Who’s Really in Charge of your Decisions?

I want to share two life changing reasons for why you should become more deliberate in your decision making.

Brain = Automation Engine

Your brain will avoid work at all costs.  Seriously.  It will go out of its way to do less.

One of the brilliant hacks your brain has is its ability to tune out things that don’t change.  Your brain is hard wired to spot difference – not sameness.  Ever left work, driven home, and arrived without any memory of the intervening journey?

This is because things that are the same (or more or less the same) pose no threat.  You’ve encountered them before, and you’re still alive, so no sweat.  Ignore them.

Its a great way to conserve energy and resources in case there is an actual threat just around the corner.

There’s a fantastic cycle safety video that demonstrates this phenomenon perfectly.  Along with the related fact that if you are paying attention to something specific (like a phone call) this inattention to sameness is exacerbated.

What does this have to do with leadership?


In a further attempt to save energy, your brain is a highly effective automation engine.  Tasks you do frequently become automatic.

Stop right there.

Seriously.  Stop.

Tasks you do frequently become automatic.  Your brain doesn’t care how important the task is.  Only that it is repeated regularly.

This goes for the commute example above.  But how many other aspects of your daily activities are relatively repetitive?

  • Saying good morning to colleagues when you arrive at the office?
  • Checking your email?
  • Assigning tasks?
  • Certain meetings?
  • Discussions with clients?
  • Ordering your coffee? Or lunch?
  • Spending time with your spouse or children?
  • Vital parts of your job?

These are all things that can happen frequently – maybe daily or even more often.  But that doesn’t mean they are not important.  Far from it.

So what are the two life changing reasons?

Reason 1: Slow Down Ageing – Deliberately

Wait what?

No seriously.  How many times have you remarked to somebody how time seems to be speeding up?  It’s April already?  It seems only a few weeks have passed since New Year’s Day!

Well, the reality is that your perception of time speeds up as you age, at least in part because you are creating fewer new memories.  For those routine tasks you automate, you obtain a significant benefit in terms of energy preservation, but the cost is that you aren’t paying attention, so you don’t create a memory of it – leading to the sense that time is flying by.

Obviously big new experiences, like leaping from a plane, are a great way to create new memories, but simply paying attention to everyday experiences – being mindful and deliberate – can have the same effect.

Reason 2: Have a Deliberate Positive Impact on Others

Many of those ‘little’ repetitive things are actually someone else’s ‘big’ thing.

Think about it.

Every day at work you have to delegate tasks.  You’ve worked out who you can rely on to deliver, and chances are that your brain has become repetitive.  Saving you worry, anxiety and effort.  But what if your assumptions are no longer correct?  What if Sam’s performance has slipped because he can take for granted that you’ll hand him the plum assignment?  Actually, if you gave that task to Wendy instead, it would take a bit more effort on your part, and it might not work out, but wouldn’t she be thrilled to have the opportunity to show you what she can do?

So What’s the Catch?

Simple.  It’s really hard.

What I’m describing requires you to deliberately and manually override your brain’s natural tendencies.  Tendencies that have repeatedly demonstrated their value to you.  Tendencies that your brain is going to be very reluctant to let go of easily.

But there is good news.  What I’ve outlined here is, in essence, mindfulness.  The art and practice of meditation provides you with a tool kit for remaining present.  In the moment.  With effort, you can hone this skill and identify the decisions you are making – in your work life, in your home life, in your social life.  Just in life!

And the upshot of all that hard work?  You get to live longer, have a deliberate positive impact on the people around you, AND you get to be aware of the numerous decisions you make on a daily basis!


How often do you find time has slipped away without you noticing?

What has been the most significant consequence of a decision you’ve made on autopilot?

2 thoughts on “Who’s Really in Charge of your Decisions?”

  1. Hi Rebecca,
    There’s another situation where our reptilian brains trick us, unless we are careful.
    When exposed to external stimuli, we are very prone to react immediately without thinking – which means that we act on the, basis of processes which are not performed in the conscious part of the brain, which in turn tends to make us overreact.
    By pausing, just for the slightest moment in time – maybe it does not even have to be so long that people around us notice it – we give ourselves the time to consciously consider: how do I want to respond to this external phenomenon? Hereafter we can act accordingly. In most situations, this ends up in a more balanced response, which in most cases proves to be the better way.
    As so often before – taking a look at the way we interact with our kids gives an excellent example: if the poor boy does something wrong, our first reaction would most likely be voiced with a more forceful pitch and volume in comparison to what would happen, had we given ourselves the time to consciously consider our response. There’s a good reason some people count to 10 sometimes. They should just remember to use the time to consider “what’s next?” rather than just thinking “I’m so mad that I must count to 10” – the latter will not be as effectful as the former…

    • Hi Henrik
      Lovely to hear from you as always!
      I’m starting to think the brain needs to come with an instruction manual… Some people figured out, some people figure some of it out. But it’s very hard to analyse your own ‘self’ your ego, to understand how it works from inside…

      I think the entire way we interact in the world – particularly with others – is within our control, if only someone could teach you how…

      Perhaps book number two 🙂

      Take care!


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