A decision is the closest component we can ever get to what we call a “soul“, and is the mechanism that defines anything we call “intelligent” or “human”.
We tend to judge our identity by our decisions when they yield positive results, but lean more into our circumstances when we experience hardship. However, we are more inclined to believe the reverse in others: their decisions are not their identity when they’re succeeding, while their decisions are entirely who they are when they fail.
We are constantly deciding things. When we were little, nearly all our decisions were conscious. However, we quickly developed many habits automatically, and those decisions were pushed into the subconscious. In a single day the average adult makes about 35,000 decisions, though we’re only aware of about 100 of them.
We face conflicts about what we want. If we have any conflict about what we imagine doing or believing, we must deny a sentiment to act toward another one. “Willpower” is the amount of decision resistance we must face to make a particular decision.
Every day, we wake up with a certain amount of willpower based on how much we’re certain about what we can do. Over the day, refresh that certainty through affirmations or rest, that willpower reserve will slowly drain until we become incapable of even performing basic tasks.
We can build our willpower with habits that push our limits. That reserve of willpower is a universal component of any task, though there are broad value-based variances in how it applies (e.g., patience versus strength).
Our willpower reserve is based on our animal capacity for brainpower, which is based on sugar levels (glucose) in the brain. We can either make it run for longer, or change our diet to fuel it better.
Unconscious decisions are essentially habits by another name, so most people consider “decisions” as only referring to the ones we’re consciously aware of.
Across repetition, decisions become habits through the following mechanism:
- Experience perceived facts.
- Condense the information into reasonable stories that answer “how”, “why”, and “what”.
- The end of the story creates a feeling that defines the purpose we ascribe to the experience.
We can profoundly understand the basis of our personalities by what decisions we obsess over and how much.
Calculus I: Values
Every decision is a type of “values calculus” that weighs benefits and risks to any given set of options. It’s not strictly mathematical (because it involves feelings instead of measurable components), but every decision incorporates many possible factors based on pre-existing bias from experience and belief.
A. general factors:
- The impression we get and our reactions to it.
- Short-term versus long-term effects of almost everything.
- Every one of the possibilities we can imagine, including “third options” that often require more risk.
- The shortage of a specific resource (i.e., “scarcity”).
B. comfort factors:
- How much pain or pleasure we’ll experience. More specifically, how intense, likely, and far in the future. We tend to feel more pain from losing things than from never having had those things.
- Who and what we trust, and how much.
- How much that pain or pleasure will create other pain or pleasure.
- How much effort we’d have to do to complete something.
- What we’re already familiar with and accustomed to.
- Who and what we fear, along with our requirements to feel safe.
- Things we don’t know or imagine potentially not knowing, including things we imagine we can’t know.
- Spontaneous impulse to find certainty in the midst of too much uncertainty (which can be from too many choices).
C. purpose factors:
- Who and what we love.
- How much we trust that various decisions could go according to our expectations.
- To the degree we care about the future, how much time or energy we can save in the long-term.
- Moral standards and expected moral consequences.
- How things may hurt or help others we identify with, such as those in one of our groups.
D. power factors:
- How much power, of all types, we could gain, lose, or trade out.
- How what other people are doing could affect us.
- Assuming no addiction, diminishing returns.
- How what we do could influence others.
- The understanding we could gain, to the degree of our curiosity.
- Technology we can use to optimize our routines or magnify our work.
- Mathematical increase of a particular number.
E. factors from other people:
- Every aspect of the above, but for other people.
- How much we love others versus ourselves, and how much any of the above affect others.
By the end of the values calculus, we’ve emotionally lumped the risks and benefits together into a few broad patterns, and we will make reactive judgments toward them based on goals we have in our minds at that moment.
Calculus II: Priorities
If the judgment isn’t inherently obvious beyond uncertainty, we’ll devote energy to finding more information to confirm, or to find alternative solutions that harmonize everything we want. Most decisions are automatic habits, but a critical 1-5% of them that enter our conscious awareness define our future.
Finding new approaches sometimes works, but we can sometimes overlook other unknown risks we hadn’t thought of if we don’t consult other people. At this point, we’ve simply become aware of various options, though, so there is nobody else unless we’re praying to a deity.
