“Success is dependent on effort.” – Sophocles
The Sophocles quote is tantalizing because of its vagueness. At first glance, his observation seems rather obvious. After all, isn’t it one of the life’s fundamental lessons that if we work hard on a consistent basis, we will succeed in achieving whatever goal we set before ourselves? This is one interpretation of his quote.
However, another, more subtle interpretation involves one of my longstanding areas of research interest. It is the question of how an individual’s decision making process affects their subsequent motivation to pursue their choice. (Over the years, I have written a number of research papers with Professor Richard Bagozzi of the University of Michigan on this topic, along with other coauthors.)
In a previous blog post, I argued that what we consider as a “good” decision should be defined strictly by the process we use to make it. Considering a decision as good or bad should have nothing to do with its outcomes because any number of unanticipated and uncontrollable factors can influence outcomes. We only have control over the process.
Based on this logic, I came up with this definition of a good decision:
A good decision is one that is made deliberately and thoughtfully, considers and includes all relevant factors, is consistent with the individual’s philosophy and values, and can be explained clearly to significant others.
In our research, we have consistently found that when people make decisions meticulously, merely using a careful process provides motivation and encourages them to persist. Here is a list of the good things that happen when people decide deliberately and thoughtfully:
The meticulous process of deciding signals effort investment, and it encourages the person into continuing the effort during decision enactment. Think about it. After a meticulous process, chances are you will say to yourself, “I have spent so much time thinking about all my options and picking one, so I need to keep making an effort to carry out my decision and reach the outcome successfully.”
Social psychologists make the distinction between goals and plans. Let’s say I choose the goal of getting to the airport by 8 am. To achieve this goal, I will also need some concrete plan with action items such as, “Get up at 5 am,” “Take the toll-road because it has less traffic,” “Park in XYZ parking lot because it is cheaper,” and so on. Research has shown that when people choose goals with thought and effort, they are then more likely to form complete and feasible plans. On the other hand, decisions reached quickly come with half-baked plans.
When making decisions deliberately and thoughtfully, people are also more likely to think about how they will feel afterward or what social psychologists call as the experience of “anticipated emotions.” Coming back to my decision of getting to the airport by 8 am, when made meticulously, the process will make me think about how I will feel if I can get to the airport in a timely fashion (relieved, content). I will also consider what will be my emotional state if I do not make it in time and miss my flight (I will feel frustrated, upset, annoyed, and embarrassed). Such prospective emotional appraisals are more intense when people spend greater time and effort into reaching their decisions. These anticipated emotions, in turn, keep us honed in on the desire to enact the choice we have made.
Reaching any decision is only useful if we carry it out. The key point of this post is that making decisions meticulously and considering all the pros and cons involved diligently, or in other words, making a “good” decision produces significant benefits for us even after we have made the decision. It makes us persist in reaching the goal we have chosen. It stimulates our desire to carry out the decision and helps us to persist when the chips are down, and the going gets tough. Pragmatically, when decisions are made thoughtfully, they are more likely to produce a plan of action, which by itself, helps us reach he decision. Finally, serious thought and effort produce stronger anticipated emotions, which also propel us forward toward goal achievement. None of this is a guarantee that we will reach our goal, but greater motivation created by meticulous decision making is certainly beneficial.
I teach marketing and pricing to MBA students at Rice University. You can find more information about me on my website or follow me on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter @ud. My new book titled “How to Price Effectively: A Guide for Managers & Entrepreneurs” is now available either as a free PDF or for purchase from Amazon.