Hard Choices, Easy Life

The only decision-making framework you need to remember

One of the upshots to living in an age of infinite access to information is that you might try to use that to your advantage -- shaping your media diet to help you lead a happy, healthy, productive life.

Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, podcasts, (ahem) newsletters: maybe you’ve engineered your regular ‘feeds’ to serve you tips or reminders for improving your physical health, personal relationships, professional pursuits and so on. This can be a great thing, on the face of it.

There’s just one problem: there’s too damn much inspiration available.

Everywhere you turn, you might hear a smart, well meaning person offering great advice on one topic or another. Eat this, learn that skill, do the other with your time. Each piece of advice is simple enough on its own, but it’s a lot to keep track of when trying to put it all into action. Hearing 100 great songs back to back may not help you next time you’re trying to decide what music to listen to, y’know?

The other thing is, whatever strikes you as good advice usually takes one of a couple of forms: well timed reminders of things you already knew, or fresh perspectives that combine familiar ideas in an interesting way. Most of the time, it’s nothing new -- you’re not usually being blown away by some groundbreaking piece of information that you would never have otherwise considered. 

This means that in the pursuit of all that is good for you, you actually already know most of what you need to know. Moment to moment, being well is less about knowing what to do and more about simply deciding to do it.

To that end, here’s arguably the only decision-making framework you’ll ever need to remember: when faced with two choices, one of which is easy and the other of which is hard, choose the hard one.

That’s it.

Why is this effective? Well, presumably the only reason you’re considering the hard thing at all is because you know, on some level, that it’s the right thing. I mean, if it were hard and bad for you, would it be on the table at all? No way. So usually, the tradeoff is between an easy thing that feels good (or avoids you feeling bad) in the short term, and a hard thing that you know will make you better off in the long run.

Most of your day-to-day waffling is probably some version of that tradeoff. So, for best results, just decide ahead of time -- now -- that when you catch yourself in these moments, you’re going to do the hard thing. You’ll go to the gym when you’re feeling lazy. You’ll have that honest, uncomfortable conversation that needs to be had with your spouse or colleague. You’ll wash the dishes before flopping down on the couch to watch TV.

Chances are, if you retained and applied every piece of good advice you ever heard, you’d end up doing a lot of the same things that you would under this system -- and this one’s way simpler.

By the way, if you go down this path, you probably won’t score 100% -- but you don’t need to, to get most of the benefit. Just even trying to make the hard choice as often as you can is likely to put you way ahead, no matter the specifics of those choices.

So, don’t worry about remembering every great piece of advice you hear. If anything, just remember this (courtesy of this Ted Talk)...

Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life.