Most of our prioritization is based on comparison. Even when it’s a mathematical reality, we adapt the information from how it compared to previous information in our memory and new information in our memory we’ve recently perceived.
Even with training, we tend to weigh anecdotal evidence that incorporates many feelings than others’ hard, concrete scientific evidence. The only way to fix the discrepancy is by feeling that science ourselves, but it requires tremendous understanding to accomplish (especially when others have reason to distort the truth).
When we’re very inexperienced, we tend to underestimate the resources we need. However, once we’ve amassed enough wisdom, we’ll often risk overestimating resources. The only way to precisely predict resource use is from remembering results from the past that have a similar context, though we can never be fully sure.
We tend to more frequently avoid bad consequences than pursue more advantageous consequences. However, we invert it and take tremendous risks when we feel we have nothing left to lose (e.g., surviving).
Calculus III: Execution
At the end of weighing our decision, it will go one of two ways:
- Consider, observe, or analyze more. Creating models to analyze or measure (e.g., spreadsheets or graphs) is the attempt to more deeply understand by adding information to a perspective.
- Make a decision that leads to outward action or inaction.
Our calculations are extremely important because of opportunity cost. Every decision we can take to gain power will cost us other opportunities to take it, and even free things cost time or energy. We tend to hate giving up options and will often maintain our freedom to decide, long after it was reasonable.
Even with the above-stated variables, our calculation is often not very thorough. We tend to attribute the cause for why we do things after we experience results from those decisions, but forget that we were acting mostly on intuition at the time we made a decision.
We tend to keep investing into what we already had invested in, even when it makes no sense. This is a product of habitual familiarity, as well as the belief that our decision may turn to a positive end sometime in the unknown future.
Generally, as we grow older, we become much more deliberate in the decisions that lead to actions. Even fools don’t like revisiting things they know guarantee pain with zero benefits to it.
We tend to make worse decisions when we’re stressed, proportional to how much we let feelings take over our decision-making. Our IQ drops about 20-40 points if we’re sleep-deprived, anxious, angry, or depressed.
These feelings come from many sources, and aren’t always connected directly with our decision:
- General unhappiness from the situation or past trauma.
- Far too many decisions to choose from, which can often come from modern technology/marketing.
- Something beyond our control which we can sense but don’t know about.
- Decision fatigue, which is stress from chronic uncertainty with many decisions.
- New things we’re unfamiliar with, to the degree they scare us.
- Things we interpret may make us lose power.
- Actions we observe or do that are improper or taboo.
Stress can frequently “strip away” new habits and force us to regress back to the desires from when we were much younger. At that point, people will choose chocolate cake over fruit salad, fall back into long-abandoned addictions, make rude remarks over propriety, and make self-interested choices over selfless ones.
More variety of choices means we’ll have a harder time deciding from the extra mental effort, and making difficult decisions tends to give us less satisfaction than making simple decisions. Eventually, too many choices can simply make our minds shut down entirely about the matter and we’ll grab something on an impulse to make the problem go away.
In other words, every choice has its benefits and downsides, and we become progressively better at deciding, up until the moment we reach a breaking point, where our capacity for decision-making becomes no better than pure randomness, or we simply decide to not decide at that point.
The more we think on a decision, the more important that decision feels to us and the more stress we feel from deciding. Once we’ve reached the breaking-point, we become worse at making clear decisions from a fear the decision won’t pay out what we invested into it.
Calculus IV: Certainty
Generally, people mull over decisions until they reach a certain degree of certainty, which varies by personality and maturity. While it’s impossible to be error-free, we have a remarkable ability of being relatively low-error in our understanding if we’re patient and thorough.
Mulling over decisions can’t satisfy us, mostly because more thinking leads to a smaller likelihood of feeling comfort with the answer. At the same time, we’re more likely to come to the best possible decisions.
We need certainty proportionally to the scope of the consequences we predict for a decision. Choosing a hamburger or chicken sandwich is merely a matter of preference, but choosing to change jobs or work for a promotion can affect years of a lifestyle.
The way we form our certainty has a profound impact on how we perform. If we feel we’re forced to do something (e.g., from fear), we’re far less resourceful or responsive to reality than when we feel we purposed ourselves to a decision. We also don’t commit to any decision if we think we can reverse that decision at any given moment.
