How to avoid big decisions (and why)

Hi there, fellow decision-maker!

How do you feel about the inheritance you 2019 you left 2020 you? 

This is a fun way to gain some objectivity around your actions and their results. 

May you’re not particularly patient with questions now. I get that. It’s mid-January and reflection time is over. It’s GO and DO TIME! 

Amid this whirlwind called the first weeks of the year, I keep wishing reflection wasn’t confined to that last week of December for most people. But since “most people” don’t subscribe to this newsletter - but you do - my focus is to help you use reflection to make better decisions this year. 

“But isn’t this what you did last year, Andra? How’s this any different?”

Fair question.

I talked a lot about clarity and focus last year and also about the importance of follow-through. Putting them all together, I designed a mission statement that describes the purpose of every newsletter I’ll slip into your inbox this year:

The How do you know? newsletter and everything in it is designed to lead you back to your center. 

My goal is to help you be in constant touch with your initial choices and why you made them. 

Throughout the year, I want to help you observe HOW your motivations behind your choices change (or not) and WHY.

My goal is to help you cultivate almost uninterrupted awareness of your ability to make wise decisions and how they’re improving your life. 

When you see this email in your inbox, feel free to use it as a reason to stop and reflect on which of your decisions are working out and which aren’t. 

I’ll include one key question you can use for practice in every email from now on. (If you need more, there are 100 of them in this article.)

Are you in?

Look at the small picture

If you take a step back and sit to watch the world from the sidelines, it’s pretty much insane. The sheer complexity of it is overwhelming. There’s a lot more uncertainty than most people are comfortable with. The pace of change is almost blinding. 

Without the proper mental tools, navigating everyday life in 2020 is quite the challenge. 

It’s not surprising then that people still have mystical inclinations when it comes to the most important decisions in their lives. 

They wait for fateful signs to point them in a certain direction.
They place faith in their intuition (“I’ll know what to do when the time comes”). 
They think that one big decision will unlock a smooth stream of clarity and focus that will guide their directions for a lengthy period of time. 

I’m not a stranger to this type of thinking either, although it’s never been my main m.o. It’s trap is inviting though, especially when you’re tired, stressed out, and the prospect of a impactful choice depletes you on the spot.   

“Most of us think that the important ethical decisions in our lives will be delivered with a blinking red neon sign: CAUTION: IMPORTANT DECISION AHEAD. Never mind how busy we are or what the consequences might be. Almost everyone is confident that in those moments of truth, he or she will do the right thing.

The problem is, life seldom works that way. It comes with no warning signs. Instead, most of us will face a series of small, everyday decisions that rarely seem like they have high stakes attached. But over time, they can play out far more dramatically.”


How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen

After having studied decision-making for almost 2 years, I can confidently say there’s a better way to make good choices than placing our hopes on one key inflection point that should unlock everything good in our lives. 

In fact, we can - and should - avoid making big decisions and focus on the small, unexceptional, almost mundane choices we make on the daily. 

Tiny hops over big leaps

“I’m not confident in all aspects of my life but I’m confident in my ability to make a decision that’s good for myself.I pretty much always avoid big decisions in my business. 

I don't make big moves - I make a series of small moves because I'm thinking very long term.

I'm thinking about, if I were to keep making these small improvements, these small changes, if I keep learning this little thing on the side, study math a few hours a week or programming a few hours a week, if I'm doing all these things, and I do that for 10 years, I'm going to be in a really good spot, and I will have never completely put my neck on the line because every little step was small and I could always just press undo and go back, and no one would even notice.”


How do you know? Podcast #23
Choose tiny hops over big leaps (with Josh Garofalo)

The power of compound interest has always been a big part of my life, although it’s mostly been an unconscious element that I didn’t become aware of until my mid-twenties. 

One of the biggest achievements of doing small things consistently was overcoming depression and anxiety. I put in 8 years of work to overcome almost 15 years of struggle and it’s the most powerful example I have that this type of effort is hugely impactful! 

When I started going to therapy in 2012, I didn’t even think it was possible to get where I am now. 

In hindsight, many people who have achieved remarkable results may admit they didn’t even think or even plan to reach such lofty goals. 

Oseola McCarty’s example comes to mind 

Born in 1908, Oseola McCarty had an incredibly tough life.

She had to quit school in 6th grade to work full-time as a washerwoman and help out the family.  

What makes her story one for the history books is how Oseola McCarty unsuspectingly proved the power of the compound interest of the actions we take. 

At age 8, she started saving some of the money she made without anyone else knowing. As a washerwoman in rural Mississippi in the 1900's, you can imagine that wasn't much at all. 

“When she retired in 1995, her hands painfully swollen with arthritis, this washerwoman who had been paid in little piles of coins and dollar bills her entire life had $280,000 in the bank.

Even more startling: she decided to give most of it away—not as a bequest, but immediately.

Setting aside just enough to live on, McCarty donated $150,000 to the University of Southern Mississippi to fund scholarships for worthy but needy students seeking the education she never had. When they found out what she had done, over 600 men and women in Hattiesburg and beyond made donations that more than tripled her original endowment. Today, the university presents several full-tuition McCarty scholarships every year.”


Read more about Oseola McCarty here.

You may wonder how this example relates to you. 

I’m not advocating for you to start saving today (although that’s always a good idea), but rather to use this example to analyze what deposits you’re making to your bank. 

Do they look like this? 

2h/day spent on social media x 365 days = 30 days out of your year spent staring at a screen, sometimes scrolling mindlessly 

Junk food 3/week  x 52 weeks = 156 unhealthy meals through an entire year  

Or do they look like this?

30 minutes spent reading a book/day (at 5 mins/page, that’s 6 pages) x 365 days = 2190 pages read (that’s ~11 books at an average of 200 pages/book) per year 

7000 steps/day (~5,6km) x 365 days = 2044 km walked for your own health every year

When you start crunching the numbers, “just this once” and “infrequent exceptions” add up to shocking negative results

Fortunately, it’s the same with making good, small decisions every day. 

You don’t have to be a fast-reader to read 11 books a year. 
You don’t have to be fit to talk 2000km a year. 

There are no prerequisites. All you have to do is start and put your best effort into sticking with it.

Upgrade your decision-making with this question

Because many people struggle with getting started (myself included), I’ve found that using questions to help me gain clarity is very effective. 

So here’s a question you can use to define your goal and work backwards from it to identify the small choices that are likely to get you there

“What are all the experiences and problems that I have to learn about and master so that what comes out at the other end is somebody who is ready and capable of becoming a successful CEO?”

How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen

  • Replace “CEO” with the role of your choice and make the list. 
  • Turn the list into practical steps.
  • Plan the steps in your calendar.
  • Start taking your earnings to bank. 
  • Observe and record how your interest is accruing.
  • Enjoy better results than you originally planned for!

Dig deeper into the “tiny hops over big leaps” mindset

Catch you soon, decision-maker! 

Enjoy your Sunday, 

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