Since the industrial revolution, our daily options are multiplied each year. We have tens of alternatives for a loaf of bread and hundreds of possibilities in choosing a drawer for our bedroom. Mass production and the evolution of the transport industry made everything available everywhere.
Moreover, in the digital age, we started following algorithms' suggestions which tell us what we should choose from millions of options. But these suggestions are not necessarily the best for us; they only represent the best players in the algorithmic game. Although Amazon offers deals to show what we need, Netflix recommends things we might like, Twitter nudges us to follow trends and people, and Goodreads suggests what we read, they only produce poor proposals that sound like good recommendations; the decision is still on us—we still have to decide between a certain number of options.
Unlike many people believe, we're not good at decision-making because we can't consider all aspects of every decision all the time. We create wrong assumptions and make fast decisions that only look good in hindsight.
That's why we don't like the last bestseller book we saw in the bookstore or why that cheesecake we ate after dinner with a recommendation from our friend breaks our sleep and makes us unhappy.
If we're really bad at decision-making even though algorithms help us to make better ones, what can we do?
While we can improve our decision-making skills by learning methodologies and mental models and practicing mindfulness, one shortcut helps the most: removing the decision itself. If there is no decision to make, we cannot make a bad decision.
For example, I decided not to read any book the same year it was published. Whenever I go to a bookstore and look for books to buy, I don't need to think about if I should buy that new bestseller book or not. I can safely ignore any new book that came out in the last year. That decision alone has already eliminated hundreds of decisions.
We can convert hundreds of future decisions into one higher-level decision and make only one decision. Instead of making one hasty decision, we slow down, take our time, and decide once and for all.
This concept is not mine. I learned it from Tim Ferriss, and Tim also learned it from other folks. They used this technique to lighten their decisions and allow themselves to focus their energy on more important areas in their lives. After reading and listening to what they have been saying, I initially found it difficult to generalize my decisions in my life. I felt like my decisions didn't have any importance overall, and I could make them every day.
Luckily, Tim gave some guidance that we can use. He used a few questions to help him think through all of his decisions and find his blanket policies:
- In my life, where am I making decisions or saying “yes” out of guilt? Can I create a blanket policy that makes it easier for me to say “no”?
- In what areas am I making a lot of decisions, or sending a lot of communication? Are they concentrated anywhere? Can I create a blanket policy that makes it easier for other people to make those decisions?
- In what areas am I making a lot of decisions, or sending a lot of communication? Are they concentrated anywhere? Can I create a blanket policy that entirely removes the need to make those decisions?
I also used these questions along with mine:
In what areas am I making a lot of decisions, or trying to make a lot of decisions but usually make the worst one? Can I make one decision to not even think about these decisions anymore?
The additional question helps me discover the situations where I make many bad calls. For example, when someone offers me some sweets, I often accept them for two reasons: I don't want to turn a nice gesture down, and I love sweets. While accepting a piece of chocolate creates a social bond between the other person and me, it's not that great for my health. It doesn't mean that I won't eat sweets; I will eat them only whenever I want to. Just for this reason, starting in 2023, I won't accept anyone offering me some sweets.
With a similar approach, here are a few decisions I made:
- I won't watch any TV series that algorithms offer me on any platform.
- I limited my following count on Twitter to 100. (The same will apply to Mastodon)
- If any blog, podcast, or newsletter has an RSS feed, I will only subscribe to the RSS feed.
- I only read blog posts that I send to my Remarkable; I won't read any blog posts whenever I see any on social media. My blog post reading day is only on Sundays.
- I won't buy books that have been published in the last year.
- I won't accept any dessert or sweets offers from anyone.
- Every Tuesday, I will go to the gym for strength training.
I know these decisions' impact on my life will not be visible tomorrow. My gain in the short term is saving some brain power, energy, and time to spend on more impactful decisions.
I'm still looking for higher-level decisions I can make. I'm constantly looking for ways to discover upstream decisions.
Where can you look upstream? What's your decision to remove hundreds of decisions?