the hard decisions in life

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  1. Philipp Scheit (@pscheit) Philipp Scheit (@pscheit) says:

    July 27, 2020 at 1:43 am

    Oh! I feel like writing: where is the rest of the article? e.g. whats your decision framework now, that you use, that works for you? Great article so far, but i am missing the conclusion here :/

    1. Jory MacKay Jory MacKay says:

      July 27, 2020 at 8:01 am

      Great point Philipp! There are tons of great resources out there about decision-making frameworks. One of the ones that we like to use is called SPADE. We wrote about it here if you’d like to check it out:

  2. jobadung jobadung says:

    August 4, 2020 at 4:35 am

    thanks for this information I find it hard to make a decision quickly

Comments are closed.

Boost your business success (and your happiness) by being more decisive

When you give in to indecision, you open up yourself (and your business) to all sorts of issues. Instead of drowning in deliberation, you need to learn how to make good decisions quickly. 

Sometimes practicing being fast with small decisions can help you build your decision-making muscle so you can do the heavy-lifting on the big ones. And remember, you’ll never be a perfect decision-maker. But as long as you approach decision-making knowing your values and with a solid strategy, you’ve done the best you can.

Method #2: Ideal Vision

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” — Albert Einstein. To break out of your current problem, you need to adopt a different frame of mind — the mind of someone who has achieved your ideal goal. This brings us to the Ideal Vision Method.

How to Use This Method

For the dilemma you’re facing,

  1. What is your ideal vision for this area of your life? For example, if you’re considering between two job options, what is your ideal vision for your career? If you’re considering whether to marry someone, what is your ideal vision in the area of romance?
  2. Which option brings you to your ideal vision?

Example: Staying Married or Divorce

Let’s say like reader Joi, you have been married to your partner for 25 years. While you have lost all desire to be with him, you are afraid to file for divorce. Maybe you are afraid to be alone. Maybe you are afraid of social stigmas. Maybe you are afraid of the unknown, of dealing with legal fees, of going through the divorce process, of facing life as a divorcee.

Here, ask yourself:

  1. What is my ideal vision in the area of love?
  2. Which option brings me to my ideal vision?

Perhaps your ideal vision is to be with someone who understands you, who loves you, and whom you want to spend the rest of your life with. Looking at your options, which option would bring you there?

  • Option A: Stay with your partner but everything in the relationship remains status quo. This will not bring you to your vision as you have lost all desire to be with him.
  • Option B: Divorce your partner. This may or may not bring you to your vision. If you divorce, you may remain single and not meet anyone suitable. On the other hand, you may meet someone new. Someone more compatible, whom you eventually remarry.
  • Option C: Try one last time to work things out. Talk with your partner and tell him everything on your mind. Give him an ultimatum. Go for marriage counseling.

As you can see, there is no clear-cut answer. A marriage involves another person, and we can never know how other people will behave or control their behavior. However, when you know your vision, you can take steps to nudge things toward your ideal scenario. You can tell your partner about this vision and get him on board.

If your partner does not reciprocate your efforts even after 3 or 6 months of you trying, it would appear that Option B is the answer. Even if you do not know what the future will bring, at least there is a chance that you will meet someone more compatible. But if you stick with Options A and C, they are dead ends. You will never get to your ideal vision on these paths.

The Ideal Vision Method helps because it takes you out of your situation. Instead of being boxed in by your limitations, you think about what you want. This helps you focus on your desires and figure out the path to get there, rather than focusing on the confines of the situation (which will give you more of the same).


How to get better at making decisions

The key to making optimal decisions is to learn how to conduct a proper decision-making process, while using relevant decision-making techniques and avoiding the common pitfalls of decision-making. For example:

  • When it comes to making good decisions, you should account for issues such as cognitive biases that might influence your thinking, and then use debiasing techniques to reduce those biases, such as pretending that you’re giving advice to a friend.
  • When it comes to making fast decisions, you can make sure to rely on your intuition when it’s appropriate to do so, limit the amount of information you take in, embrace the concept of good enough, and identify the cost of delaying.
  • When it comes to making hard decisions, you can focus on the concrete facts, eliminate weak options, look at secondary factors, and visualize the future outcomes of choosing different options.

More explanations of these techniques, together with other relevant information such as answers to common questions about decision-making, appear in the associated guide on how to make decisions.

2. Understand the Effects of Decision Fatigue

A recent study from Columbia University decision researcher Sheena Lyengar found that on average, Americans make 70 conscious decisions a day. That’s 70 distinct moments of wading through options and committing to a certain choice.

So it’s no wonder that at a certain point we reach what’s called decision fatigue—where the mental energy required to weigh the tradeoffs of our decision become too much for us to handle. Especially when it comes to the kinds of decisions we’re talking about here, which require a massive amount of cognitive grit to weigh the pros and cons.

However, even though decisions fatigue is inevitable, there are ways to make sure you’re not letting it affect your difficult choice.

Start strong

When Jonathan Levav of Stanford and Shai Danziger of Ben-Gurion University studied Israeli judges' decisions to grant parole to prisoners, a strange pattern emerged. The judges were dramatically more likely to free prisoners earlier in the day (before the judges had made any big decisions) or right after lunch (when they were rested and replenished) compared to the afternoon (when they've already made multiple big decisions).

Decision fatigue hits us when we’ve depleted our ego. We begin to lose the ability to weigh the outcomes of our choices and make dubious decisions. It’s why after debating for a few minutes, you agree to your friend’s bad restaurant choice just to get the decision-making process over.

