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What Is Really Driving The Decisions You Make?

Every fortnight, we hand over the blog to one of the London Shapers, to give you a flavour of what they do, how they think and what's really going on in our hearts and minds. Today's piece comes from Jas Sidhu who is a co-founder of Aeo Labs and also of PwC’s Disruptive Innovation practice.

100+ likes on that new Insta post, feels good right? Or how about those 20+ retweets? Or maybe you’re swiping left and right, ultimately to get another hit of dopamine. Perhaps you’ve just bought the fancy watch you’ve been wanting for a while. I recently overheard someone say “I’ll delete this post if I don’t get 50 likes in the first hour”.

Sound familiar? There’s a line of thinking that suggests that our brains are being conditioned in our current fast-paced and one-click environments to think short term. We expect gratification instantly and validation externally. As a result, it’s getting harder to create and see out long term plans.

Chamath Palihapitiya, CEO Social Capital and former Facebook exec, talks about how he is not on social media apps, stating: “We get rewarded in these short term signals, hearts, likes, thumbs up and we conflate that with value and we conflate it with truth….I am proactively trying to rewire my brain chemistry to not be short-term focused”. Hear more from him in this video.

Mo Gawdat, a former exec at Google X, created a formula for happiness; happiness is greater than, or equal to, your perception of the events in your life minus your expectation of how life should be. The issue is that our expectations are ever rising as we peer into the desirable snippets of lives that people share on social media.

Being the curious person I am, I started looking into this a little more. Social conditioning is “the process of training individuals in a society to respond in a manner generally approved by the society in general and peer groups within society”. People have an innate desire to belong and fit in. Therefore, what I found makes sense, that people often work hard to ‘fit’ into the social narratives defined for them by the environments they have grown up within - often subconsciously.

Here are some examples: take that well-paid job that doesn’t really fulfil you. Hustle hard and even harder, it will all pay off. You should probably get a mortgage and find ‘your other half’ because you’re a certain age now. Often, due to the social need to fit in, we find ways of justifying doing things we don't particularly enjoy. What’s scarier still, is that many of us don't even think of asking ourselves what it is that we actually want, since asking that could easily put the way we’ve been taught the world ‘should’ be into question.

The people sharing some of the guidance above often have genuinely good intentions, based on their own experiences. It’s important to be conscious of how it impacts our behaviour because it can be costly e.g. perhaps giving up the pursuit of goals that we really want to achieve over the longer term vs what we’re willing to accept now or sooner. I’ve learned that the perceived risk of certain decisions (e.g. entrepreneurship) is also amplified due to social conditioning e.g. you’ll fall behind your peer group or you might not make it ‘to the top’ - something worth paying attention to when making big decisions.

Now, I’m not saying we all make decisions or do things for gratification and validation, or that we need to throw away our phones! I believe that we can learn to make better decisions for ourselves by being aware of what influences our behaviour and by really understanding ourselves first.

Through conversations with people on the topic, I’ve found that exploring some of the following can be helpful:

  1. What social conditioning might be useful to ‘unlearn’ in order to make better decisions? In addition to the examples included above, other examples include gender bias, types of materialism and cultural expectations.

  2. When making a decision: Who are you doing it for? Why are you doing it?

  3. What are your values? What is your life view and work view? Bill Burnett’s ‘Designing your life’ offers some guidance to help think through these questions.

  4. Meditation is something that I’ve found has helped many people and myself by providing a tool to help clear the mind and therefore improve the quality of decisions. London Shaper, Carlo Minciacchi, provides a useful post on the benefits of meditation and how to get started here.

  5. The Chimp Paradox by Prof Steve Peters is also a compelling read. The book helps people to understand how your mind is working, how to manage your emotions and thoughts and how to manage yourself, including identifying your purpose.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, and feel free to get in touch with any thoughts - we’re always happy to hear different perspectives and learn from one another.

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