Life & Philosophy Productivity & Work

On making life’s biggest decisions

When it comes to decision-making, first you decide, then you deduce. Of course, life’s biggest decisions such as marriage or a career change are some of the hardest decisions to make because the fear is that they won’t work out. The bigger the risk, the greater the hesitation.

‘This might not work.’

People like to play it safe. It’s easier to adopt the status quo than playing the long game and facing the fear of uncertainty. Chance is risky. Change is scary.

We’re so scared of making a change that we outsource our decisions to other people. In other words, we seek their permission. Not surprisingly, our family members and peers recommend circling the race track rather than pursuing the labyrinth of self-discovery. Warns financial advisor and essayist/sketcher Carl Richards for the New York Times:

“People expect you to stay how you are, to maintain the status quo, to stay the course. And if you get bogged down looking for that affirmation to make a change, you may never make it.”

All believing is betting

People that do risk change — on their volition or because of a coin toss — usually end up thinking the best of it. When we change, we grow.

“Based on the results of tossing over 20,000 virtual coins, the study found that people were happier after making a major change, whether they did it because the coin forced their hand or because they decided on their own.”

The only person we need permission from is ourselves. Indecision is a decision, albeit, the wrong one. Still unsure? Here’s your permission slip.

“Whatever it is, you now have permission to do it.”

Read Hesitant to Make That Big Life Change, Permission Granted

Business Life & Philosophy

Decisions are either ‘irreversible or reversible’

Sometimes your work is just going to be a 5 out of 10. It’s not worth scrutinizing every performance. The only ill is hesitating, not starting what you think you should do.

Jeff Bezos has an interesting system for making decisions. He sees them as either irreversible or reversible. The simple heuristic pushed him to start Amazon, knowing that he could just go back to his old job if things didn’t work out. Writes the Farnam Street blog:

“Bezos considers 70% certainty to be the cut-off point where it is appropriate to make a decision. That means acting once we have 70% of the required information, instead of waiting longer. Making a decision at 70% certainty and then course-correcting is a lot more effective than waiting for 90% certainty.”

First we try, then we deduce

If the door swings both ways, why not give whatever we’re passionate about our best shot. The worst that can happen is that someone slams the door in our face or locks the other side. And that may be just the message that it’s time to pivot. They’re meant to astonish us, to jolt us out of our everyday thoughts:

We don’t need to collect all the information before we endeavor. We can reduce indecision by replacing it with the astonishment of doing. There is little reason to think in absolutes. Wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson: “All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.”

“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” 

Ralph Waldo Emerson
Life & Philosophy

How to make up your mind and decide

Decisions are multi-faceted. They can be manifested as desires, little bets about how you want things to go. After all, all believing is betting.

However, you can also decide against your best wishes. No one wants to put a sick dog to sleep. Difficult decisions paralyze people’s judgment. “Sometimes it’s not what I want to do but what I ought to do,” admits the elder woman in the video from Andrew Norton.

Decisions can be murky too. In Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, is the ‘right thing’ to cause a ruckus or sit back and preach non-violence? Mookie the protagonist postpones his own anxiety, feeling action is necessary despite breaking the law. He deals with the consequences.

Sometimes the right answer comes about through experience–a mere function of your mistakes. That is, first you decide and then you deduce, analyzing the call after the fact. Decision-making is a skill, growing stronger with more deliberate practice.

“There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision, and for whom the lighting of every cigar, the drinking of every cup, the time of rising and going to bed every day, and the beginning of every bit of work, are subjects of express volitional deliberation.

William James

In the words of Seth Godin: “You don’t need more time, you just need to decide.” You cannot afford to hesitate in a sea of doubt. Dance with fear or risk of living with regret. Indecision is still a decision or rather suspend doubt, DECIDE, and bear the responsibility.


Whether Weather

Weather is fickle. Knowing what it is or going to be before you go outside both saves and ruins the day.

Weather forecasts save your day when it storms because you’ll have packed an umbrella or extra rain jacket. However, weather predictions disappoint you when the day turns out dry; you just lugged around extra protection all day for nothing.

Expectation initiates preparation. The whole point of knowing the future is to prevent it. But even if you prepare nothing you’ll still survive. There’s always a way to circumvent bad weather; you can take transportation or merely stay inside, walk between buildings. You’re just as fortunate not knowing what’s to come and living as is.

You can deal with forecasts now and prepare, wait and see what happens, or ignore the forecast completely and just adapt. It all works out in the end.


Instinct Can Beat Analytical Thinking

Gut feelings are tools for an uncertain world. They’re not caprice. They are not a sixth sense or God’s voice. They are based on lots of experience, an unconscious form of intelligence.

Experience builds more intelligence and better judgement which in turns builds better instincts.


Time Stamp

Everything we do gets recorded with a time stamp: every transaction, FB post, tweet, virtually every step we take from the time we leave for work to the time we walk in the door at home.

There’s hard evidence of our whereabouts and actions recorded somewhere every day whether it ends up being a published story or not. The time stamp is the creation of our own Big Brother.

We bask in the production of our own digital evidence. We want to know how many Fitbit steps we average per day and the paths we take to get there.

We want to track everything so that algorithmic machines can predetermine our future. We rather enjoy certainty than face the stresses of indecision. Predictive behavior may relieve stress in the short-term but hurt intuition in the future.

Life is becoming a time stamp devoid of spontaneity. If we yield to big data, our next move may be as banal and data-driven as the next, blindfolding sudden invention. We need try things on a whim so we can learn from failure and build up the sticktuitiveness to endure.



When you believe in something you’ll look hard for evidence to back it up. Politics is a natural game of bias, a perpetual rush to corroborate what is only a mere opinion.

Meanwhile, an open mind sticks to nothing but sidedness. A non-combative person chooses the middle to avoid strife but suffers from indecisiveness. People that hesitate dwell in anxiety.

Then there’s those people that just pick the best answer knowing that it’s in their best interest to choose and be proven wrong. There’s no such thing as a perfect choice, just decisions to keep moving forward.

But you always leave room for rebellion. When shit hits the fan, standing up for what’s right debunks bias, shields against the whisperers, and fights conformity. When you take a stand, the world sits still to listen.


Testing the Confirmation Bias

We always apply what we want to hear to own our bias. That’s why it’s important to be open-minded and to remind ourselves to see the other side.

Intelligent people are able to juggle contradiction yet pursue a direction they think is right or best. Imagine all the information the President gets surrounding certain issues. He still has to make the best decision and justify his position all the while knowing he could be wrong.

We ultimately have to choose a side and do the work to produce an outcome that tests our decisions. The right answer is process of piecing together the wrong ones and fixing them.


McDonald’s Theory

via giphy

I use a trick with co-workers when we’re trying to decide where to eat for lunch and no one has any ideas. I recommend McDonald’s.

I call it the McDonald’s Theory: people are inspired to come up with good ideas to ward off bad ones.

Deduction is a pathway to decision-making.

In order to define what you want, it helps to know what you really dislike first. Acknowledging the antithesis is a smart way to jumpstart creative thinking around practicable alternatives.

Decide, then deduce; even when you need reassurance.