Choosing wisely in a finite time

Deciding what to do with our time takes a lot of work. Pop-up notifications trying to steal our attention are making it increasingly challenging. We all have digital vices where we spend more time or money than we should. But there are techniques we can use that make these difficult decisions easier. 

I consume audiobooks ravenously, but my “to listen” list seems to only grow thanks to Audible’s “always a sale” marketing. These sales are my weakness because they show me all the wonderful books I could be listening to despite an already too-long reading wishlist. 

But this blog is not about my difficulty choosing which book to read next – that has already been randomized; it is to help you make Smarter, Faster, Better decisions. To do this, you must first audit yourself and create your identity.

Triage your priorities

It’s easy to put off doing important tasks by saying we don’t have time for them. We have all had a reason not to exercise, meditate, learn a language, read a good book, etc. Yet, what do we actually do with that time? 

Reflecting on how we spend our time can often point out large chunks of time dedicated to unimportant tasks. These trivial tasks prevent us from finding time for constructive habits, so focusing on what is most important to you is crucial.

When something matters to you, you find time and resources to do it. Smokers will always find the money for cigarettes; it’s an addiction. While smoking is a terrible addiction for longevity, developing sound decision-making habits that start by feeding into the feedback loop of motivation Jeff Haden described in The Motivation Myth – more on that later. For now, you need to actively make choices or let someone else make them.

When you abstain from prioritizing your well-being, you let the world decide for you. In a utopic world, as described by Fernando Gonzalez in The Wellbeing Driven Economy, this would be fine, as the world – in his case, an AI – has prioritized your well-being. However, in our current reality, your attention is collected by addictive media and sold to advertisers in a vicious cycle that leads to the feedback loop of bad decisions. 

The feedback loop of bad decisions

Let’s imagine bob had a hard day at the office. As soon as he gets home, he sits on the couch and watches a bit of television to relax with a beer. By the time he realizes that he has nothing precooked for dinner, Bob is already hungry and goes straight to the frozen pizzas he has “just in case.” Meanwhile, the vegetables he bought, thinking he would eat healthier this week, are rotting away.

While the pizza bakes in the oven, he opens a bag of chips. These chips make him even thirstier, so he opens another beer and sits back in front of the TV. By the time his pizza is ready, Bob has satiated his appetite with beer and chips and feels terrible about having had such an unhealthy evening so early into his New Year’s resolution to eat healthily. 

To deal with this feeling about his decision, he cracks another beer, sits back in front of the TV and forgets all about that walk he wanted to take as he melts into a drunken slumber to repeat the cycle tomorrow.

Bob probably has a drinking problem, but his main problem is decision fatigue. This exaggerated story illustrates the feedback loop of bad decisions to give you a clear idea of what I am trying to describe. 

To put it more plainly: a lousy decision causes a wrong action, which leads to a negative feeling, leading to another bad decision, and down the rabbit hole you go into perpetuity. 

The feedback loop of motivation

Now, let’s contrast Bob’s experience to that of Janette, who activated the feedback loop of motivation by starting her day off right. Janette knows she will not be motivated to cook after a long day at the office, so she wakes up a bit earlier to put a stew in the slow cooker.

When she gets home, the beautiful aromas of her stew entice her. But she knows she needs to Eat That Frog and do a workout before sitting down for dinner and relaxing, so she gets changed and goes for a run.  

Excited and energized from her run, she then has a slow dinner, savouring a glass of wine, then retreating to the couch with a blanket and a book. Feeling fit, relaxed and ready for bed, she writes in her journal and reflects on what will go into her slow cooker and what she will wear to the office tomorrow. 

The next day starts, and she follows her plan progressing incrementally toward her long-term goals. Even Though she does a challenging job, Janette can balance it and continually finds room to grow. The more she achieves, the higher she reaches in a perpetual loop of motivation. 

Decision fatigue

Bob used up all his decision-making power before he got home from work. We are making a daily average of 35 000 decisions. Most of these are automatic responses to stimuli, also known as habits. Still, if you are not careful, all these decisions can fatigue you. 

Once fatigued, you are more likely to take shortcuts that show up as procrastination, impulsivity, avoidance, and indecision. The more fatigued you become, the more you will take the path of least resistance which won’t always line up with your identity. Bob wants to eat something other than chips and beer for dinner, but he spends too much energy making menial daily decisions.

These menial decisions (what socks to wear, what to have for breakfast, where to go for lunch, etc.) drain him of his decision-making energy. Without this energy, he chooses the path of least resistance. He falls for the fallacy of consumerism, fruitlessly trying to feel good.

These bad decisions can cause you to spiral downwards into a feed loop of bad decisions, which causes you to make more bad decisions, perpetually compounding the effects of your bad choices. Bob fell for this trap, but Janette stayed clear using the four following methods.

Four methods for avoiding decision fatigue 

Method 1: Time the decision appropriately

Who do you think is more likely to take a cold shower, Bob or Janette? If you guessed Janette, you are probably right; she has mastered the art of deciding early. To take a cold shower, you must be determined before you are naked in the cold. Otherwise, you will always opt to turn the heat on. 

You increase your chances of sticking to desirable habits by deciding early and committing to that decision. Similarly, Janette added choosing what to cook and wear to her evening routine, which frees up her mental space in the morning as she performs the actions in alignment with those decisions. 

Choosing a strenuous activity is often more challenging than actually doing the activity. When Janette wakes up, she knows what to do, how much time it will take, and she does it without hesitation. Decisions such as these are taxing and can zap your decision-making power before exposure to a strong temptation. 

Your ability to make decisions decreases throughout the day. Therefore, appropriately timing your decisions is crucial to ensuring the right one will be made. By front-loading your difficult choices to avoid temptation in the morning, you leave the easier ones for later in the day when you have less energy to fight against those temptations.

