We’re crippled by choice. Every day, on average, we make about 35,000 choices. Most are fairly simple: what outfit to wear in the morning, which route to take to work, what to have for lunch.
Other decisions can be much more complex: which career to pursue, who to marry, where to live. And as individuals who strive to make the most out of our existence and maximize every minute, the latter more complex choices, often paralyze us.
In any given day, we have a limited amount of cognitive bandwidth – ability to think deeply and strategically. And with choices becoming even more complex due to the increasing number of options – more types of cereals, more makeup lines, more customization options – we’re increasingly spending more of our time overthinking each choice.
We seek advice, rationalize, calculate and predict, all the while driving ourselves into the ground. Yet, in the midst of all that uncertainty, exists a simple technique to optimal decision-making.
To simplify choice and save ourselves a great deal of deadweight loss – lost time, effort, and energy – we need only to ask ourselves one question that cuts through the noise and measures the likelihood of future regret.
Whenever we’re faced with a difficult decision, let’s ask ourselves, “What would my 90-year-old self think?” At the end of our lives, which option would we look back and wish we’d taken? Which decision would we regret less?
- Should I start my own business, or is it too risky?
- Should I accept his marriage proposal, or should I not?
- Should I accept the job offer, or should I reject it?
Would we wish that we’d said no? Would we wish that we’d taken the risk? Would we wish that we’d been more straightforward? Would we wish that… and it goes on and on.
We need to understand the pros and cons of each considerable option. But then, when we’ve done our homework and we’re still torn, let’s let our future selves make the call for us. Because when we’re older and looking back at life, the last emotion we want to feel is regret – the last words we want to be thinking are “I wish.”
When we take decision-making from the perspective of our older selves, choices are put in the proper perspective – they become much simpler.
Regret is a silent killer of will, so let’s not waste any more time doing what our 90-year-old selves would wish we’d done differently.
Let’s remove fear from the equation: the choice that our 90-year-old selves would want us to make is often the hardest, which only reaffirms that it’s the optimal choice.
Molham Krayem, Associate Consultant, Bain & Company