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Decide Positively

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“Nothing is more difficult and therefore more precious than to be able to decide.” — Napoleon Bonaparte

When Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, quit his job on Wall Street, his former boss asked him to go for a walk to rethink his decision. On a long walk in Central Park, he tried to persuade Bezos. Sadly for his boss, Bezos saw an opportunity that he could not refuse — what was happening on the internet was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

As rash as his boss thought his decision was, Bezos took time to ponder the different options. Once he decided, he backed his decision implicitly. He moved to Seattle and operated his business out of a garage, all the while targeting the untapped potential of an online bookstore.

Making decisions can be paralyzing. The problem is we often have too many choices. This is what American psychologist Barry Schwartz calls the paradox of choice. The more choices we have, the harder it is to decide.

When we fail to make a decision and miss an opportunity, we regret our decision. We wish that we could turn back the clock. It’s an unproductive rumination. As author Tim Ferriss says, regret is past-tense decision making. We can’t let past decisions interfere with our future. We can learn from them without trying to turn back time. Once you make a decision, it is best to stand behind that decision. As we are the product of our choices, our life will be more meaningful when we make a series of good ones.

Jeff Bezos developed a framework to minimize regret. Imagine you are 80 years old and you are looking back at your life. At that age you want to have minimized your regrets. Whatever decision you are pondering right now, ask yourself whether you will regret the decision when you look back at your life. The worst kind of regret comes from inaction.

What also helps us to make better decisions is having principles that we can use to guide us through the decision-making process. When we base our decisions on principles rather than methods we can have more confidence in our decision-making ability.

For example, when Benjamin Franklin was dissatisfied with his life, he dedicated himself to achieving moral perfection. He made a list of twelve areas of attitudes and actions that he wanted to improve. These principles helped him to lead a more decisive life.

Think about Warren Buffett’s circle of competence, a principle he uses to help him make smart investment decisions. He did not invest in technology stocks for a long time because his principle allowed him only to invest in things he understood well.

Keeping a decision-making journal is another great tool to reflect on your inflection points and understand the principles that matter. Keeping a record of how we make decisions is a fundamental way of improving our decision-making ability over time.

Once we have principles to guide us, making a decision founded on those principles is easier. Like a compass, principles can navigate us in times of uncertainty.

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