I have a technique that I use to deal with a lot of situations that I call setting strong defaults. It started with dating as a means to eliminate the ridiculous and common "but where do YOU want to eat?" loop where each person keeps asking the other person where they want to eat, and tons of time an energy is wasted on a decision no one really cares about. Now I use it for many things, from dating to work.
There's a balance in relationships where women typically want a man to lead in decisions, but also want to be heard and to have the option of having input. Very often men don't realize this and they keep asking their girlfriend what they want to do, only to have the question flipped back to them. They think that they're being nice, but actually they're imposing the responsibility of having to choose on their girlfriend.
To solve this problem, I decided that I would always suggest something with the assumption it would be what we chose, but would always agree to counter-suggestions. So I'd say something like, "Hey, how about if we have dinner at Chipotle?"
If she says that she wants to go to a different restaurant, then I'd just accept and we'd go there, since I don't really care where we eat and my primary motives are to not spend a lot of time deciding where to eat, and to make it easy for her to not have to decide where to eat.
Then, of course, I started doing this outside of dating. If a group of friends was going to have dinner, I'd always suggest a place. Deciding between five people is a lot more difficult than two, so suggesting saves even more time.
I never ask people when they're free. I say "I'm free at 12, 2, or 3. I'll suggest we meet at 2 unless that doesn't work for you". That's a lot of emails or texts saved going back and forth.
This isn't at all about imposing my will on others. It's entirely about relieving them of the burden of responsibility. They can take that responsibility if they want, and I'm happy to give it up, but I'm trying to do them a service by not imposing it on them.
My family came to visit me in Budapest last month. Every day I came up with a default plan of things to do. If they didn't want to do something or had something else in mind, no problem. But it was a very easy trip for them because none of them once had to decide where to eat or what to do.
I also do this to myself as a way of removing obligations to make decisions. I have a strong default of eating sardine and tuna sandwiches for lunch and Chipotle for dinner. If something else is more convenient or if I just feel like switching it up I'll allow myself to, but I never ever spend time in my day thinking, "What should I eat for dinner tonight?"
My strong default for using my time is working. As soon as I find myself sitting around wondering what I should do, I just get to work. For that reason I never feel bored or aimless. If there's something else I want to do, that's fine. If not, I'm at my computer working.
I have a strong default to saying yes to invitations from close friends and a strong default to saying no to anyone else. If an invitation isn't a hell yes or hell no, I just go by those defaults.
I feel very little stress in my life, and that's partially because I have, in a sense, automated most of my decisions. When I'm sitting around pondering something, it's something that matters, not what I'll be eating for dinner.
If you find yourself at a point of indecision, allow that to be a red flag. Is this a decision that comes up frequently, or is there some common thread between this and other decisions you often have to make? If so, that's a big opportunity to sit down and figure out what your strong default should be.
You should be spending almost no time at all on decisions that aren't going to impact your life long-term. We all have limited focus and decision making abilities, and it's a total waste to spend them on choosing dinner or what to do with your afternoon. Figure these things out in advance and mentally automate the unimportant parts of your life so that you have the ability to make the best decisions on the things that matter.
Photo is Mirror Lake in Yosemite. Apparently it's not as grand as it used to be because they don't dredge it anymore, but it looked good to me.
Almost done with the cruise and the rough draft of Life Nomadic 2. Thanks for all of the suggestions. Managed to put about 90% of requests in there.
Love this post but saw your comment about tuna and thought I would share this info about Tony Robbins health issues related to tuna (from Men's Health)...
Formerly a vegan, Robbins had a medical scare when he started introducing fish to his diet and suffered extreme mercury poisoning. “I almost died,” he says. “I was eating swordfish and tuna and built an incredibly painful amount of mercury in my blood. I recommend that anyone who eats fish should get a blood test when they can.”
I've just found your blog and have read a few entries. I really love what I've read so far; it's like you've taken my own thoughts and written them down. I also set simple defaults in my life and it has indeed made life less stressful. Reading this though, I can see that I still have room for some tweaks and improvement. :)
I love this technique and often use it. One friend & I go for supper every week, we have 2 or 3 strong defaults as a few years ago we found it so hard to keep finding good places to eat that catered to our dietary needs. Now one week one suggests, another week the other suggests, easy! If we hear of a new place we go try it.
Love your posts, keep them coming.
Interesting post Tynan. What I like about it is that it's only a small technique in life but it makes things so much simpler. I started using it as soon as I read your post and it really helped bring down the time spent on thinking and negotiating, and what’s more, my friends and even my girlfriend seemed to be absolutely Ok with it.
Anyway I love reading about small things like this which have a big effect in our daily lives. Maybe you can write a piece on the process you go through when you make decisions. I'd love to read more about that.
Brilliant. I do the same thing. Great way of looking at things. Worth the time to invest in thinking about defaults. I have a bunch of default rules that guide me, but I could invest more time thinking about more defaults.
The way we make decisions is pretty interesting. Making decisions that are bad for us is easy and effortless. Think about how easy it is to decide to watch TV, eat some junk food, take a nap, and then play some video games. On the other hand, let's say that today you wanted to have a really positive day. To actually decide and convince yourself to prepare and eat healthy food, avoid watching any TV, power through your work even when you're feeling tired, and avoid wasting time on facebook is hard. Not impossible, of course, but just by thinking through these two scenarios, you can imagine how much more mentally taxing the latter is.
The trick to overcoming this is to make decisions once that will have an effect for a long period of time-- in other words, having a standard routine that allows for no variance. For example, I want to have a good sleep schedule. I can do what I tried to do for about 30 years, which is will myself to make a good decision on when to go to bed every night, which didn't work at all, or just say that computer is off at midnight no matter what, and I'm asleep by two no matter what. Now I don't get to make a decision every night-- I just turn of the computer, read, and go to sleep. All I had to do was make this decision once, and then train myself on it for a couple weeks before it became second nature.
Another huge benefit of rigid scheduling is that the schedules can be tweaked. I wanted to eat more Omega 3 fats. How do I do that? Well, if I just know that's a goal, maybe I'll go grocery shopping and figure out which foods are better, figure out how to prepare them, and make them. Or maybe I'll just dial it in by eating a couple more walnuts here and there and order salmon on the rare occasion I go to a restaurant. In my case, switching to eat more Omega 3 was simple-- I eat the same thing for lunch every day, so I just substituted a sardine sandwich and tuna sandwich for my nut/fruit sandwiches. One decision and my whole diet is improved.
Studies have shown that willpower is like a muscle. On one hand it needs to be exercised regularly to be effective, but on the other hand it's strength can become depleted through short-term overuse. If you're trying to eat healthy, exercise, work effectively, write, be financially responsible, and sleep well through micro-management, you probably won't be able to continue indefinitely. Instead you'll have a burst of a week or two where you crush it, and then you'll deplete your willpower and regress back to old habits.
The light is low in the bar/cafe, opera music is playing, and I write with a single candle on the table providing most of the light.
The owner is a very internationally inclined Chinese man. Impeccably dressed in Italian clothing, he slowly works the room, offering for people to try...something, I can’t see exactly because it’s too dark. Candy? Chocolate? Olives? Something.
He and I have chatted before, but he sees that I’m working and leaves me to my writing and coffee. The coffee is pretty good. I’d prefer if it was slightly stronger, but it’s still pretty good.
I stayed up all night talking business with a Chinese friend, then had a call back to America scheduled at 5AM local time. I didn't sleep until 9AM, and then I awoke at 5PM when I got a dinner invitation.
Well, dinner for my host, breakfast for me.