How I make decisions

Quick Disclaimer, this post is solely my personal process that I’ve used to determine and explain what my goals are. I only want you to have goals that work for you. It doesn’t matter what I think.

“Dreams are the touchstones of our characters,” –Thoreau

Decision Making Principles

How rigorously do you make decisions?

There are many ways in which people make decisions. It seems to me that more often than not the reasons for decision making are born out of short term considerations that are not sustainable. This phenomenon is so disturbingly widespread that there is now an entire cult of personality around the ‘mid-life crisis’.

With each of these decisions comes a set of “debt” with respect to your true values. Kind of like when you throw your laundry on the floor at night because you’re too lazy to fold it, eventually there’s laundry everywhere.

After a series of these poorly considered decisions, this “debt” reaches levels that overcome the amount of time you have left to actually pay back the debt to achieve whatever success you want in life. In other words, a mid-life crisis is a bankruptcy of commitment to your own values.

First, let’s start with a few axioms and make some fundamental assumptions based on them.

Everyone has values of some kind.

I believe this to be the case even if not explicitly stated or understood. This is because they make decisions, whatever they are.

This is mostly because there must be decisions that are made in order to avoid the true path of least resistance, death. In principle, our framing does mean it’s possible to live a de-facto value-less, decision-less life.

Everyone has things that they desire.

In my experience people either don’t have what they want, or they don’t know what they want.

If you are truly content with everything you have in your life right now, you have no need for this blog post.

Given our assumptions, that people have values and desires it follows naturally that you will have goals that manifest your desires that’s in line with your values. When it comes to making decisions, each of those decisions should then be in furtherance of your goals. What do I mean by that? Well, we can be somewhat analytical about it.

Imagine some attributes that you think could describe a person in general terms. For example, let’s say some things like wisdom, kindness, patience, physical strength, being fun, etc.

If you imagine each of these things on a multi-dimensional plane each person as a point falls somewhere in that grid, whoever they are (and any point you could ever want to reach exists here too). Maybe they’re exceedingly kind and they’re not so patient, or vice versa.

Let’s say that you want to be much smarter, or be much more fun, whatever that person looks like, is also a point on this coordinate plane.

Let’s visualize it for a moment then.

If you’re anything like me, this graph resembles you, and will always resemble you. You have a person you want to be, and there’s always a new goal on the horizon that’s in line with your values.

The nice thing about this graph is that you determine the axes. Let’s say that the red dot is who you are now, and that yellow dot up there is who you wish to be.

That yellow dot, the point that you wish to reach, is the north star. Once you know where the north star is, then you should orient all of your decisions around reducing the euclidean distance between you and that point. It’s easier than you think!

Building Analytically Verifiable and Interesting Goals

Determining what your goals are is going to be one of the hardest things you ever do.

Computer Scientists would consider this problem NP-Hard. It takes an unknown amount of time to come up with an answer, and we don’t know how to evaluate an answer even if we had one. Making matters worse, we also can only ever run the experiment once.

Unfortunately, any goal worth reaching requires a serious commitment over a long stretch of time, and while there are many opportunities to change course, the opportunities to reflect on such a decision are rarely taken, resulting in wasted time.

While I certainly can’t tell you what goals you should pick, I will say that there are certain goals that are going to be more effective for you than others. Your goals should reflect an accurate understanding of the reality in which you live, and their purpose is to be realistic, exciting and achievable within a specified time frame.

Committing yourself to learn a new skill by the end of the year or do something special for your wife is a more useful goal than trying to change the minimum wage or change the standard for accredited investors.

I don’t know anyone who’s worked on bettering themselves who has a worse life now than what they started with. However, I know a lot of people who have worked on bettering society who have a worse life now than what they started with.

Now when it comes to how you’ll better yourself and structure the goals mechanically; I think the OKR method is a good method.

An OKR is just an objective that is inspiring, and has a time limit.

Objective: “We’re going to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade”.

Great, now let’s define some key results:

What you can do today

Pick a set of goals. Write a document outlining the details of what you will improve and what goals you will seek this year. Refer to that document every two weeks and grade yourself honestly.

If you accomplish everything by the end of the year, you’re probably not being ambitious enough. If you get around 70-80% you’re doing great.

Just remember; as with all things in life there is a tyranny of the quantifiable; that which we can measure always takes precedence over what we can’t.

Even if you don’t accomplish all of your goals exactly as you set them, that doesn’t always mean you were not successful. Only you can tell if you’re still on track with your own mission in life. As with all matters of the heart, you know it when you see it.

If you set your goals right, you can be incredibly successful; but at the same time, there’s no pressure as it’s just a piece of paper that you can change as you grow.

Find your north star and follow it always, and with the quest will come a lifetime of joy.

P.S. I have a serious interest in scalable software solutions to maintaining abstract quantifiable goals as well as tools that enable people to scale the number of social relationships they have and track meaningful events related to them such as birthdays, holidays, and especially kids birthday parties.

If you know of such tools, please do share them with me.

The Grid was generated with the CPM 3D Plotter

A. D. A.