Inertia - Nº135
Decisiveness as an art
In the space between yes and no, there is a lifetime. It’s the difference between the path you walk and one you leave behind; it’s the gap between who you thought you could be and who you really are; it’s the legroom for the lies you will tell yourself in the future.
— Jodi Picoult
Reacting irrationally always makes a situation worse. But at the same time, we probably all agree there’s a limit to how much we should think about a decision. Rarely do we teach ourselves we don’t have to make a conscious decision at all sometimes. This is why I call it an art: it’s a delicate balance to get right. And I’m often in awe of those who make excellent decision-making look easy. But there are ways we all can.
Some of the worst decisions people make are when they are forced. The common causes of bad decision-making also include making assumptions based on little evidence or sample sizes, wanting the world to work the way we want rather than the way it does, conforming to expectations or other people’s authority, or simply not asking, “then what?”
And it’s easy to be in awe of people who make it look like a gift. But often, what you’re seeing is an amalgamation of work that no one else sees. If you want to be remarkable, you have to work remarkably hard for it. Professionals rarely turn up and create the best magic immediately; they chase the details, accumulate knowledge in drips—and then leverage it in buckets.
Someone who doesn’t take advantage of an opportunity or insight with good decision-making is no better off than someone who never saw it. Sometimes, overthinking is the problem. Other times, we don’t notice the answer in front of us. Kasra wrote a good piece on decision-making—considering whether it’s better to let our subconscious take the lead and do what it does best. Everyone has experienced a time when they’ve been working hard but struggling to solve a problem for hours. Only to suddenly figure it out when we’re not even thinking about it—at a social event, in the shower, or during the middle of the night. A group of researchers also looking into this made a point about our human working memory: how well we can consciously hold on to differing pieces of information. While our conscious mind can process around 10-60 bits per second, our back of the brain processing can reportedly work at over ten million bits per second. It’s hard to know the brain’s total capacity. But there’s little doubt that what we can hold in our subconscious or unconscious mind is incredibly larger than what we have under our conscious attention.
What I learned from trying to be a better decision-maker is understanding that we generally operate with a lot of lag between realising a decision and taking action. The art of it all is mainly having good judgement baked into your instinct: making decisions quickly and confidently. To achieve this, you must know what you want from things. Your brain is a beautiful vista that carries all your memories, experiences, knowledge and wisdom. Perfect decision-making must consider all the work and preparation your brain does to spring answers over at you when you’re ready to get them. It’s the hardest thing to do. But it’s more important to know how to stand by your choices and accept what comes next. Conviction is part of self-knowledge, and great decisions tend to come from knowing yourself well enough and being ready to commit.