Often, to feel more at ease, we’ll simply trust an expert, though they have limitations and interests that may go against our own best interests compared to deciding something ourselves. If we trust others too much, we’ll start feeling helpless, which devastates our capacity for finding meaning.
If we are an expert in something, we have a tendency to over-estimate our competence. If something is only a theory but we believe in it, we’ll assert it as a fact. If it’s beyond our scope of experience, we frequently overstep what we know and presume our patterns will still apply.
Literally the moment we’ve made a decision, we’re finished with our purpose to think about it. We tend to mostly delegate it to our focus and habits to execute, and carry on to another thought or experience.
In the long-term, making a decision will lean one of two ways:
- It’s a similar pattern to the decisions we’d made before, and solidifies a habit.
- It’s a new form of decision we hadn’t made before, and it makes us change.
The cause for why we decide on something has a tremendous impact on how we interpret that decision’s results:
- How personally responsible we feel we are for deciding, versus doing what someone else told us to do.
- The amount we believe our decisions can make reality change.
- Whether we’re focusing on what we’re afraid of or what we love that first inspired that fear.
As we gain experience, most decisions become habitual. Decisions force change and require directing our essence to it, so it’s a huge portion of why aging makes us both set in our ways and unaware of the passage of time.
Small decisions against what’s we’re accustomed to will defy our habitual cycle and force us to be aware of an experience. If we foster that awareness, we’ll take control of the situation. Otherwise, we’ll become more set in our ways.
We slowly lose willpower from decision-making, and are more likely to be impulsive when confronted with too much selection.
Whining and complaining are the paths of least resistance, but they also produce very few results. Astute observers try to only do things that do make results and, thus, are the long-term path of least resistance.
There’s always an alternative you don’t know about, but it’s critical to bounce the ideas off other people who have a different perspective than you.
People who don’t decide are simply deciding to stall their decision until they have more information.
Generally, the past experiences and decisions we make beforehand craft our minds to dispose toward a decision long before we actually face any given decision. However, we imagine our decision is completely on-the-fly and unaffected by our environment. This doesn’t mean we don’t have agency, but we are being influenced in ways we’re not actively aware of.
Our feelings, to the degree we aren’t aware of them, affect all our decisions. If they’re tuned correctly it’s a tremendous force of aptitude, but past trauma can distort it and it’s highly subject to disorientation.
If you want to think more clearly, imagine if someone else was in your exact predicament and wanted your advice. What would you tell them?
If you’re unhappy with your decisions, stop overthinking them, just pick something, and drop it. On the other hand, if your life isn’t playing out as well as you’d like, start examining why you make the decisions you do.
For the sake of amending how we understand reality, we have direct control over the conclusions of stories (And therefore our beliefs) that feed into our feelings, even if we don’t have any direct control of feelings.
All power requires maintenance for it, so we must only consider possessing power that’s worth the responsibility from keeping it. This comes largely from the purposes that the power can legitimately give us.
People tend to avoid the largest risks more than pursue the largest gains. It creates a type of social order (since only innovators and early adopters will risk everything), and it means taking larger risks can yield dramatically larger results because nobody else is reaping those benefits.
If we’re stressed about a decision, we should instead recondition ourselves to become curious instead. We should also learn gratitude that we can even make a decision in that situation, and always work to lower our expectations.
True experts are aware when they don’t know. The best way to find out is to ask an expert in one domain what their opinion is about a related-enough domain. For example, if you know about electrical wiring, ask a plumber what their opinion is about electrical wiring: their answer should resonate with what you know to be true, while also showing they don’t know as much as you.
Huge, gigantic decisions we kill ourselves over are not as big as we feel they are. We must constantly remember that everything large-scale isn’t that large, and a good-enough decision today is usually better than a perfect decision tomorrow.
The most useful experience from any decision is to learn from it. There’s no shortcut to understanding, and only comes through carefully observing the results of our decisions. So, make a decision and stick with it, and just make sure that it was well-thought-out enough to avoid the worst situations, ignore what everyone else is doing if you’re not performing a taboo, don’t be a coward about what you decided when your results turn out badly, and try to learn absolutely everything you can from the adverse experience.
Someone has to decide, and the best decider is the one who has the greatest amount to lose and gain. Any expert who doesn’t respect that reality (or try to influence them away from it by adapting reality) is taking away someone’s right to choose.