The Discount Matrix


Therapy and medicine are rather fond of helping our understanding of life problems by putting them into boxes. This is the world of diagnosis. Personally, I do little in this area but I have known people feel a sense of relief when there is a label for some of the things that are happening to them.

At this stage, I will introduce one ‘diagnostic’ tool that I have found helpful. There are others. I  put The Discount Matrix in as it may assist you with the design of rather more complex safe experiments, once the idea of small, safe experiments has become familiar to you. This tool is called the:


Discount Matrix

taken from page 16 of  Transactional Analysis: Treatment of Psychosis by Jacqui Lee Schiff and others (1975).

Now you can see why I left this out of my web site for some time. Actually, it may be simpler to manage than it looks,  so let’s do that!


If you want, make a connection between this chart and the Johari Window. In that Window, the therapeutic journey is from top left to bottom right – from the known into the unknown.

In the  Discount Matrix, our route is from the bottom right to top left; from the ‘easiest’ bit – things that are within our reach –  to the hardest bit,  when we do not accept there is a problem at all. That ‘top’ bit presents a large problem: how do humans best find out what they need to know, but appear to refuse, I emphasise refuse, to see.

In the Discount Matrix, we are being invited to consider:

1. Can we identify our choices and act on them in an ordered or systematic way. Think about the THINK-MAKE OPTIONS-JUDGE-ACT experiment here.

2. When we come up with experiments, can we create choices that help remove any blocks to solving those problems?

3. When we are unable to see an obstacle at all, are there ways we can help ourselves move things on and stop ‘refusing’? Can we react differently,  or does history have to go on repeating itself.


The first experiment is to consider: do you agree with the idea that we have issues, problems or obstacles in our lives – ones that we simply do not know about?! If you can agree with that, read on. If that belief does not hold water for you, leave this page and do something else, instead.  Sorry to be so directive about it, but that’s how it goes!!

Why? Because I am alleging you are operating at the highest level of discount, and you do not agree. It’s fine for us to disagree and it only remains to decide what to do instead.

So what is this highest level of discount? ‘I see no ships’, is a phrase (wrongly?)attributed to Admiral Nelson (good ole Norfolk boy). He is supposed to have said this when he covered his ‘good’ eye,  just before the important sea battle of Copenhagen, against the Spanish fleet.

This ability to “see no ships” is well suited to the top left box; if something is not seen, it does not exist (unless you want a philosophical argument about the point!).

You cannot experiment on that one, when you see no need to do so. Just press on regardless – and, indeed, Nelson obtained a large victory from his stubbornness,

So, instead,  let’s travel to the more promising box in the bottom right.

Think of a simple problem in your life today. Nothing too threatening; may be a communications issue with some-one. One in which you are confident you can react differently. You have the ability to be flexible, you want to change and you are willing to try out something new (T4). You have the ability to solve problems (T5).

BUT can you see your choices (options) (T6)? This can be the level of discounting most easily addressed. It only requires you to identify what your options are – a lot of experiments on this website focus on generating your choices or options.

So: remind yourself about that issue. Have you written it down in the shortest possible form? How would you prefer it to be NOW. Get that written down. List three ways you might get from here to there. You could write down more, but three is a handy number of options to get started.

Spend time looking at your list of three or more. What needs to be done to move one of them on; just one of them. You may well notice that one is easier to pursue, than the others.

Start with the easiest and, as you experiment, you will discover that you develop further options and, indeed, you may be able to address them one at a time – from the one you find easiest, to ones you find more tricky.

That’s an experiment focused on your PERSONAL ABILITIES to change – the set of bottom boxes only.

Let’s try another example in the middle.

T3 is about SOLVABILITY and CHANGE POSSIBILITIES.  It assumes you can see a problem, but it does not assume you have the personal ability to generate a needed change.

In this example, write down an issue and some notes on why it is an issue for you now.

Ask yourself: what’s stopping me getting grips with some of the whys and wherefores of this issue.  Just write down all and everything – anything that comes into your head. On this occasion, I rather hope there will be a longer list.

When you’ve done all that you can, take a break and come back to your list when you are more refreshed. Work on each item bit-by-bit in an ordered and systematic way.  Has the passing of time enabled you to look at things differently? Has it let you see the possibility of change and, if you are lucky, find some way in which the issue might be solved?  For example, do you notice how your motivation can flag and, if so, how might the energy to foster change be found and corralled?

Please note that the higher level of discount (T2) – at the level of significance – is not so easy to address. Outsiders are often needed to make changes here. In my first career – in the probation service – it was often me who played that part, with varying degrees of success. Plainly, the police serve a similar function. Partners who put their foot down may be able to create change, Sadly, those behaviours are too often discounted by individuals unwilling to act.

Often these higher level of discounting are addressed only in the face of a crisis that brings things to a head.

All the experiments I have mentioned about relaxation, mindfulness and spiritual self, including the Safe Place experiment (very near the bottom of the page I have hyper-linked), can all contribute to helping you address aspects of our tendency to discount problems in our lives.

I have spoken a lot about relaxation and I hope your experiments have helped you become more aware of what gets in the way of your own personal development.

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What is a nudge?

Actions, after words.