Last night I was in the Las Vegas airport, waiting for boarding to start on my flight. I went there an hour early because I didn't have time to play poker, so I figured I could get on wifi and get some work done. I knocked out a couple small SETT bugs, and then remembered about getgoing.com, the YC-backed discount flight site. The way it works is you pick two deeply discounted flights that you'd be willing to take, put in your credit card, and getgoing picks one for you. You don't know where you're going until after you've paid. When I first got invited to the site I mucked around with it and found some really great fares to both Beijing and Shanghai.
Maybe I should go to China, I thought. Twenty minutes later my flight to Shanghai was booked.
I like making impulsive decisions like this. My past is filled with them, and none that I can think of have ended in regret. Actually, if I were asked what I thought my biggest strength is, I would probably say that it is making good decisions very quickly.
I wasn't always good at making quick decisions. Twelve years ago I had the opportunity to fly on the Concorde for $1000. It was usually over $10,000 round trip. I really wanted to do it, so I called a few friends to see if anyone else was interested. There was some hemming and hawing, but no one was ready to commit. Well, I thought, I'll wait until tomorrow and buy a ticket then if I still want to go. The next day came and the deal was gone. Now the Concorde is decommissioned and I'll never have the chance to ride it. Strange is it sounds, this is probably one of the bigger regrets in my life. I really wish I got to ride the Concorde before it folded.
The most important thing to realize about quick decisions as that the amount of information you have about a decision tends to follow a logarithmic curve. The intial pieces of information are the most important, and subsequent bits add very little to your understanding of the decision. Think about the questions you'd ask if you were buying a car (I had no intention of buying a vehicle 24 hours before the purchase of most vehicles I've bought). At first you'd ask whether its still for sale, how many miles, and how the condition is. That fills in most of the blanks. Then you ask if the owner has ever had any problems. Somewhat important. Then you start asking if it has certain accessories or what kind of stereo it has. Those questions add very little to your understanding and, critcally, probably can't change your decision.
With the Concorde deal, I knew a lot initially. I knew that I could ride the Concorde, knew how much it would cost, and where it was going. Most importantly, I knew that I could afford it and that I wanted to go. What additional information could POSSIBLY come in the following 24 hours that I gave myself to make the decision? I can't think of any. The information you get early on in the decision is almost always enough to make a good decision. The rest of the information is generally immaterial, confusing, or will be interpreted to confirm the decision you already want to make ("Ooh, the weather is nice this time of year in London? Then I should DEFINITELY go!").
Now I know better. I realized that the price to go to China was dirt cheap, that I like both Beijing and Shanghai, and that I want to go. What else could I possibly hope to know? More information could come that would make me even happier I"m going, but I can't think of anything that could reasonably dissuade me from going. So I bought the ticket without really thinking much about it.
It's also important to understand that very little you'll do is really that big of a deal. Going to China for three weeks sounds like some big thing, but in practice it's not much of anything. You sit on a plane for fifteen hours, probably getting some amazing work done, and then you're in a new place surrounded by humans that aren't all that different from the humans you live near. That's not to diminish the awesomeness of traveling, only to illustrate that in reality the decision to take a trip like that isn't really some big life decision that people might make it out to be. In particular, the possibly downsides of any decision you're seriously considering will tend to be minimal.
Why not just take your time on decisions? First, you'll miss opportunities all over the place. I missed the Concorde. When I found out that a room was open in Project Hollywood, I called and claimed it within an hour, despite living in Texas in a house I had a mortgage on. If I had given myself a day, I would have missed out on making a lot of great friends, having an incredible experience, and becoming a good pickup artist. Other guys gave themselves time to think and they missed out on all that. Maybe they're kicking themselves like I do about the Concorde.
Beyond missing opportunities, you run the risk of wasting a lot of time if you take a while to make decisions. Chances are, 95% of them would have been made the same whether you gave yourself an hour or a day. I'm not convinced the remaining 5% would be better decisions due to contemplation, because often what happens is fear kicks in and you talk yourself out of doing something that would actually be good for you. At the same time, you've now wasted hours and hours of time being distracted by a decision instead of just choosing something and getting ready for your next decision.
Also, consider that some decisions will HAVE to be made quickly. If you're not adept and making fast decisions, you will likely just default to taking the safe route, which is often synonymous with passing up good opportunities, becausey you'll feel paralyzed by the deadline. Someone who makes fast decisions all the time will feel comfortable and make a good decision.
I'd rank quick decision making right up there in terms of skills that have been most beneficial to me. I've also seen others miss out on huge opportunities, not because they were any less intelligent than me, but because they couldn't make a decision as quickly as I could. In extreme cases, I've seen people so affected by big decisions like what to do with their lives, that they avoid the decision and end up doing nothing at all. It's scary. So next time you ave a "big decision", challenge yourself to make it within an hour. If you're too scared to do that, determine what you would have decided after an hour and see how it compares to your final decision. You'll probably find that it's exactly the same.
Life Nomadic, rather Vida Nomada, is now available on Kindle. A huge thanks (and apology for taking forever to release this) to Carlos for painstakingly translating the whole thing, and to TJ for helping put it all together!
