How to make good choices and avoid bad ones

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Choosing is hard and we’re often stuck at crossroads unable to choose. For instance, Pizza or burgers? Harry Potter or Game of thrones? Yellow or Pink underwear? Though we know we cannot enjoy both of them simultaneously, we always have a hard time convincing our brain the same. So we end up making trade-offs.

Now, what exactly is a trade-off, and do we suck at them? (Spoiler alert: Yes we suck!)

How do trade-offs work?

Trade-offs are situational decisions involving the loss of one quality/ quantity for gains in other aspects. Basically, you lose one thing for another. Say money for bills. And our life is a huge stack of them. But often we pick the wrong choice due to cognitive biases that mess up with your brain.

I bet you feel like you’ve tapped into an infinite reservoir of happiness when you’re about to buy a new product only to end up feeling the same after a few days. This is called the impact bias, the tendency to overestimate the length or intensity of future emotional states. This bias fucks up our brain almost every single time we make a decision.

And every choice has an underlying trade-off. So if we’re losing something then we’ve to make sure that we could compensate properly for our loss. So how exactly do this? We need to understand the factors that affect your decisions.

Trading infectors

The internet and culture are two important factors that affect our decisions. To understand this assume the following.

Your phone stopped working and it’s beyond repair. You decide to buy a new one for Rs.25,000. You’re a moderate smartphone user who doesn’t obsess over details of pictures and would love a phone that could capture pictures for memories, play a few games and browse the internet. You google for it and find one called the “One plus Nord” with a good display, battery, performance, great camera and it’s cool. After some research, you order one too. Now, is this really value for your money?

Though the internet claims to be, it isn’t. Here’s why. The “value for money factor” is subjective and not objective. Technically speaking the One plus is great value for money but here’s the question, will you actually use what you’re paying for? If you’re a kind of user (like the one I described) I can get you a great phone for almost 50% less the price.

Comparison between two phones: Pay only for what you use
Being mindful of your purchases is important in the digital age

This is NOT an attempt to judge anyone but a question that we could use to reevaluate our decisions. Are we paying for what we want (or) are we getting carried away by the internet and culture? With the internet’s presence, it has become easier to flush money down the toilets. This happens in subtle ways too. Assume this.

You live a perfect life – Happy, an enriching 9-5 job, decent income, good friends, and a supportive family. And you value family and friends above all. One of your friends suggests you to try waking up at 4 am every day and claims it has “changed her life”. You try it out too. Instead of having fun with your friends and family, you go to bed at 8.30 pm. 15 days pass by and you too realize that waking up at 4 am is more beneficial than at 6 am as it gives you more time for yourself. But is this real value for your time?

If you’re being honest with yourself it’s not. Trading your entire social life for 2 more hours of lonely wake time is not.

Your life as a graph when you choose to wake up at 4am
Your life as a graph when you choose to wake up at 6am
Socialize – Time spent hanging around with friends and family
Other – Time spent in eating, commute, ass-wiping, chores etc…

Internet and culture celebrate people who wake up earlier making you fall for that trap. In short, you’re better off hanging around your friends than sleeping. But without understanding the nuance of this stuff we assume life’s black and white making poor decisions.

So how do we make a good decision?

The Value equation

Value obtained>=Time/money spent

The value obtained must be greater/ equal to the time or money spent. Though these things are hard to track down it’s a better metric to pass our decisions through than making them based on our feelings. A procedural way to evaluate this question would be

  1. Will X enhance my life? (Replace X with what you want – new habits, products, etc…)
  2. Is this instantly gratifying me? (If yes, try it to avoid it)
  3. Am I doing X out of my own will without influence of culture and the internet?
  4. How much of time/ money am I trading for X?
  5. Is it worth it?

The following are a few tips that help you make better choices and allows you to take advantage of the equation

  1. Think value in longer terms. Ex: Eating a huge bowl of ice-cream is more valuable in the short term but makes you more lazy and unhealthy over a year.
  2. If you’re unsure/ overly excited about buying a new product, delay buying for 24 hours. This provides you time for research or getting your nerves down and reevaluating your decisions respectively.
  3. Do unbiased research, collect evidence, and avoid going with your gut for predicting the value.
  4. If you’re still confused, take a sheet of paper and list down its pros and cons (after research). This gives you a third person’s point of view on your own thoughts. I do this while making big decisions. When I was stuck deciding to publish on Medium or this blog all it took was a piece of paper a few words to make one.

Though this equation is an oversimplification, it’s better than nothing. Using these metrics makes it even harder for our lazy-brains to make mindless decisions and helps us make good choices. Time for some self-analysis,

What things in your life are you paying more of your time/ money with less value in return?

Footnotes

  1. Check the original definition of tradeoff from here
  2. I’ve oversimplified things for better understanding but this applies on a larger scale too but in a more nuanced way which can only be detected by you.

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2 thoughts on “How to make good choices and avoid bad ones”

  1. People get influenced by advertising, every company spends millions on advertising to make people believe that they’re getting value for their money. These advertisements make people think that they get value for the money instead of what they want. And people just want to impress the community they live in, but people just don’t realize that nobody gives a fuck about what we buy.

    1. Sivashanmugam

      Advertising would be yet another mass-influencer. Unless we become more self-aware and question our needs we fall prey to the rat race of consumerist culture. That’s a great insight man!

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