the Choices we make
“We are our choices!” — Jean Paul Sartre
Welcome to this week’s blog. Since this is the start of a new calendar year, as is wont, many tend to make resolutions and desire for a better life in the year ahead. However, many of us do falter in following through on our resolutions — this is largely down to the choices we make and also the ones we do not make. It is in this context I intend to write a series of blogs on improving decision making. I have done a (what I consider to be) deep study of what goes into decision making and have been applying the learnings in my life. Progress has been evident. My idea is to share what I have learnt about decision making as I think it could be of value to you as well.
In this blog, I want to bring your attention to the outsized importance of the choices you make and delve into what makes decision making tricky and hard (I use choice and decision interchangeably).
As you navigate life, world continually throws opportunities at you. In the big picture, taking advantage of these opportunities makes all the difference in you satisfying your desires, achieving your goals and fulfilling your potential. It comes down to the constant stream of decisions that you make as you live your life and react to the world. Decisions, small and big, set the trajectory of your life.
“Believe me, my journey has not been a simple journey of progress. There have been many ups and downs, and it is the choices that I made at each of those times that have helped shape what I have achieved.” — Satya Nadella
Individuals make life decisions all the time — education, career, spouse, children, investments, which route to take to work etc. Leaders make decisions all the time and have disproportional impact — due to their levered nature.
Given the plethora of variables and unknowability of future, many times, there is no right or wrong to decision making. Decision making is hard because decisions are generally made in the face of uncertainty. The number of variables that affect the outcome is not always known and even more pertinently, it is very hard, if not impossible, to predict the values that these variables will take. Additionally, decision making consumes disproportionate amount of energy and hence we tend to fall back to default heuristics of our brain while making decisions. For many, it is rather rare that they override the default methods of thinking. This I believe is what sets most of us back from realizing our potential.
“Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make makes you.” — John C. Maxwell
So, is it possible to make the most optimal or efficient decision? Very unlikely. There is no way to know in advance which of the possible choices will turn out the most optimal. Quality of decisions sits on a continuum and there are ways to systematically improve and move from left to right on this continuum.
I think there are only two (categories of) factors that render decision making so difficult
- Internal (bottoms-up): General quirks of the human mind and your own personality. We humans have evolved in harmful, insecure environments with scarce resources. Our brains are highly tuned to operate for the short-term benefit. Long term thinking has hardly been part of our evolutionary needs. We used to gather food for the day, eat, sleep and repeat this every day. We did not worry about food for the next day. Nor did we have to worry about shelter — we did not stay at one place for long. We used to live in the moment. Only in the last few thousand years (a drop on evolutionary timescale), we have created a different kind of life. Now, it is important that we account for our future. We are having to set aside money for future consumption. Sedentary lifestyles are not exactly suited to our evolutionary nutritional practices either. We have evolved to like foods with certain tastes (sweet, sour, etc) because of the nutritional value these tastes entailed. But modern technology, separated taste from the underlying nutrition. E.g., potato chips with all kinds of non-potato flavours
- External (top down): In making decisions, we make assumptions about future but world plays to its tunes. Our assumptions turn out incorrect often. So, our decisions tend to end up suboptimal or sometimes downright wrong. In 2021, many of us believed that stock markets could only go up. Many people have invested more of their money in stock markets only for 2022 to turn up. Most stocks (certainly most indices) fell precipitously in 2022 leaving us poorer and vulnerable. During 2016–2019, Uber and Ola became quite an employment and wealth creating machines. More and more people saw opportunity in buying cars and deploying them as Uber/Ola cabs, transportation for people has become easier consequently. Then unanticipated COVD-19 happened and many lost opportunity and money as suddenly the need for transport evaporated.
“I am who I am today because of the choices I made yesterday.” -Eleanor Roosevelt
It is my strong belief that one’s life essentially comes down entirely to the sum of all the big and small choices one makes. Even the big decisions, many times, are second order manifestations of the smaller decisions one makes. Decision making is hard given that it involves making assumptions about the unknowable future. Given the critical importance of decision making, it makes sense to invest efforts into developing conscious decision-making methods and improving subconscious instincts such that one’s default decision making process is constantly improving. I believe that there is a way to systematically improve decision making and I will substantiate this belief over the next several blogs.
Thanks for taking time to read this. In this newsletter, I share my learnings that could help you improve your decisions and make meaningful progress on your goals and desires. I share stuff that I have personally experienced or experimented with. If you find this newsletter worthwhile, please do share it with others — of course, only if you do not mind it.
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