A surprising amount of our day is filled with decisions: how to respond to an email, what to do with clutter, whether to go out with friends or stay home, whether to take a job, to move, to take a class, and so on. And a good amount of stress can come about from all of those decisions, because many times we don’t have the information we need to make a good decision.
How can we make a choice when we don’t know the outcome of each choice? If the choices had clear outcomes, we could just weigh them and decide. But most of the time, the outcomes aren’t clear. So how do we decide? Most of the time, people don’t decide. They put off deciding, which is why inboxes are full and clutter piles up and life choices are postponed and stress grows.
But here’s a simple method that works for me: See decisions not as final choices, but experiments. The anxiety (and paralysis) comes when people are worried about making the perfect choice and worried about making the wrong choice. Those are two outcomes that aren’t necessary to make a decision, because if we conduct an experiment, we’re just trying to see what happens.
With an experiment, you run a test and see what the results are. If you don’t get good results, you can try another option and run another test. Then you can see what the outcomes of the choices are (the info you didn’t have when first thinking about the decision), and can make a better-informed decision now.
- Don’t know if you should start your own cupcake business? Try making some and selling them through your network of friends. You can’t fail because it’s an experiment, and after doing it, you’ll know a little more about whether you want to do that business or not.
- Don’t know if you should take ballet class? Go to the class and try it out.
- Don’t know if you should take a certain job? Take it, and see. Worst-case scenario is you don’t like it and will have to find another. But that’s not bad, because now you have that information, when you didn’t before.
- Don’t know if you should blog? Do it and see.
- Don’t know if you can get rid of some of your clutter? Get rid of them and see if you survive.
- Don’t know if you can travel with less? Try and see. You won’t die.
Sometimes experiments come at a cost. A semester of college isn’t cheap, but at the end of the semester, you’ll have valuable info — did you like college or not? Moving to a new city isn’t cheap, but it’s also not the end of the world. If you didn’t like it, change course, armed with your new results.
A bigger-picture perspective helps here. Experiments might take months, or a year. That’s a tiny amount of time in the space of a lifetime, and those bigger experiments are worth learning about. When you’re just conducting experiments, there’s no failure. Any result is learning. If there’s no failure, you don’t have to worry. Let your heart soften, smile, and have fun with your experiments.
Easier Decision-Making: Conduct Experiments [Zen Habits]