Your writing keeps getting better and better...useful anecdotes, interesting turns of phrase, etc. Your blog was a reason I downsized to a backpack's worth of stuff (and stopped drinking). Just want to say thank you
Awesome post! The challenge is to get your social circle to conform to a similar decision-making process. My mates tend to over-think road trips too much, but it's slowly getting there. Having good experiences after spontaneous decisions helps positively reinforce them.
ps- Loving Sett too
Yeah, that's a tough part for me, too, and I have some pretty crazy friends. I think it's worth getting comfortable with doing stuff alone, knowing that you'll probably meet people along the way. In the next two months I'm doing solo trips to China and Peru because I couldn't get anyone else to jump on these things.
Glad you love SETT!
Love the post. Very true as well — making decisions quickly is an important skill to master (one that I'm still working on) :)
I've really been working on the fast decision making process and found it really helpful. When I got back from World Summit in Las Vegas, I was about to return to my shitty job that wasn't going to teach me anything I needed in my journey to be an Entrepreneur. So what did I do? I thought about it for 1 minute, then made the decision to quit and instead get a job in sales. Awesome decision that I know would take most people hours if not days to make (including my previous self).
Thanks for the shout out! I actually helped put the eBook together when I used to work at that shitty job, so I made $10 an hour while transferring La Vida Nomada to InDesign. ;).
Keep up the adventure. Hopefully soon I'll have figured out a way to support myself so that I can start using that website.
What I like about you is that you explain significant & powerful lessons in life with an extremely left brained approach.
Here's a right brained viewpoint: Our physical brains and bodies are only a part of the universe. How can a part understand the whole? Is there something more going on that we are undervaluing?
The advancement of modern psychology (Carl Jung) is a sign we are starting to grasp the puzzle that is consciousness. Do our best decisions or insights really come from a series of logical neurological pathways in our brain, or are we tapping into something far greater than ourselves: a gigantic energetic field that connects us all.
With experience, I have come to realize that just like Neo in the Matrix, it is self doubt denies us rich experience. Because self doubt is arrogance in that you have firm beliefs of how the world works and who you exactly are even though history has shown that we are always wrong (but are making better approximations to the truth).
The only thing I believe to be 100% true is this experience I am having right now through my lens. What happened yesterday is already becoming distorted, and the future is determined by too many free willed souls.
If this very moment is the most important, then whatever opportunities or insight you receive at this very moment is the moment to act on it. Not tomorrow, not yesterday, right NOW.
If you're reading this, it's a sign that you've been delaying something (most likely out of fear), so just do it... now.
Don't forget your China visa. It's a bit of a hassle. And if you like to read about the country you're visiting, I highly recommend anything byPeter Hessler, and Fuchsia Dunlop's book on Chinese cooking. Bon voyage!
Awesome post. I am currently reading The Path of Least Resistance by Robert Fritz which deals largely with decision making. He advocates practicing by making small decisions extremely quickly (eg. picking your meal off a restaurant menu in 20 seconds). The core of the book deals with structure and creating. I could go on forever but go read the book, I wholeheartedly recommend it, best book I have read in a while.
ps. one point he made which I think will connect with readers on here deals with people setting goals and getting hung up on defining EXACTLY what they want. He suggests that humans thrive on the creative process and that rather that getting hung up on this decision, just MAKE UP what results you will create and go for it.
One of the hardest things in life is deciding what to do next. Think about what life would be like if you knew every single step that you had to take to get where you wanted. Some of the steps would be tough, but if you knew that what you were doing was the best thing you could be doing, I have the feeling you'd be able to walk that path pretty easily.
But that's not how life is. If you're anything like me, a large percentage of your time is spent trying to decide what it is you should do. I mean that on the micro level, like whether or not you should go to that party tomorrow night, and on the macro level, like what business you should start.
A heuristic is a mental shortcut to make decisions. Always split aces and eights is a heuristic for some decisions in blackjack. An easy heuristic in deciding what to do is to just do something good for someone else. It may not always be the optimal thing for you to do, but it's almost always a good thing for you to do.
This is true for two reasons, as far as I can tell.
I used to play a ton of video games. Not like “a lot”of video games, I’m talking a shit ton of video games. Most of the times I played RPGs, (role-playing games, or games where you level up your character and otherwise make choices about their “development”) some, but not many, RTS’s (real time strategy, games where everything happens in real time and actions have to be constantly inputted and strategies revised on the fly. Command and Conquer anyone?) and a handful of just action/adventure games.
Note: This post is divided into two sections, first my story regarding video games and then what I learned from them, feel free to skip.
First I want to break some misconceptions about video games and gamers in general. For one they aren’t all fat, nerdy and awkward. In fact some of the coolest, chillest people I know play video games. A lot of them just do it to relax and escape, others just love to pour hours upon hours watching their characters advance. Some are “achievement whores” or gamers that spend all their time chasing numbers. Some are min-maxers, or people who through excel spreadsheets, repetitive testing and brainstorming determine what the “most effective” way to play the game is (something usually the developers only know unless they divulge a lot of information). Regardless in all these sub types I’ve met tons of people who are genuinely cool, laid-back individuals.
In almost all games I’ve played of every genre I’ve met people interested in different facets of the game. Some people like to focus more on the economy of the game and the ways the markets work. Some spend hours trying to make their character perfect, detailing every relevant piece of information and plugging it into various spreadsheets. Some focus almost solely on player-versus-player aspects and spend their time practicing in teams in order to outcompete. There is something for everybody.