You can do this by crafting a nighttime routine and morning routine. These routines will free up your decision-making power as they will transform many of those decisions into habits which require significantly less brain power.

Make your life easier by deciding what you will eat throughout the day during your nighttime routine. This type of menial decision is more accessible. You choose to be healthy before the option not to has been offered. Then, when you get home after work, you execute the decision you have already made. Organizing yourself in such a way will also let you know if you need to stop by the store on the way home or not.

Avoid making complicated decisions when you are tired. Instead, as part of your evening routine, write down any hard decisions you need to make and make them in the morning when your energy returns, but avoid becoming overwhelmed by minimizing your choices.

Method 2: Simplify your decisions

Simplifying your decisions is easy; you can make the answer a habit or give yourself fewer options. Deciding what to wear is one of the first things most people do when they wake up, but this can be draining if you have too many options, which is why I suggested doing it in the evening. 

However, you can go one step further by decreasing the number of clothes in your wardrobe. Think of how easy life would be if you had half the number of choices. Keep enough variety for changes in weather and mood, but stop feeling like you need a new outfit for every event you go to. This will make your evenings even easier when choosing what to wear the next day.

Even better, batch select your outfits on Sunday when you are most rested for the weekend and be ready for the week ahead. Habitually pre-selecting your wardrobe and avoiding the habit of constantly buying new clothes will decrease your decision fatigue and help you focus on what really matters. 

For example, if you want to get into shape, start by changing into your workout clothes. It takes a lot less energy to decide to get changed than it does to work out. But it’s a lot easier to ride the wave and get into the feedback loop of motivation when you have the right clothes and are ready for that workout.

Start with the clothes, then do a small workout. Eventually, you, like Janette, will be excited to do your exercise. James Clear introduced this concept in his book Atomic Habits, calling it the 2-minute rule. He explains the key to forming any habit is to break it down into something that can be done in two minutes. 

Once you master that two-minute micro-habit, you can start expanding it. This can work for any habit; all you need to do is break it down. Do a small part of your habit and grow it naturally, so it is always somewhat challenging. 

Method 3: Make decisions faster

Indecision is the enemy of happiness. Becoming more reflective with your decisions is crucial for adding more joy to your life. Hard decisions such as: what to do with your life, whether or not to propose to your partner or which car to buy can be tough. But just because they are tough doesn’t mean you should ponder on them for years.

The most satisfying decisions in life are those made quickly. The longer you spend weighing the pros and cons of any decision – pondering the best option – the less satisfied you will be with your choice. 

Spend your time reflecting on the results rather than the decision. By paying attention to the consequences of your choices, you will stay out of the feedback loop of bad decisions and know the right answer the next time that option arises. 

Spending your time pondering the right choice gives you certainty that you made the right one. The more you think you make the right choice, the more disappointed you will be at any difficulties arising from that choice.

Instead, by practicing mindfulness, you can focus on the current moment, see the consequences of previous choices and move on when it was the wrong one. It’s impossible to always make the right choice. However, by preventing decision fatigue, you will improve your chances and continually improve your habits.

Realizing that a traditional life is only Four Thousand Weeks can help you find joy in The gifts of imperfection. The Zen tradition teaches to do without thought, to live instinctively – like Bruce Lee. 

We practiced everything he did thousands of times and was ready for whatever the world could throw at him. We may not all aspire to be great martial artists, but there is often more to gain from a quick decision than a long deliberate. before deciding something quickly; You know that there might have been better options, but this is the one you chose and accept that you are stuck with it and move on with your life much more quickly. 

Make decisions fast and change them slowly

Napoleon Hill

My boss often says: “less thinking, more doing.” Planning is instrumental to accomplishing anything; yet, planning can also hinder when there are too many unknown variables. Trying to make all the decisions ahead of time is ineffective because things come up that change the best path forward. It’s easier to start, get some momentum and keep it going.

In The motivation myth, Jeff Haden writes that when paying off debts, we should start with the smallest one. Financially, it would be better to pay off whichever has the highest interest rates. However, paying off the smallest one will make you feel motivated to continue; it will start the feedback loop of motivation.

Making a budget is another long, tedious task that requires a lot of decisions. Instead of trying to imagine every possible expense, make it obvious. Develop a habit of recording all of your expenses. Then, go through them, it will be obvious where you should curb your spending. This habit will help you see where your money goes; thus, where you should consider cutting expenses.

Once you make a decision – stick to it – you have promised it to yourself and it is up to you to follow through. These are the three methods you can use to make all the decisions in your life, and if none of them work the decision might not be yours to make.

Method 4: Not all decisions are yours to make

No one likes a micromanager. Whether you are a boss, parent, partner, friend, etc., you need to trust the people in your life to make decisions. When you take on too much responsibility, you exhaust yourself and lose the ability to make good choices. 

The remedy for this is staying in your lane at work. If it is not your job to make those decisions, then stay out of it; your life will be happier. If you are the supervisor, trust your staff to make the right decision. Teach them to make the right decision and leave them to it.

As always you can get this content sent directly to your inbox by subscribing to my Newsletter below. Subscribing will also give you a free introductory coaching session with me, so it’s a great decision to sign up and learn how sustainable your habits are.

Our lives are filled with an ever growing number of decisions, the move to texting and email instead of speaking means that we have more time to deliberate on the perfect way to word things. This is a blessing in getting the right message across but only one example in a whole slew of things that have been added to our lives.

Be mindful of where you spend your decision making energy. Implementing the techniques I have described here can help, but it’s up to you to find where your decision power is going and how to prevent it. Focus on the important things in life, and as Robert Kiyosaki wrote: “Pay yourself first”, or in this case, decide for yourself first.

working on it…
Welcome to the long longevity community.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: