There are a few things that I consider to be the most important things to think about and focus on, primarily because they have enormous downstream effects that impact almost everything else in your life. Ironically, they also tend to be things that no one else prioritizes. A few are good sleep, social skills, and decision making. Most people try to make good decisions, but never actually think about their decision making processes, never work on social skills at all, and fit sleep in around everything else they do.
There others, too, like health, positivity, frugality, etc.
Decision making might be the most important one, because it’s the operating system under which you live your life. Will you prioritize sleep? That depends on how you make your decisions, and that’s why I always write about decision making.
I was thinking the other day about making quick decisions vs slow decisions. I think that I make great decisions most of the time, but as I thought about it I couldn’t decide whether I make quick decisions or slow decisions. I could think of examples of times that I’ve done both. As I thought about it more, I realized that I was patient but decisive. I probably learned this from poker, where the optimal strategy is to play tight (choose only good cards) but aggressively once you’re playing.
A few examples from my own life:
I got married when I was in my late thirties. Up until I met my wife I think most people observing me would have thought that I was making very little progress towards getting married. But we got married on our one year anniversary. I knew what I was looking for and was content to be patient in finding it, but then once I did I made a very quick decisive decision to get married (as you’d expect, the same was true of my wife).
There was a particular neighborhood in Vegas that I really wanted to move into since coming to Vegas. I liked my old neighborhood as well, but it was literally one of the least expensive neighborhoods in all of Vegas and was generally considered to be a bit of a ghetto. Rather than get in over my head and buy a house in the new neighborhood before I could afford it, buy a bad house in the good neighborhood, or move to a neighborhood that was almost as good, I just waited patiently. And then when we could afford it comfortably and a good house became available, we bought it immediately.
It’s worth mentioning that we bought right as covid was heating up the market, and had we waited for a house that was 100% perfect (vs. one that had everything we needed to eventually make it perfect), we may have ended up becoming priced out. Our house would cost about 60% more now.
Patient but decisive sounds simple, but there’s some nuance to it. Both patience and decisiveness should be sourced from the same place: standards. The two most common mistakes I see people make are that they have no standards and just evaluate things arbitrarily, or that their standards could never be met in reality.
Take home buying for example. We wanted big windows, a pool, a good sized backyard, enough rooms for both of us to have an office, and a good area for a tea room (ok, maybe my wife didn’t care about that one), and a gym. The house we ended up buying isn’t perfect. It had really bad landscaping, tiny bathrooms, a loud air conditioner, and some pretty ugly interior features. But because we knew that it met the important standards, we looked past the downsides. Now the interior and landscaping are beautiful, we’ve adapted to smaller bathrooms, and we’ve gotten used to the air conditioner and will replace it with a quieter one when it breaks.
Same with dating. I’m sure neither my wife nor I are perfect for the other, but we checked all the most important boxes and we’ve figured out the rest as we’ve gone on.
Part of patience is taking the time to evaluate what your standards actually are. What do you need? What do you want? What will move something from the category of “bad decision” to “good decision”? Really thinking these things through up front makes it easier to say no to things while you wait for the right one, and also makes it easier to say yes quickly once something fits those criteria.
It’s also easy to set standards that are too high. If you’re single now and are waiting to find someone who is perfect in every way, you will probably fail. And in the meantime you’re living many years without the benefit of a partner. There’s some middle ground where having a partner is much better than being single, even if that person isn’t totally perfect.
When we were buying a house it was even more straightforward. We knew which factors mattered to us, but it was easy to not get carried away because we couldn’t find any houses that were roughly 2-3x the price of ours that we would rather move into.
Those who are patient are often patient for the wrong reason, though, and that comes out when it’s time to act. Indecisiveness can be masked under the guise of patience.
Patience is an investment that only pays off if a good decision is actually made in the end. Usually what prevents people from making good decisions is fear of missing a perfect decision. What if you there was a better option right around the corner? If you think about people who operate with that sort of mindset, you’ll probably notice that their lives seem to move very slowly. That’s because they miss 20 opportunities to make 10-50% improvements while they wait for a magical 100% improvement. Even if they find that big perfect opportunity down the road, they’re still further behind than they would have been if they had just been making great-but-not-perfect decisions the whole time.
Our neighborhood is mostly very beautiful houses that would be great to live in. But if you were to search for it on a real estate site, you’d see that most of the houses look terrible. Why is that? It’s because the good ones go fast, usually under a week, leaving only the bad ones on the market. If you can make a quick decision once your criteria are met, you will end up with a good house. If you always take a week to make a decision, you would never get a good house.
My life would be radically different (and, I assume, worse) if I added just 24 hours to each decision I made. Many of the defining opportunities in my life are a result of quick decisions. Decisiveness often looks like luck from the outside.
Know what matters to you in a decision, whether it’s where you’re going to live, what career or job you will take, or who will be in your life. Be patient enough to wait for the right opportunity, and then jump on it.
Photo is the dome at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. I went to Istanbul for the first time earlier this month, and I think it may have been the first new country I’ve been to this year.
I put in a lot of work to redo my mail server and I’ll be using this as a test email. I know that many people haven’t gotten emails from the last few posts, but I now have more info being logged so I’m hoping to figure it out on this one.
Next book: Superhuman Decisions
I know this is not a travel blog but it would fun and interesting with a post about your experience/impressions of Istanbul. I think you used to post more about particular places you went to, but I might remember wrong.
Tynan!! Hi!! What a great post. It´s interesting to think that these two skills are kind of the “otherside” of two bad habits that “productive” people can easily fall on (patience vs. anxiety-wanting results right away; decisiveness vs. over-thinking). Overthinking and anxiety are clearly problematic habits, but also two things that are easy to justify to one self under false pretenses (“I like to make rational decisions”, or “I focus on moving forward, not being a perfecionist”).
Thanks for the ideas!!
PS: Just in case it´s usefull information, I didn´t receive the mail for this post either.
Hi Tynan. I heard you went to Antarctica for some time earlier this year. Will you be writing about your experiences there some time or is it all being kept under wraps? Thanks, David
I haven’t been to Antarctica before, but I actually am hoping to go in the next year or two. A reader was joking about it on (a few too many…) posts in the past, probably as a response to me posting less these days.
Nice post! Thank you for writing it.
I particularly like the notion of standards. I deeply agree that knowing what matters most is quite a valuable thing in life.
The theme of “wait, then choose” made me think of the (poorly named) secretary problem in mathematics. In case that does not ring a bell, it goes like this: suppose you have have N candidates for a job, and that after evaluating each one you must decide whether or not to choose them. Saying “yes” or “no” is always final, and also saying “yes” to a candidate automatically means “no” for all remaining candidates. What’s the optimal strategy? The solution (spoiler alert!!!), if the candidates are interviewed in a random order, is to reject the first 1/e candidates, recording their scores, then say yes to the first one that beats the best score. This represents some trade-off between missing some good oportunity while learning about (or sampling) the space of values. (There’s a wikipedia page about this problem.)
I have been fortunate notice early on things that were quite important to me, as well as things that weren’t. Ad this has paid many dividends. Trimming out stuff that is expensive but not important to me allows me to save around half of my income every month (for the past 9 years), which is REALLY relevant to my goal of settling down and owning a house someday.
It’s also important to accept that some of our standards evolve with time. For instance, not having to relocate (especially move country) has come to have a major weight on my scale in the past year, becoming more important than working at an technically amazing team (note: working with kind people is still high up on the list).
Besides, it’s a joy do discover what makes us tick, what brings us joy, and what we long for.
In any case, I am eager to read more from you. Cheers!