When I was in my early twenties, I never realized how some of my best life decisions – small choices having big impact – would happen so often. If I had, I probably would’ve resolved to stop second-guessing myself much earlier. That’s how it goes though, your twenties. At least it did for me, anyway. In looking back, I realize I put so much time and effort into what I thought were critically important issues which would determine the rest of my life. More importantly, they would lead to my future happiness. They didn’t. Not even a bit. Somewhere in the midst of chasing rainbows, life hands you everyday decisions to make. Little did I know at the time, that when my life handed me the everyday decisions, they were the only decisions I would come to place any value on.
The Best Life Decisions You Make Will Often Be Made Without Thinking
I once purchased a rare European model Ford from a backyard mechanic whilst the cover of night was approaching. It was branded under the name Merkur and the model was known as the XR4TI. It had a turbocharged 4 cylinder engine, was medium blue in color, equipped with a sunroof and had a few sporty decals of European racing equipment suppliers. Plus, it packed the biggest exhaust pipe I had ever seen on a car. It had to be over 4 inches in diameter. The pipe belonged on cement truck, not a car. This should’ve been a red flag, instead I thought it was unique and edgy. I paid the guy in cash and drove off into the night.
This was a bad decision.
Less than two years later, I sold that same car at auction and received one tenth of what I’d originally paid for it.
That was a good decision.
At twenty, I took half of my life savings and invested in a Canadian gold mining stock, based on a “tip” from a friend of a friend and knowing very little else about it. The company was a start-up, which was risky enough on it’s own. They were also testing a new type of drill. At the time I purchased it, the stock had gone a run, tripling it’s value in a week, from 22 cents a share, peaking at 70 cents a share. I bought my shares at 60 cents. A few things I feel the need to point out:
- Anybody who knows anything about the stock market already knows how this story ends.
- Even though the company was “young”, based on it’s brief trading history, I was buying in at virtually the top price it had ever reached to that point.
- I had watched the stock for a few months, uncertain of what to do, before I eventually decided to go “heavy”.
- This was before online trading at home. I actually had to go meet a broker at a downtown office to make the “investment”. When we did meet, the guy asked how much I was investing versus my net worth. When I answered “half of my net worth” he’d cleared his throat and shifted a little uncomfortably in his chair. His assistant had also darted her eyes – one quick, nervous shot, in his direction. I realize now, that it was a plea for mercy. The assistant was looking to the broker to perhaps talk some sense into me. You can imagine what he decided to do.
Three weeks later, the Bre-X Minerals gold mine scandal hit the news and sent all Canadian gold mining stocks into a tailspin by association. Overnight my stock was worth 5 cents a share. Go ahead and take a moment to quantify that loss for yourself. Imagine having a ten dollar bill. Now break it up into nine singles and four quarters. Then flush the nine singles down the toilet because you weren’t even smart enough to donate it to a worthy cause. Take some of the change and make a phone call to whomever will care to listen about your plight, based on horrendous decision-making. That jingle of a few coins and some pocket lint…that’s what you have left.
I held onto the stock for three years, when it made a small comeback, climbing briefly to 30 cents a share. Did I sell it. No, I didn’t. At that point, I was married to the stock. I figured it was all or nothing. In the end, the company folded up shop and I was left with exactly nothing.
Purchasing the stock – this was a bad decision.
By now you are probably questioning my decision making ability. If you’re not, you should be. Still, these decisions aside, I have managed to make some great decisions in life as well. I’ve come to understand that it wasn’t luck, either. The decisions I made were small, though intuitive. Something about the choices put in front of me made the answers innately simple. Below are tips that I’ve put together, based on what I’ve managed to glean from recounting two decades of trial and error, with the hope that you can put more notches in the win column. Hopefully, what initially looks like a small victory carries with it staying power.
Best Life Decisions – Small Choices Having Big Impact Tip#1: Be Present When You Decide
When making decisions, how often are you weighed down by the mistakes of the past, or worries of what might come to pass in the future, based on the decision you make? How often do you think this influences your decision making process? From a cost benefit analysis, this strategy will almost always cost you more than you will ever take away. The moment you begin to lose sight of the present, you also lose sight of relevance. The immaterial takes residence in your mind and the facts at hand are replaced by “would’ve, could’ve, should’ve” or “What ifs” and “Could Happens”. Staying present allows you to keep context over the decision. Unless you can take a cross section of experiences and directly apply them to a model, removed of any emotional bias, then technically the experience may do more harm than good. If you can benefit by using a repeated experience that correlates to high degree with a repeated outcome, then it has value. If it is tainted by emotion of negative past experiences, or anxiety over potential negative outcomes, then any value it could add is put into question, if not nullified altogether.
Best Life Decisions – Small Choices Having Big Impact Tip#2: Keep It About The Facts “On The Ground”
In the introduction of Nate Silver’s book “The Signal and The Noise”, the author speaks to an MIT neuroscientist with regard to human ability to process information. We have refined a skill for pattern recognition. While this ability has evolved over countless generations and is arguably the primary reason we thrive today, the neuroscientist – Tomaso Poggio, is also quick to point out that as we are now processing juggernauts, therein lies the rub.
“The problem Poggio says, is that these evolutionary instincts sometimes lead us to see patterns when there are none there. People have been doing that all the time, Poggio said. Finding patterns in the random noise.”
-The Signal And The Noise p.12
Making a small decision relies on information processing in the same way making a big decision does. The difference between the two and how a small or big decision “classing” is ultimately determined, is entirely subjective. This is important to note. This point is likely the most significant on how a small decision can have big impact. What’s most vital in the cases of such decision making (or information processing, if you will) are the facts on the ground. What do you actually know to be certain? At least as certain as one can be in a world of uncertainty. This is the information that when processed, should be considered with the most weight. These are tangibles – the facts that can be witnessed firsthand by those involved. Hence the derivation of the phrase “the facts on the ground”, based on what the soldiers were experiencing on the front lines of battle. Using facts on the ground will lead to making the correct decision more times than not, as the action removes extraneous information.
Best Life Decisions – Small Choices Having Big Impact Tip#3: Fear, Fact and Fabrication
Small choices have big impact because they can be made over and over quickly, without much concern of consequence. This has enormous value. Most people think intuitively that because a decision is small, it will be made quickly, without consideration due to the potentially low cost. Surprisingly, it is the opposite. Due to the low cost, the decision maker is more likely to weigh the decision on the variables at hand. In other words, “just the facts ma’am”. With bigger decisions, that ever-present nemesis, fear enters into the equation. Fear allows for fabrication. Just like we can be emotionally biased to make a choice based on the outcome we desire, Our mind can also add biases based on fear that will “force our hand” in a certain direction as well. Best life decisions – small choices having big impact are essential because they allow the mind to operate in a decision making environment without being clouded by fear and fabrication.
Small decisions are integral. Ironically, we place little value on small decisions because of how often they are made. They allow us to survive and thrive everyday, yet they are all-too-often valued at a discounted price.