faq's

 
 

You say better decisions can help you live a better life. How?
Each decision you make, no matter what it is, creates new options while closing you off to others. Good decisions lead to better options, which improve your chances of making better decisions in the future. How can you go wrong when all your options are great? Poor decisions lead to worse options down the road, which is why you can stuck in bad situations that become increasingly hard to get out of. As you get better at decision-making, you can build better possibilities for your future. The better your decisions, the better the options, and the greater your chances of living a better life.

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I’m afraid I’ve already made a lot of bad decisions, leaving me stuck in a bad spot and feeling hopeless. Is there hope?

Always. You can always turn things around. You just need to start with your next decision and work your way up with each decision you make. Hope comes with realizing how much power we have when we choose. It comes with knowing that we can learn what’s necessary to exercise that power well. Greater contentment is possible for you. You can have more joy. You are not as stuck as you think, no matter who you are or where you are. As long as you’re alive, you can make choices. As long as you can make choices, there is hope.

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I feel like I'm where I am for reasons beyond my control. How can better decision-making help someone like me?

Many of us are where we are because of other people's decisions. Abusive parents. Unreliable friends. Romantic partners that betray us. Bosses and politicians that make our lives worse. Some of us are in bad situations for other types of reasons, like physical challenges or health issues, natural disasters, or economic downturns. But none of this takes away our power to choose – or to learn how to choose well. You may not have gotten yourself here, but your choices can get you out. Life may throw you obstacles, but good decision-making means working around those obstacles.The more you learn about how to make good decisions, the more empowered you become, and the better able you’ll be to dodge challenging situations in the future that are outside of your control.

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How do you know when you’ve made a good decision?

It’s natural to conclude that if things turn out OK, you’ve made a good decision, and if things turn out badly, you’ve made a bad decision. But this isn't the best way to go. How things turn out isn’t 100% up to us: life is messy, and a lot of things happen that we don’t expect and can’t control. So, focus on the process instead of the outcome. A good decision is one that follows a good process, and a good process is one that maximizes the likelihood of getting you where you want to go. The complexity of life means there are no guarantees, but if our decisions set us up with the best chances possible, we’re doing great.

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How do we set ourselves up with the best chances possible?

We set ourselves up for the best chances possible by doing two things. First, we need to follow a solid decision-making process, one designed to minimize bias. Second, we need to pay attention to how our human nature pulls us off track as we follow that process. A lot of what you’ll learn from me is about both of these. Keep learning by reading my guides and letters. Maybe pick up a book, or listen to a podcast interview. Just keep collecting as much knowledge as you can, and subscribe to get emails from me so you don’t miss out on anything new. You don't have to be a perfect decision-maker; that's impossible anyway. As long as you're making small improvements, you're doing amazing.

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Is what you do like therapy? Or other types of self-help?

Therapy, self-help, and what I do are all about helping people live better lives, so there are similarities. But there are some key differences. My focus is less on unpacking past life events and more on how you can get to a better place with your next decision. Also, my method isn’t about finding answers by looking inward through soul searching as much as it’s about gathering information from a variety of resources available out in the world. Good decisions require good information, and as much as we’d like to, we don’t have all the information we need inside of us. Some people come to me for help when therapy or other types of self-help don’t work or don't feel right for them. But a lot of people seek my help while also seeking therapy and engaging with other types of self-help resources.

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I try hard to make the right decisions, but I still feel stuck in my life. Why?

As important as it is to make decisions well, the ins and outs of good decision-making aren’t taught in school, and most of our parents don’t break it down for us. It’s not necessarily because they don't care; it’s just not the norm. Besides, the study of decision-making is new compared to other disciplines like math, physics, literature, or other subjects we learn in school, so even though there’s a lot of academic research out there on the topic, it hasn’t reached a lot of us yet. So, we’re left with no option but to wing it. And when we wing it, we don’t always get where we want to go. The reason I write, speak, and teach about the science of decision-making is to bring all that research to you. My hope is that the more you learn, the better you’ll get at making decisions, and the less stuck you’ll be. Just keep learning and keep deciding. There is hope.

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I use my gut to make decisions. Is that wrong?

If you use your gut, you’ll get no judgment from me. It’s a natural, human thing to do, and a lot of gut decisions turn out OK. But a lot of gut decisions also don’t turn out OK, whether we remember those times or not, so it’s worth exploring just how much your gut should influence you. Good decisions require good information, and our guts don’t usually have all the information we need to set ourselves up with the best chances possible. It’s also hard to know whether what you feel in your “gut” is just an emotion that could pass if you wait, or an impulse brought on by stress or anxiety. Our guts are convincing. They feel so right even when they’re missing something. So, if you’re forced to make a decision on the spot, and if you don’t have access to the necessary information, going with your gut may be all you have. But if you have time to gather intel, and if that intel is out there and easy to grab, ignoring it may be risky. How much to rely on your gut is a choice you need to make. Be sure to make it wisely.

