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Weekly 3: Look before you leap

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Idea Journal Weekly 3

March 28 · Issue #184 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.


Summary: Some decisions are more consequential than others. For the really important decisions, it helps to look before you leap. This issue offers a few ideas to help you do that.
(~3 min read)

#1. If you can’t decide, the answer is no
Entrepreneur and investor Naval Ravikant says in a Periscope video that our biology is at odds with the number of choices available to us in modern society.
We evolved in tribes of 150 people, and in that context if you passed on one option, a second option was unlikely to come along.
But in modern society, we’re inundated with options: there are nearly 8 billion people on the planet, we’re connected to most of them through the internet, and each of us potentially has access to hundreds or thousands of career opportunities.
It can be hard deciding among all the available options.
To make this process easier, Ravikant uses the following decision-making heuristic: If you can’t decide, the answer is no.
For example, say you’re facing one of the below decisions:
  • Should I take that job?
  • Should I buy this house?
  • Should I move to that city?
  • Should I go into business with this person?
These are all difficult decisions, and their effects can last far into your future. Because of that, you should only say yes if you’re relatively certain.
You can never be absolutely certain, but you should have a positive feeling about your choice: “You have to internalize it in your gut and in your heart – you have to really want something before you go for it.”
If you find yourself creating a spreadsheet to weigh your options or making a list of pros and cons, “forget it.”
The the answer is no.
#2. What would you say to your best friend?
Authors and academics Chip and Dan Heath write in their book Decisive that when you’re making an important personal or professional decision, it helps to create some emotional and mental distance, so that you can view it more objectively.
As the Heath brothers point out, we have a natural tendency to overweight short-term emotions in our decision making.
Sometimes this makes us erratic and quick to act, like when we react aggressively to another driver who cuts us off on the road.
But more commonly, short-term emotions have the opposite effect: we’re timid and reluctant to take action; or we see too much complexity and freeze with indecision; or we’re afraid of the unfamiliar and worry about what we’ll have to sacrifice in order to try something new.
The Heath brothers suggest that the most effective question you can ask yourself when you’re stuck making a decision is, What would I tell my best friend to do in this situation?
That’s because giving other people advice downplays our own short-term emotions, and gives us clarity about what’s important.
As they put it, “When we think of our friends, we see the forest. When we think of ourselves, we get stuck in the trees.”
#3. First, do no harm
Researchers Lauren McCann and Gabriel Weinberg write in Super Thinking that when you’re about to take an action that could result in significant or an unknown amount of harm, you should proceed with extreme caution. 
This approach is called the “precautionary principle.”
McCann and Weinberg point out that this may seem obvious, but people engage in risky behavior all the time. For example, drunk driving.
But the precautionary principle is also useful outside the context of actions that cause physical harm. 
For instance, before going too far in an argument that could ruin an important relationship, pause and proceed with caution.
Quote of the week
“The important thing is this: To be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.”
- Attributed to French essayist Charles Du Bos in his 1922 book Approximations
Idea Journal
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