Mash's Musings

Choose less, decide more

Published Apr. 25, 2021

Choose less, decide more. The simplicity is well worth it.

While a rationalist economist may disagree, there is a profound difference between choosing and deciding. Choosing is the slow process of weighing options against each other, creating some sort of mental ranking, and then reflecting on how optimal your process was after-the-fact. Deciding is making up your mind either ahead of time or within a few moments and then wholly welcoming the consequences.

We are generally taught the value of carefully choosing things. Most engineering and business majors can relate to the experience of taking entire courses related to this; Pugh matrices, Porter's Five Forces, SWOT analyses and other junk are pedalled to students as industry-standard decision making tools. Yet I can count on one hand the number of times I've seen any of these show up in the real world, and can count with no hands the number of times they were useful. There is a place for being choosy: when making big life decisions around where to live, who to be with, what our values are—but this choosy mode is switched on far too often and the cost paid unwittingly.

While we focus our efforts on making sure we make the best possible choice for what to buy or where to eat, we rarely consider the cognitive load borne for these choices. We commonly spend 30 minutes deciding whether to eat out, an hour deciding where to go, and 15 minutes deciding what to order. When viewed through a maximalist lens of "did I choose the best thing?", it's easy to rationalize that our final choice from the best reviewed restaurant (cross-referenced on Google Reviews, Yelp, and Reddit of course) really was an improvement over the alternative. But the question we should really be asking ourselves is what is the least amount of time I can spend to get an outcome I'm satisfied with. As poker pro Annie Duke points out in How to Decide, "The time you take to decide is time that you could be spending doing other things, like actually talking to the person sitting with you in the restaurant."

The best part is that making decisions let's us have some fun while getting us that time back. Spending too much money on eating out? Decide to never order something over $11 off the menu. Spending hours agonizing over that next $100 purchase? Decide to make up your mind after the first review you read. Not sure where to eat? Decide on the first place on Maps over 4.5 stars that you haven't been to. Not only will you find this liberating, you'll also have a great conversation starter next time your friends end up in a battle of "I don't know, what do you wanna do?" Choose less, decide more. The simplicity is well worth it.