It’s important to be self-aware of what state of mind you’re in before tackling a hard choice. Those 16-hour days going back and forth on a tough decision might be doing more harm than good.


Don’t be fooled by the advice of popular gurus to listen to your intuition when making hard decisions. Your gut reactions are not a good way to gauge life-altering actions. Instead, follow the pragmatic strategy of using these 8 research-based and data-driven decision-making methods to conquer difficult junctures in your personal and professional life.

1. The Simulation, by Tim Urban

This is my favorite thought experiment (and most powerful).

Here’s how Tim describes it:

If someone gave you a perfect simulation of today’s world to play in and told you that it’s all fake with no actual consequences—with the only rules being that you can’t break the law or harm anyone, and you still have to make sure to support your and your family’s basic needs — what would you do?

It works is by removing risk from the equation — if I have one more life anyway, why not try this crazy thing? It took me a few weeks to realize how deep is the thought behind it: there’s no difference whatsoever between the simulation and real life.

Once you accept that truth, your most risky desires start popping up.

3. Wait Before Making Major Decisions

Are you someone who has an impulsive mindset? You’re like nearly 17% of adults in the United States who self-reported as being given to impulsivity.[2] Though some types of impulsive decisions can be fun, such as going out for a happy hour at the last minute with new colleagues, other impulsive choices can be mistakes.

What is the approach to solving problems of an impulsive nature? Force yourself to wait.

That is, rather than doing something right away, give yourself some necessary time. Instead of putting in a bid for a house that’s just out of your price range, step back so you can re-evaluate why you want the house in the first place. Rather than quitting your job abruptly because you had a big blowup with your boss, cool your heels for a few days.

This doesn’t mean that you won’t end up doing what you originally intended. Sometimes, your first instincts will prove correct. More often than not, however, you’ll be glad you didn’t allow your gut to lead you into a regret-filled reaction.

5. Fear-Setting, by Tim Ferris

Here’s how Tim describes it:

I do an exercise called “fear-setting” at least once a quarter, often once a month. It is the most powerful exercise I do. Fear-setting has produced my biggest business and personal successes, as well as repeatedly helped me to avoid catastrophic mistakes.

If you are nervous about making the jump or simply putting it off out of fear of the unknown, here is your antidote. Write down your answers, and keep in mind that thinking a lot will not prove as fruitful or as prolific as simply brain vomiting on the page. Write and do not edit—aim for volume. Spend a few minutes on each answer.

  1. Define your nightmare, the absolute worst that could happen if you did what you are considering. What doubt, fears, and “what-ifs” pop up as you consider the big changes you can—or need—to make? Envision them in painstaking detail. Would it be the end of your life? What would be the permanent impact, if any, on a scale of 1–10? Are these things really permanent? How likely do you think it is that they would actually happen?
  2. What steps could you take to repair the damage or get things back on the upswing, even if temporarily? Chances are, it’s easier than you imagine. How could you get things back under control?
  3. What are the outcomes or benefits, both temporary and permanent, of more probable scenarios? Now that you’ve defined the nightmare, what are the more probable or definite positive outcomes, whether internal (confidence, self-esteem, etc.) or external? What would the impact of these more likely outcomes be on a scale of 1–10? How likely is it that you could produce at least a moderately good outcome? Have less intelligent people done this before and pulled it off?
  4. If you were fired from your job today, what would you do to get things under financial control? Imagine this scenario and run through questions 1–3 above. If you quit your job to test other options, how could you later get back on the same career track if you absolutely had to?
  5. What are you putting off out of fear? Usually, what we most fear doing is what we most need to do. That phone call, that conversation, whatever the action might be—it is fear of unknown outcomes that prevents us from doing what we need to do. Define the worst case, accept it, and do it. I’ll repeat something you might consider tattooing on your forehead: What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do. As I have heard said, a person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have. Resolve to do one thing every day that you fear. I got into this habit by attempting to contact celebrities and famous business people for advice.
  6. What is it costing you—financially, emotionally, and physically—to postpone action? Don’t only evaluate the potential downside of action. It is equally important to measure the atrocious cost of inaction. If you don’t pursue those things that excite you, where will you be in one year, five years, and ten years? How will you feel having allowed circumstance to impose itself upon you and having allowed ten more years of your finite life to pass doing what you know will not fulfill you? If you telescope out 10 years and know with 100% certainty that it is a path of disappointment and regret, and if we define risk as “the likelihood of an irreversible negative outcome,” inaction is the greatest risk of all.
  7. What are you waiting for? If you cannot answer this without resorting to the previously rejected concept of good timing, the answer is simple: You’re afraid, just like the rest of the world. Measure the cost of inaction, realize the unlikelihood and repairability of most missteps, and develop the most important habit of those who excel and enjoy doing so: action.

Here’s a step-by-step guide I wrote for doing fear-setting.

The question:

What if  I..? – Tim Ferris

Ultimately the Decision is Yours to Make

There’s a common view of psychology that states that our rational faculties are mostly rationalizing faculties. This suggests that all this analysis is mostly not to make better decisions, but to better justify the ones you were already going to make.

I’m not sure whether this is completely true, but I do think that, regardless of how you decide, the decision needs to be your own. Owning the choice and the outcomes it generates is the only way to be in control over your life. Surrendering all judgement to society, friends, family or an algorithm, may feel like it absolves you of responsibility, but you still need to live the outcome. Better to own that decision and choose bravely, then shy away and hope the outside world will make it for you.


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