The Decision Matrix

Fear is the mother of morality

- Nietzsche

Like Freud, Nietzsche had a lot to say about human motivation. On the one hand, he noted the importance of being free for what rather than free from what. On the other hand he understood the motivational power of fear. Fear can be the most powerful of motivators — at least over the short-term. In fact, research suggests that people's fear of what will happen to them if they do not change their ways is the primary motivation to begin the process of change.

Because fear tends to dissipate as the downside of using the incentive loses its salience, fear alone is not sufficient to assure good long-term outcome. But to influence one's behavior in the here and now, its power is unsurpassed.

The Decision Matrix is a 2 X 2 table for you to record the short- and long-term costs and benefits of using the incentive. This simple matrix turns out to be a versatile tool. You can use it to deconstruct your motivational conflict. The value of this exercise will become obvious when you encounter local conditions that motivate you to act counter to your interests and principles.

The Conflict between Salience and Meaning

Doing Contemplation Stage exercises enhances the strength of your Core Motivation for a little while after you do them. But the salience of your Core Motivation will fade with time since you last think about abstract issues such as meaning and values. Moreover, when you are in some high-risk situation, your perception may be biased by a desire for immediate pleasure or relief.  

The conflict between Incentive Motivation and Core Motivation will play out as a battle for your attention. Needless to say, the stimuli pulling you along the path of least resistance are intrinsically more salient than the stimuli motivating you to follow the path of greatest advantage. They are certain to win this battle unless you do something that takes the salience differential into account.

The Reminder Card — which can be used in several different ways —  is our best tool to accomplish this. Decision Matrix, which takes up one side of the Reminder Card, is a prosthetic device for your memory. It is to be used during moments of conflict between your Core Motivation and Incentive Motivation to remind the creature — whose cognitive resources are currently occupied by whatever is going on during the current high-risk situation — of what its rational mind understands about costs and benefits.

Below is the Decision Matrix side of the Reminder Card. Click here for printable copy of the Decision Matrix

Consequences of Lapsing



Immediate Payoff



Long-Term Payoff



How to complete the decision matrix:

  • In the first row, under the word “Positive,” write the immediate positive consequences of giving in and acting contrary to your rules regarding incentive use (for example, it would give me pleasure, relax me, take away the cravings).

  • In the next box, “Immediate Payoff, Negative,” describe how you would feel when you looked back on the lapse the next day (for example, “guilty, disappointed in myself, self-loathing”).

  • In the Long-Term Positive box, write the long-term benefits of lapsing. In many cases this will be an empty box. However, if there are any long-term benefits you get from maintaining your relationship with this incentive record them here.

  • The last box —the long-term penalties of continuing to follow your current path—is the Dickensian box. The natural tendency is to fill this space with abstractions such as “death,” "jail, " or "loss of family." While these costs may be valid, words are cheap and often fail to elicit powerful motivation. Charles Dickens had the gift of describing bad outcomes in ways that could evoke an emotional reaction in the reader. He was a master of using the narrative form along with descriptions so detailed and concrete that it is easy to imagine the scene described (in other words, he was skillful in evoking emotional reactions in his readers) — use Dickens as a model.

The Decision Matrix as a trance-formational tool

In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge was visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve. The Ghost of Christmas Future showed Scrooge something that would transform him irreversibly. That night Scrooge saw the future that awaited him if he continued on his current path. Perhaps like Scrooge, you can use what you know is waiting for you to motivate yourself to shake yourself out of the path of least resistance and begin to exercise your will to use the remainder of your life most advantageously.

Thought Experiment: The Dickensian Exercise

Imagine that you are the director of a movie about your future if you continue to follow your current path. There are many scenes you may consider. The goal is to elicit a powerful emotional reaction to avoid the unwanted outcome. Use concrete, dramatic imagery. Make sure you capture facial expressions or key phrases that will evoke within you the intended motivation. For example, the following scenes:depicting the medical consequences of using the incentive can help you train the creature you inhabit to fear rather than desire incentive use.

  1. The scene in which the doctor informs you of the dreaded diagnosis.
  2. The next scene might involve you informing loved ones of this news, perhaps focusing on the details of their reactions and what is said.
  3. A later scene might focus on the experience of dependence on nursing care

This is a creative exercises. The more idiosyncratic, detailed and concrete you can make the scenes the stronger and more effective the trance formation will be.  For an audio-visual file describing this exercise, please visit Scrooge.



Imagination is a cognitive faculty that many people ignore, save for their sexual fantasies. In fact, imagination can be a powerful tool used in the service of your will. The Dickensian Exercise provides a good opportunity to assess the capability of your imaginative faculties. If you are able to change you emotional state by attending to the imagery you created, you have a talent  — the greater the state change you are able to elicit intentionally, the greater your ability to influence state-dependent phenomena. Like other talents, your capabilities will improve with practice. For more on using your imaginative faculties in the service of your will, see: Hypnosis and Ordinary Trances.

The Dickensian Exercises can be used for several different purposes. Our current objective is to identify powerful, emotionally provocative imagery that you can use as the content of the Long-Term Negative Payoff box. Intentional Trance Formation is the method by which the Rational Processing System influences the current motivational state of the creature it inhabits. [Valuable tip to changing the emotional state of the creature you inhabit: Use concrete images to elicit strong emotions].

When you have completed the Decision Matrix, the benefits of your relationship with the incentive are on the left, and the costs are on the right. And now — 

It's Decision Time > >

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