Framing the right questions can highly impact our thought process and decisions. Here are three of my favorite questions I keep coming back to.
1. What’s the worst that can happen?
This is hands down one of my favorite questions. It turns out very few scenarios come with the risk of mortality or debt, and the upside often far outweighs the negatives.
Starting a startup? Failed endeavors are rarely remembered, but successes are. Did you know Walt Disney’s first animation company had to be dissolved? Speaking to a large crowd and afraid of messing up? It’ll be old news within a week (if not a day, thanks to Twitter-verse). Moving to a new city? Depending on your job and financial situation, you can move back if you dislike it.
Picturing the worst outcome often helps us calibrate if the risk is worth it. Is an expensive car a good purchase if the worst scenario could be lifelong debt and stress? Interested in extreme adventure sports? Instead of being swept up by the thrill, imagining the worst can be an extra nudge to do analysis on the probability of risk and then decide accordingly what’s best for you.
2. How will you feel about your decision in 10 minutes? 10 months? 10 years?
As Annie Duke phrases it in Thinking in Bets, “To avoid making decisions that favor our present self at the expense of future self, use the 10/10/10 approach”. The famous Marshmallow test is a testament to our desire for instant gratification. Pausing to ask this question helps us take a look at long-term consequences and make smarter decisions.
For example, endless to-do lists make it easy to get caught up in short-term tasks and lose sight of what’s beneficial long term. They are good only when paired with the right mental model and practices. Using the 10/10/10 approach can uncover how some of these tasks add no value to your future self.
3. Do your decisions make sense from an unbiased third person perspective?
This one is designed to combat the notorious blind spot bias in us. Blind spot bias is an irrationality where people are better at recognizing biased reasoning in others but are blind to bias in themselves. Imagine floating out of your body and watching the scenario from miles and miles above in the clouds. A lot of the things we worry about in daily life seem inconsequential from that distant perspective.
One of my favorite times to do this exercise is on vacation — having the space and time for my mind to wander is priceless, away from the usual auto-pilot routine. For the same reason, I absolutely cherish visiting expansive terrains like Grand Canyon where you cannot help but feel diminished by the world, and in those moments, it becomes clear which pursuits are worth your time and energy.