May 20, 2021


No matter how old I get, or how many experiences I’ve had, making choices can still be wildly difficult. Because of that, I’m taking a moment to pause and reflect here with you. Hopefully these six nudges will offer some guidance for your next decision.

Quick note: These are personal reflections that I’ve pinned on my “mental wall” after reading various articles and books, not a researched deep dive. Ok, let’s jump in.

1) Is this a decision I absolutely need to make?

First, decide if this is really a choice that needs to be made. Is this really worth your time/energy/effort? Are you the best-suited person to make this decision? If not, delegate it to someone who’ll truly take it off your plate (micromanaging is not allowed).

2) Is this a choice that I’ll need to make repeatedly?

If so, consider two questions before you begin:
Can you plan to automate this choice? (ie: savings, outfits, meal-times, etc)
Can you document this process so you have a blueprint for next time? (How you hire, how you exercise, how you plan vacations, etc)

In general, you have limited brainpower for making choices. The more choices you have to make, the more “tired” your brain becomes, and the less clarity you’ll have for other important decisions. Delegate, automate, or document as many decisions as you can.

3) Gather the Data

Let’s say your decision is both complex and urgent enough where it demands your time. Start by gathering as much data as you can. Look for perspectives outside your common view. And don’t just look at the numbers. Seek real-life stories and examples of people who’ve traveled down the various paths you’re considering.

The key here is breadth of thought, research, and experience.

4) Synthesize

At some point, you need to switch from gathering to reviewing. What does the data say? What trends are you hearing in the stories? As you review, it will be nearly impossible to pull your own emotion out of the mix (you are more irrational than you think). So communicate your bias rather than ignoring it so you don’t fall into the trap of making unhealthy assumptions.

A lot of people rush during this phase. Take your time.

5) Talk to Experts and Friends

Pull your thoughts together into a short story, something you can easily share during a quick conversation. Then set up a few conversations. Speak with a mix of experts and friends. Experts will give you objective help. Friends will help you catch your personal blind spots.

Share your data and be sure to voice your biases (ie: Do I tend to go with the more economical route? Or do I tend to hire people from my alma mater? Or my preference is usually xx direction).

6) Make the Decision and Don’t Look Back for a Set Period of Time

Once you’ve gathered and reviewed the data, and spoken with experts, make the decision and do your best not to look back for a set period of time. Go all in on that decision until it’s really had a chance to blossom.

One of the biggest thieves of joy and contentment is living in the past or in the future.

A few more closing notes:

Lower the Stakes

Even with the best intentions and frameworks, you’re going to make mistakes. Very few things are unfixable, irreversible, or detrimental. I know I’m writing this as a privileged, white-passing male in America. But this applies to most anyone. Knowing that your mistakes don’t have to define who you are lightens the burden of making decisions.

Celebrate the Wins

Going back to the beginning of this piece, I know I’ve made many more right decisions than wrong recently. Though the wrong ones can be painful and even costly, they don’t always merit more attention than the good ones. Try celebrating the right ones with the same amount of energy you put into examining the wrong ones.

I hope your next decision feels a little lighter.

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