If it hurts, do it more

June 11, 2022
We natrually postpone painful experiences, but if we do them more often we're incentivized to reduce the pain.

One way we can trick ourselves into not ignoring our problems is encapsulated in a popular saying:

If it hurts, do it more.

I don’t know who originated the quote. Martin Fowler has talked about it. As has Jez Humble, who says “If it hurts, do it more frequently, and bring the pain forward.”

This bit of advice flies in the face of human nature, which is why it’s so powerful.

Naturally, when we’re faced with a painful experience, our tendancy is to do it less often. This is why I always put off a dentist visit.

But if we reverse this, and apply the principle of “if it hurts, do it more”, we’re changing our incentive structure. Now we’re incentivized to make it hurt less.

If resolving git conflicts is painful, do it more often.

If manual QA is painful, do it more often.

If releasing your software is painful, do it more often.

In every one of these cases, doing it more often gives us more reasons to make these processes less painful. Ironically, doing them more often also often means we do less of them. If we merge our changes to master every 5 minutes, we virtually never have a conflict. And when we do, it’s trivial to solve.

What painful processes can you do more often?

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