How do I choose? A hack to making tough decisions
It is difficult to understate the power of decisions. Hard work is important, but good judgement, which leads to good decisions, is generally underrated. Recently I came across a profound set of mental models to make effective decisions. One is for short-term decisions and takes about 10 seconds – called the “Worst Case Consequence Analysis” (WCCA) – and the second is for more substantial choices – called the “Weighted Average Decision Matrix” (WADM).
It is true that gut feelings should be taken into consideration when making a tough decision, but if you’re like me and have always relied on a pros and cons list e.g. when deciding upon which subject to study at university or which industry to pursue a career in, then I believe these 2 mental models are a tool you cannot afford to miss out on.
I came across this technique in the book “The Millionaire Fastlane” written by M. J. DeMarco and before you judge me for being drawn to such a title, I would like to highlight that DeMarco is also the author of “Unscripted” and generally an advocate of a more non-linear career path, particularly through the field of entrepreneurship, which I believe is a powerful perspective to seek.
Beyond the “making good decisions” hack in the book, he demystifies the misconception that the only way to financial independence is through 40 years of financial prudence leading up to retirement. He does not advocate for an easier alternative, but a more intense, fast-lane approach (through becoming an owner rather than an employee – similar to Tim Ferriss’s 4hr Work Week).
How the 2 mental models work:
 WCCA takes a few seconds and exposes potential disasters and unnecessary roads of treason against your future self. You do this by asking 3 quick and simple questions:
- What is the worst-case consequence of this choice?
- What is the probability of this outcome?
- Is this an acceptable risk?
 WADM is longer and requires a paper/pen, Excel spreadsheet or you can just head to helpmydecision.com.
I personally recommend the spreadsheet – if you are unfamiliar with commands you can type ‘=’ to begin a formula and then use ‘*’ to multiply cells, or ‘SUM’ to add up a range of cells. It is much easier to adjust numbers or add new factors once you have the matrix in an Excel spreadsheet.
DeMarco’s example is shown below where he is choosing between moving to Detroit or Phoenix and as you can see, this mental model works by forcing you to focus on single aspects of the decision, while being specific about how much that aspect means to you.
For more detailed instructions: List out the factors in the first column, then option 1 in column 2, option 2 in column 3 and so on (not just limited to 2 options). Next, add a weighting to each of the factors. After you’ve weighed the relative value of your factor, mark each of the options out of 10 on that factor. Note: just because your weighting is a 3, it does not mean that your option can only reach the highest of 3 on the scale. Finally, multiply the factor weighting by your option score for each row (see numbers in square brackets) and sum the numbers in square brackets to get your overall, quantified metric.
Don’t expect this process to be easy, from dissecting the different factors to weighing up those factors and then scoring each option. However, do expect this process to be immensely more logical over any overwhelming gut-feeling approach. Also, do expect this process to help you sleep better at night as it means you can constantly refer to it to back-up your decision and calm the war of thoughts in your mind.