A Simple Trick To Improve Your Decision-Making Process

Thierry Meier
The Essentialist
Published in
5 min readJun 22, 2015

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This post first appeared on The Essentialist.

In short: If you face an uncomfortable decision, ask yourself what advice you would give your friend. Then, apply this advice to your situation. You’d be a hypocrite to not take your own advice. Read below why this works.

Imagine this scenario. Your best friend is facing a tough decision and seeks your advice. She needs to decide between two jobs she got offered.

The first job is in line with the career path she has chosen and invested a lot of time and money in. This job guarantees a high salary and thus financial security. But today, she does not enjoy working in this field any longer.

The second job represents a career in a non-traditional field. She has no work experience but she has always been very interested in this field. The job aligns with her passions. The job pays average. But the work she will be doing will fulfill her. She will be happier.

What advice would give to your friend? Likely, you’d encourage her to take the leap and go after what she’s passionate about.

What about yourself?

Now you are facing the same decision. There is the same job that you are not very excited about and the other you’re deeply passionate about.

You already see yourself bored and unsatisfied in the former job. In the latter you see yourself moving mountains and destroying obstacles. You see yourself going to work with a smile every morning. You see yourself doing the right thing. It feels good. You see yourself building a massive network because you infect everyone with your enthusiasm.

But then… fears and worries start to kick in:

I have invested so much time and money in this career path already, might as well stick to it. Oh the high salary will provide financial security and comfort, the holy grail of modern society. The other job sounds really great… but I have no education in this field, how will I make it? The salary isn’t that great, too — will I be able to save enough for when I’m old? Also, what will other people think of me for leaving the field I studied for, for a long time? What will other people think of the new field I am looking to move in to? Might as well play it safe, stick to my field and live with the trade-offs that come with it.

Why can we give our friend advice with clarity and confidence but we cannot do the same for ourselves?

Uncomfortable Decisions Evoke Anxiety

All of a sudden destructive emotions clutter the decision-making process. Fear, worries, uncertainties and idiotic excuses creep in to stay put. When you are facing decisions that could cause short-term discomfort or pain, destructive emotions will creep in. Realising this is important.

Avoiding discomfort and pain is deeply rooted in our brain that helped us survive for millions of years. But today, facing pain and discomfort does not mean you should avoid it. In fact, more often than not it is smart to embrace it. Think about it.

No one ever achieved greatness by staying comfortable and avoiding pain and discomfort. (Tweet this!)

When you give out advice, you can bypass the shit storm of destructive emotions between stimulus and response.

You also ditch various biases such as the consistency bias, loss-aversion, social pressure and the negativity bias. (You’re welcome to join my mailing list “The Essentialist” if you want to learn more about those concepts.)

The Trick: Take Your Own Advice

Next time you are facing a tough decision, ask yourself what you would tell your friend to do. Then, apply that advice to your own situation. Since you are a smart and intelligent person, you are likely to give out sound advice. You would be a hypocrite to not take and act upon your own advice.

Here is how this might pan out:

You’re thinking about starting to work out.
What advice would I give my friend who would like to start working out? Well, of course he should start. Exercising promotes your health, increases your productivity, focus, longevity, sex drive and much more. The benefits outweigh the time investment by far. He would be dumb not to start.

You’re thinking about starting to meditate.
What advice would I give my friend who would like to start to meditate? Start. It is scientifically proven that meditation makes you perform better. It can also make you at least 10% Happier. You’ll be more content and present. Investing 10–15 minutes per day for such benefits is a no-brainer.

Often, things clear up immediately if you take out the comfort promoting destructive emotions out of the equation. You’ll make better decisions. Decisions of which the execution will often be harder. Embrace it.

In the words of Epictetus:

What would have become of Hercules do you think if there had been no lion, hydra, stag or boar — and no savage criminals to rid the world of? What would he have done in the absence of such challenges? Obviously he would have just rolled over in bed and gone back to sleep. So by snoring his life away in luxury and comfort he never would have developed into the mighty Hercules.

For more writings about simplicity, focus and decision making, join my mailing list The Essentialist.

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Thierry Meier
The Essentialist

Product Designer. Digital Nomad. Creator of @betterdaysapp. Follow me on Twitter @thierrymeier_.