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I feel like I just can’t seem to make good decisions. What’s wrong with me?

Nothing! In fact, making bad decisions is very human. Our brains are naturally efficient, which means the biases and mental shortcuts that cause poor decision-making are part of our make-up. And we live in societies much more complex than what we’ve been evolved to handle. We’re bombarded with so much information it makes our brains hurt. We’re surrounded by so many strangers; we don’t live in the kinds of tight-knit communities we’re designed for – which means that people who influence our decisions don’t usually have the same stake in our choices as we do. Rather than assume there’s something wrong with you, recognize that you’re very much human. Instead of trying to fix something about yourself, focus on learning as much as you can about why all of our decisions naturally go wrong. Then learn to override the natural tendencies that lead us humans astray. How? The information shared throughout this website and in my other materials (guides, letters, books, podcasts) is all about helping you do this. Let it empower you.

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I have a lot of regret over past decisions I’ve made. How do I move past it?

Regret is a feeling, and feelings aren’t facts. Regret doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve made a decision poorly; it just means the outcome isn’t what you wanted it to be, or that it wasn’t as good as it could have been. Given that our brains trick us into thinking that what we always knew what we know now (this is called hindsight bias), self-judgment can feel natural. And given that so much of how things turn out isn't in our control, it’s important to examine your decisions objectively. So, examine the facts surrounding your decision at the time you made it, without judgment, like a detached scientist or a researcher trying to solve a puzzle. Did you gather enough information or did you assume more than you should have? Did biases get in the way? Did someone influence you in the wrong direction? If the evidence suggests that you could have done better, then look forward, not backward, with your understanding of this. Focus on your next decision and, like an engineer, tweak your process to improve it. The more you hang on to regret, the more you fear it. And fear of regret can keep you from making good decisions in the future. Feel what you need to feel about your past decisions. Just don't let them become more real than they need to be. And don't let them call the shots.

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I usually go along with other people's decisions. It seems easier, but am I giving in too much?

The only way to know this is to ask yourself this question: "What do I want out of life?" Our brains are designed to think in the short-term, to prioritize the decisions right in front of us over where we want to be five, ten, twenty years from now. So, we have to override the urge to only care about the moment. Conscientiously set aside time to think about how you envision your ideal life in the future. It doesn’t have to be years ahead; just at some point that makes sense to you. Where do you live? What do your surroundings look like? Who’s there with you? What are you doing as the day progresses? If you can’t visualize a destination, then it doesn’t matter who makes decisions for you; you’ll just go in circles anyway. Once you know where you’d like to be, you can work backwards from that and ask, “Under what conditions would this kind of life be possible?” In other words, what circumstances would need to be in place for you to achieve your ideal life? If going along with someone else’s choices would make those circumstances come about, then great. But if letting other people make decisions for you is getting you further from your ideal destination, it may be time to take control of your decision-making.

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Someone I care about is making decisions that I believe aren’t good for them. Is there anything I can do?

Yes. Simply spending a lot of time with someone can sway the choices they make. We are social creatures by nature. We crave belonging and connection, so we automatically go along with others without realizing it. What doesn't work, however, is using pressure to make them change their minds. Taking away someone’s power to choose can cause them psychological pain – and this pain can make their decision-making worse. So, instead of trying to force them in a particular direction, nurture a close relationship. The more they care about and trust you, the more likely you can sway them by simply being around them. Also, instead of advice, provide information in the form of stories (statistics aren’t as powerful or memorable). Finally, look for the small wins. Minds don’t get changed in an instant, and sometimes they never change. The reward doesn’t come when your loved one does what you want them to. It comes from knowing that you’re creating possibility for change. The change has to be up to them. Check out my guide, "How to Change a Misinformed Mind," to learn more. And if your loved one is battling with addiction, that’s a different story. I’d recommend this book as a resource for understanding how addiction works from a behavioral science perspective.

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I suffer from depression, and nothing seems to help. How did decision-making help you deal with your depression?

Depression feels awful, and when you feel that awful, it’s hard to keep going. When I was in the depths of my depression, my decisions were all about one thing: feeling better in the moment, because that’s all I could do to want to stay alive. But when your decisions are 100% about emotional management, they’re 0% about setting you up with better options so you can live a better life. The more I made emotionally-driven choices, the deeper I fell into irreversibly bad situations, to where I had no decent options at all. And that made me increasingly depressed. I didn't have much, but I did have room to make different choices - choices that could lead to better options down the road and turn things around for me. I also knew that depression naturally makes you feel unwilling to think through your decisions, so I had to override that natural urge. I had to put my feelings in check and trust that using my head could only make things better. As I kept making small changes in my choices, I ended up in better and better situations. As my options got better, so did my life. Today, my depression is totally gone. And I'm so grateful I kept fighting. 

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I don’t seem to fit in or belong anywhere, and I’m often feeling lonely. Can better decision-making fix this?

