How do you make a big decision?
I recently read Free Will by Sam Harris, so I’m not really sure if I make any decisions on my own. Maybe he’s right that all my decisions are made by my DNA and my previous experiences, both of which I have no control over because they depend on other peoples DNA and previous experiences and so on. Maybe we are just moist robots like Scott Adams says. Maybe all things are by chance, all luck, and we’re just along for a ride among many rides with a destination unknown.
This would mean that my ability to make an important decision is just an allusion, another movie playing in my head, even though it feels like I have control. But let’s just say for the sake of this article that I do have a bit of control. I like to think the important decisions in my life would follow a certain set of criteria. Maybe I can trick myself into following this criteria by writing it down here. We’ll see. Ride with me.
The criteria I’m about to drop doesn’t apply to small decisions. Decisions like having another cup of coffee, watching another episode of Homeland, or going to see a movie like Nocturnal Animals are just automated. I don’t really have to think about them. I just do them. I could tell you why and how I make those decisions, but it would just be a guess like a lot of things in life. I’ll just say they’re most likely automated by my DNA and previous experiences too.
There are some decisions I have to think long and hard about. I’m talking big decisions like figuring out where I should live, what to buy, or where I should dedicate a large portion of my time. These are the types of decisions I like to apply my criteria to.
One box I like to check is that my decision will allow me to keep my options open. That way I can change my mind if my decision doesn't work out. I do this because the future is unknowable, like I talk about in this post.
There are some big decisions, like getting my wisdom teeth out, where I can’t really keep my options open. I either get my teeth yanked or I don’t. Can’t really change my mind when my teeth are laying on that metal tray next to the operating chair where I can’t see or feel anything because I asked them to knock me out.
I just got my wisdom teeth out. A few days afterwards, I finally got the courage to reach my tongue back to those now empty spaces in my mouth. And when my tongue touched those spaces I was stunned with a feeling of déjà vu. Has this happened to me before in another life? Am I living the same life over again? This has nothing to do with making a big decision.
The decision to get my wisdom teeth out was pretty simple. I had this annoying little wisdom tooth that caused me occasional pain. When I finally went to the dentist after procrastinating my next visit for 5 years, they told me that nasty little wisdom tooth was partially stuck in my jaw and would never fully reveal itself. They said food would get stuck back there, especially chips and peanuts and popcorn, which are the main staples of my diet. I was worried about that nasty little tooth. I could feel it in my gut that I needed to get it yanked, so I did.
“While you’re at it, you might as well get the other 2 wisdom teeth yanked,” they said. “Okay,” I said. I trusted my gut like I did in this post too, which is also a box I like to check for making a big decision.
Another criteria I use for making a big decision is asking myself if it’s a “Hell yeah!” or a “No”. Another trick I stole from Derek Sivers that’s proven useful in decision making. Getting my wisdom teeth out was a “Hell yeah!” because I wanted to keep eating chips and peanuts and popcorn. Another “Hell yeah!” was my decision to ask my girlfriend to marry me. I still can’t believe she said yes. Now that I think of it, she didn’t say “Hell yeah!”, but I still think she wants to get married. I should also note that deciding to get married is another decision where you can’t really keep your options open.
One thing that’s been a “No” for me for some time is going back to school to get my MBA. The main reason being is it would allow me to do less of what I’m good at. Allow me to explain because this is another criteria I use to make a big decision: Will this allow me to do more of what I’m good at?
One thing I think I’m pretty good at is having a completely average skill level in a handful of different areas. These areas may include but are not limited to the following, depending on your opinion of me of course: corporate finance, golf, relationship building, writing, and guitar. If I went back to school to get my MBA, I think I would have to part ways with some of those skills. I wouldn’t have the time to stay perfectly average at them. And that scares the hell out of me.
Sure, I might get better at business. But I’d get worse at what makes me…me. And if I’ve learned anything in the 18 years I’ve had a job, starting out as a paperboy in 5th grade, it’s that businesses don’t want everyone to be the same. They just need you to be more of you.
Businesses need you to be unconventional because unconventional ideas and action can make an impact and can last. Unconventional like The Rolling Stones trying to become the best blues band in London. Unconventional like Jason Fried and Joel Leon. Unconventional like that business that cares about their customers more than profit. That shit can have a lasting impact.
As you can see, I have a weird obsession with unconventional things. And I guess that’s the last criteria I use for making a big decision: make it unconventional.