What makes a good decision?
We often judge our choices by their outcomes. If we get what we want, we did a good job. If we didn’t, we messed up. But this approach has one inherent problem.
“Everything seems stupid when it fails.” – Fyodor Dostoevsky
In hindsight, everything is easy. Looking back at it now, I know I shouldn’t have speeded on my motorbike or eaten the week-old leftovers that made my rear end explode like a frog in the microwave. But at the time, it seemed like the right thing to do.
We can’t guarantee results because there are too many external factors. But if you can make a choice you don’t regret, you’ll feel at peace with yourself no matter what happens.
To do that, you need to stop obsessing about outcomes. Instead, focus on the right process.
Here are four mental razors that helped me stop making decisions I regret:
The “Am I Insane?” Razor
We’re all a little insane sometimes.
This doesn’t mean we fill our pillows with sausages or introduce ourselves as the president of Guatemala. But when we’re tired, stressed, or overly emotional, our brain goes bananas – and our decisions south.
In a telltale study, nurses made less efficient and clinically more expensive decisions when they skipped their breaks. Other data shows couples fight a lot more after a bad night’s sleep.
The connection between exhaustion and diminished brain power is obvious, yet I ignored it for years. Many times, I sent a text, booked an event, or made plans when I was dead tired. The next morning, I woke up wondering if late-night-me was on drugs.
Before you make a big decision, ask yourself: “Am I temporarily insane?” Look for these cues:
- Being sleep-deprived or otherwise craving rest. If you’re worn out, your brain lacks the resources to decide.
- Being stressed or in a hurry. It takes time to make a good choice – don’t rush. Always have a good night’s sleep before you decide.
- Being emotional or hungry. Emotions are fleeting and hunger puts you in survival mode – both aren’t a good base to make a long-term decision.
Return to sanity before you make a choice.
The “Self-love” Razor
We love ourselves too much and too little at the same time.
We pay too much attention to our current selves and not enough to our future ones. In psychology, this is called temporal discounting. It’s what makes you munch donuts when you’re on a diet and buy a new phone when you should save for retirement instead. The rewards seem sweeter the closer they are.
I’ve experienced it countless times myself. Smoking a joint, scrolling through Instagram, and hitting the snooze button feels good right now while the consequences are far away.
Here’s how you can stop procrastinating on consequences:
- Pull far away rewards closer. Imagine the benefits your future self will enjoy – and the pains it will avoid. Visualize what your life will be like when you’ve lost the 40 extra pounds and don’t have to pant after every flight of stairs. In your mind, move the payoff to the present moment.
- Make instant gratification hard. Skipping a workout or delaying house repairs doesn’t cost you much – unless you create immediate consequences. Set public deadlines. Promise something to your partner. Commit to 20 pushups for every dish you leave in the sink. Make procrastination more expensive for your current self.
- Remove the triggers. Many things can make you delay consequences. A comfy couch with a big TV, a pantry full of cookies, and a phone full of party invites and social media apps. Set your environment for better decisions.
Love your future self as much as your current one – that’s how you’ll make choices both enjoy.
The “Values And Morals” Razor
We all know what we should do, yet we often do the opposite.
When that happens, we wish we could travel back in time and do things differently because we prioritized outcomes over values. This is what makes you unhappy.
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
Earlier this year, I reconnected with my ex-girlfriend to get closure. It quickly became an emotional back-and-forth, but instead of letting my ego take over and saying a lot of unpleasant things, I stayed calm, looked for solutions, and shared my thoughts and feelings openly. I would’ve liked to be on good terms with her, but I drew the line when it became too draining. Today, I can look at myself in the mirror without regret because I acted in alignment with my values.
I did everything I could and have nothing to blame myself for.
Never ignore your values because you hope for a specific outcome. Most of the time, you won’t get it. Even if you do, you’ll feel dirty – you’ve betrayed your morals for short-term satisfaction.
Stay true to yourself when you make a choice.
The “Full Of Shit” Razor
My mum always wants the best for me, yet I rarely take advice from her.
It’s not because I don’t trust her or don’t think she loves me. But sometimes, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. When the stock market dropped by 34% due to the Coronavirus in 2020, I invested since I knew they’d climb back up. My mum advised me against it despite not knowing what a stock is or how it works. She’s smart, but financial markets are not her strong suit. Yet, she felt qualified to drop advice like a rain cloud.
When you make a decision, everybody has an opinion. Most mean well. But unfortunately, most also advise you based on their life experience – which isn’t, or doesn’t need to be, yours.
Before you listen to someone’s advice, check if they’re actually a good source for this information:
- Do they live a life you want to live?
- Do they have first-hand experience with the situation?
- Do their values align with yours?
- Do they have any personal interest in the outcome of your decision?
- Do they know what they’re talking about?
Listen before you decide – but listen to the right people.
Summary To Help You Avoid Bad Decisions
“Good decisions can lead to bad outcomes and vice versa.”
– Peter Bevilin
A good choice is one you won’t regret – so before you decide, apply these mental razors:
- The “Insanity Razor” – don’t decide when you’re tired, emotional, or in a rush.
- The “Self-Love Razor” – don’t please your current self by slapping your future one in the face.
- The “Regret Razor” – don’t sacrifice your values and morals for outcomes.
- The “Full of Shit Razor” – only take advice from people qualified to give it.
Life consists of many choices – avoid the bad ones and you’ll live a good one.