I relate to this well. I’ve struggled with fitting in since I was a kid, and I still have a hard time with it. Not fitting in has two parts to it: you, and the context you’re in. Each social context – friend group, community, or culture – has its own set of norms, the “shoulds” and “should not’s” regarding what’s said, done, and even thought. If your personal idea of what should or shouldn’t be OK doesn’t match up with what those around you believe, you can say that you don’t fit in with them, but it’s also the case that they don’t fit with you. Ask yourself what “shoulds” and “should nots” will get you to the destination you truly want in life - or the destination you want for society and the planet. Then, rather than trying to fit in where you simply can't, look for people who appreciate how you want to be. Unfortunately, our brains naturally fixate on the options right in front of us, rather than asking what other options are out there, so we have to override the urge to put all our efforts into only the people we've already known. There are a lot of people in the world, and they're diverse. The right folks for you may not be found where you'd expect. You only need a handful of then to provide you with the sense of connection you need. Chances are the right decision is to look outward for them.

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I’m indecisive, and I think this is a problem. I too often get stuck in analysis paralysis. What can I do about it?

Indecisiveness is part of the human experience, as is analysis paralysis. Sometimes, we spin in circles because we’re mired in regret over past decisions; the more regret we feel, the more future regret we fear, and the more hesitant we become to choose. If regret is big with you, tackle that first. For some of us, anticipated blame is a bigger concern than regret. If you’re around people who are quick to judge you for your choices, then the issue may be less about you than your environment. Making adjustments to your social world can often work wonders for your decision-making. Indecisiveness can also stem from believing that you have all the information you need when you really don’t. Our brains are efficient, which means they trick us into relying only on what we already know. But what we already know may be so insufficient that we can't make a decision. Often, a little bit of research is enough to get you unstuck. Indecision can also stem from how the decision is structured. Too many options can make decision-making tough. If this is a problem, simplify the decision by removing options that aren't feasible or have a low chance of achieving your desired outcome. And focus on the pros rather than the cons; negative trade-offs are a bummer, which means we’ll put off a decision just to avoid them. When none of this works, try time-boxing your choice. Give yourself only 30 seconds to make it. You don’t have to move forward with whatever you choose; this exercise isn’t about landing you on the right option as much as uncovering your deal breakers. Once you know those, the decision can become much easier.

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How do you know when you’re taking too long to make a decision? How do you know when you’re not taking long enough?

Before making a decision, it's important to ask: “How much time do I really have?” Our brains move so fast that we tend to dive into decision-making without establishing how much time we need - or how much time we can reasonably get. If you start each decision with a clear sense of how much time you have, or how much time you want to take – and if this time frame is top-of-mind as you’re deciding – you’re less likely to drag out decisions that should be made more quickly or decide too soon when you have more time to think things through. Once you've established a time frame, ask yourself: “How much information would any person in this situation need in order to decide well?” If you have time to obtain the necessary information, then take it. If information you need isn't available or knowable, accept that. Don’t move too quickly if taking time is better for your choice, and don't move too slowly if time isn't on your side. And remember: if the stakes are low, or if the decision is reversible (if you can take it back), then you may not want to belabor your choice, even if you have all the time in the world. Check out my guide, "How to Protect Your Brain from Decision Fatigue," to learn more.

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I make decisions but I can’t follow through with them. Why?

Deciding is one thing, and that’s hard enough. Once you’ve decided, you still need overcome the power of inertia. Too often, we slip into old habits because we’re not clear on exactly what behavior we need to change for our decision to become realized. So, the first step is to ask yourself what you need to do to bring the decision to life. Be specific. If you’ve decided to lose weight, figure out what you specifically need to do differently. Don’t just think “I'm going to eat healthier.” Define “eat better” so you can measure it – whether it’s in terms of calories, carbs, number of snacks you cut out of your daily routine, or something else. The works with other decisions you want to put into action. Have you decided to look for a new job? Get a divorce? Make new friends? What specific behaviors will maximize your chances of getting there, and how can you measure them so you know you’re making progress? Reward yourself when you've reached measurable milestones and create negative consequences for not following through, to train yourself to stick with it.

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Can better decisions improve our society and save our planet?

I believe that better decisions can turn things around. In fact, they're all we have. We got here socially, politically, and environmentally because of past decisions people have made, decisions shaped by irrationally, impulsivity, and emotion. Some of those people have had ill intent, but most have only been behaving the way humans do, bound by a naturally limited capacity to think things through and resist the sway of social influence. We can build a better world if we make choices better, if we override the humaly natural decision-making tendencies that lead to terrible outcomes. If each of us makes better choices as individuals, our aggregated choices will lead to a better future. We can also make better decisions as we work together in groups to reach common goals. Much of why we're in a bad spot is because people don't always collaborate or coordinate well.  Working with others also requires good decision-making. The more we learn about how to make better group decisions, the more empowered we become to make change together.

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