There are a few useful algorithms to help you make life’s decisions, especially around prioritization and pruning, and also the timing of it.
From my childhood days, my tendency was to make decisions quickly. I’ve never really felt much difficulty in picking my choices. It’s not because I was good at it, but probably due to a certain gene characteristics. These days, I try to estimate ‘when is the 30% stage of my information gathering before making the decision and acting on it?’ to use in my business decisions.
This is also a well-known problem in mathematics/computer science as ‘optimal stopping’ problem. A simple version of the answer is 37%. In regards to the number of options, tries, or the length of time, gather information (or explore) up to 37%, then select the best one that appears after that point. Then you will have about 37% chance of picking the best one. Of course, with different conditions (e.g. being able to revisit the choice), the % changes quite a bit, but the moral of the story is that there is only a limited time when you can gather information, and then you have to make a decision to get the highest chance to the optimum.
Since my early 20s, I’ve been feeling a sense of finiteness of time in my life. Similar to what Steve Jobs said in his famous commencement speech, I’ve felt I had a limited time left, and also a small limit to the number of things I can achieve at the level of my true satisfaction.
“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” – Steve Jobs, Co-Founder of Apple
If serendipity finds me, I can perhaps do three to five things meaningful and impactful enough to the human kind. I imagined lying in a hospital bed at 80, looking at my children and thinking, what are the things I would regret? What will I regret not having done, achieved, or at least tried with my full force?
The definition of hell: The last day you have on earth, the person you became will meet the person you could have become.
To do that, I had to minimize the chance of regrets in the decisions I make. Regret minimization is a decision-making heuristic I’ve picked up from my friend during middle school. There was a specific incident, which I won’t go into details, made an impression on me and stayed with me ever since.
The acts and habits I pick up and sustain in life will have to somehow align with my life-long dream, which is along the lines of “making something that people take for granted, which will become part of the human civilization” and “democratizing the future, so that we can collectively create a positive nonlinear change.”
So, I had to pick the choices that had a clear bias for the upper confidence bound, instead of selecting for minimizing the downside risks. That got me into doing tech startups. Based on my 80-year limited interval, my 37% line was roughly 30. Jeff Bezos found Amazon.com on July 5th, 1994 when he was 30.
“I wanted to project myself forward to age 80 and say, ‘Okay, now I’m looking back on my life. I want to have minimized the number of regrets I have,'” explains Bezos. “I knew that when I was 80 I was not going to regret having tried this. I was not going to regret trying to participate in this thing called the Internet that I thought was going to be a really big deal. I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not ever having tried. I knew that that would haunt me every day, and so, when I thought about it that way it was an incredibly easy decision.” – Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon
To make sure I made more progress, I’ve been trying to prune my life’s options and areas of decision making. My decision was to not allocate attention on things that had less alignment with my dream. Things like fashion, mass-media, pop culture were out. Not that it wasn’t important to the humanity, it just wasn’t well aligned with my life’s direction with its limited time.
A lot of life choices change depending on how you perceive your time limit. Perhaps Google/Calico will fix this, but for now, there’s no clear way of increasing quality and actionable time one has in life. Like the number of lunches you can have on earth, the time to execute on your life’s work is limited. One has to make focused choices to learn and then use those learning as the stepping stone to the greater dream.
Last week, I pruned another of my interests: cars. Cars have been a pretty big, yet irrational passion in my life, but I was running out of my time and I had to accelerate my progress. Overall, executing/working, meeting inspiring people, reading, traveling has been found to be well aligned with my dream, but other things have been somewhat of a distraction. This time, I had to dedicate more time to reading.
I feel my life tends to get happier and closer to the dream as I simplify with fewer decisions to make — removing attention clutter, rebuilding simpler habits and rituals, and focusing my time and energy on things that align well with the dream.