you avoid over-stressing your pre-frontal cortex so that you can make better, rational decisions? Remove as much decision-making and guess-work from your daily routine as possible.
(1) Create solid long term goals. Meaningful long term goals dictate our conscious and unconscious behavior alike. When your goals are clear, logical choices become far more obvious. As Roy E. Disney once said, “It’s not hard to make decisions once you know what your values are.”
(2) Plan, prepare, organize. Accompany your overarching ambitions with careful planning. Invest the time in preparing a daily schedule, blocking out time for non-negotiable tasks first. Keep a crystal clear to do list (and a don’t do list). Keep your environment tidy and organized so you can think with a clear head.
So give your poor prefrontal cortex a rest. Keep your mind clear and put reason in the driver’s seat of your decisions.
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Elijah Medge, Long Beach
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