Thinking About the Consequences in the Moment of Decision
Every decision is connected to positive and negative consequences, some intentional and others unexpected. Thinking through the possible consequences and implications of a decision is something all good decision-makers do. However, it is important to know when to leave the consequences aside and let the facts and probabilities influence the outcome.
Focusing on the consequences of a decision at the moment of making it can confound the reality we perceive and lead a decision-maker astray. Similar to overthinking a problem, fixating on the possible outcomes of a decision at the moment of choice can paralyze a leader.
The anxiety such a preponderance creates interferes with brain function and commonly leads to a bad call. Psychologists call this maladaptive control, which is a fancy name for actions that prevent people from adapting to the moment at hand.
In any given moment, focusing on consequences instead of executing on the information available increases tension and doubt and thereby biases thinking. Numerous experiments illustrate this point. Consider one by neurologist and recently-named president of Dartmouth College Sian Leah Beilock, who asked competitive golfers to explain their putting stroke step-by-step and to explain the consequences of the putter head stopping too early in the stroke. Thinking about the consequences, the golfers clenched up and lost their fluidity. Not surprisingly, their putting accuracy plummeted.
Thinking about the mechanics of execution rather than operating automatically without much thought interferes with performance in all sports. For decision-makers, what counts as mechanics are the consequences of the decision. Just as athletes are advised to avoid thinking about how they do what they do during performance, decision-makers are best when they avoid thinking about future implications at the moment of choice.
Good leaders don’t let the consequences decide for them. They consider the gravity of negative outcomes and the upside of positive consequences long before they reach the point of decision. They intentionally push those ideas away and focus exclusively on the present to make the right call.
Making great decisions at the moment of choice requires leaders to stay completely in the present and to eschew thoughts of the future. Dreading or dreaming about the future is bad for making quality decisions. Thinking in the present is the best firewall against any bias created by the consequences.