How To Make Decisions: The Regret Minimization Framework

I’ve never been the best at making decisions.

At times, I was so bad at it that I just flipped a coin. Really, I flipped a coin to make decisions for a few years.

Other times, when I had to make a decision, I would freak out and put it off. But putting off a decision is just another way of saying “No”. So I probably missed a lot of opportunities by putting it off.

Some of these non-decisions and “Nos” turned into regrets later down the road. And I hate regrets. So I’m always on the lookout for new ways to handle it.

One thing I found is the “HELL YEAH! Or No” option. When you have a decisions to make, there is no maybe – it’s either a “HELL YEAH! or a No”.

This works great for smaller decisions, like “Do you wanna go to Disneyland?” (it’s a no.)

But it doesn’t work so well for the long-term stuff. So I’ve continued my research and experimentation to improve at it.

Today I’m going to share some interesting ideas I found – and then at the end I’ll share a few ideas of my own.

The found ideas come from two guys – Jeff Bezos and Tony Robbins.

Who Are They?

Jeff Bezos is the guy behind Amazon. He started it as an online bookstore and has turned it into a multi-billion dollar behemoth that will more than likely take over the world. For example, they just bought Whole Foods for $13.5 Billion.

– In just 23 years, Amazon has grown from selling us books online to permeating into every aspect of our lives. And now they’re looking to become a major player in the produce world.

Tony Robbins is a bad ass when it comes to improving performance and transforming lives. He’s worked with everyone from Bill Clinton to Nelson Mandela and the dude is a goldmine of self-help information. He’s built an estimated $500 Million net worth and provides a billion meals a year to hungry people worldwide.

In my opinion, these guys are pretty qualified. And when they both say something similar about decision making… I think it’s worth taking note.

Jeff Bezos “80 Year Old Regrets”

In an old interview, Jeff Bezos talked about a method he uses when making major decisions. (like starting Amazon)

He flashes forward in time and imagines his 80 year old self looking back at his life and asks “will I regret having tried this?”

Here is the video: (transcript below)

Transcript: Jeff Bezos, 80 Year Old Regrets:

I went to my boss and said to him, “You know, I’m gonna go do this crazy thing, and I’m gonna start this company selling books online.”

And this is something that I’d already been talking to him about in a sort of more general context.

But then he said, “Let’s go on a walk.”

And we went on a two-hour walk in Central Park in New York City, and the conclusion of that was he said, “This actually sounds like a really good idea to me, but it sounds like it would be a better idea for somebody who didn’t already have a good job.”

And he convinced me to think about it for 48 hours before making a final decision. And so I went away and then was trying to find the right framework in which to make that kind of big decision.

And you know I’d already talked to my wife about this and she was very supportive and said, “Look, you can count me in 100% whatever you want to do.”

You know it’s true, she had married this kind of fairly stable guy and a stable career path, and now he wanted to go do this crazy thing, but she was 100% supportive.

So it really was a decision that I had to make for myself.

And the framework I found which made the decision incredibly easy was what I called, which only a nerd would call, a regret minimization framework.

So I wanted to project myself forward to age 80 and so okay now I’m looking back on my life. I want to have minimized the number of regrets I have. And you know I knew that when I was 80 I was not going to regret having tried this.

I was not gonna regret trying to participate in this thing called the internet that I thought was gonna be a really big deal.

I knew that if I failed, I wouldn’t regret that. But I knew the one thing I might regret is not ever having tried, and I knew that that would haunt me every day.

And so when I thought about it that way, it was an incredibly easy decision.

If you can project yourself out to age 80 and sort of think what will I think at that time, it gets you away from some of the daily pieces of confusion.

You know I left this Wall Street firm in the middle of the year, and when you do that, you walk away from your annual bonus. So that’s the kind of thing that in the short term can confuse you.

But if you think about the long term, then you can really make good life decisions that you won’t regret later.

Tony Robbins “Rocking Chair Test”

Next up is Tony Robbins. He was asked a similar question and gave an eerily similar answer.

He calls it “The Rocking Chair Test”

Here is the video: (transcript below)

Transcript: Tony Robbins, The Rocking Chair Test

But I don’t negotiate with my mind. This, I run this through my heart and soul, I don’t let the brain run it.

I use my brain, I don’t let my brain use me.

The easiest way to deal with the fear of failure is to be more fearful of not taking action, to be more fearful of settling for a life that is far below what you deserve and what you desire.

Everybody has a place where they get fearful. It’s just the human mind, it’s there. It’s not that you’re not gonna be fearful,

I think what it really is, is just, again, training yourself to say, “I can be fearful, and I can do it anyway”.

I don’t have to get rid of the fear, I just have to dance with it. I have to use the energy of it to move myself forward.

And I’ve found, in the early days, I used to, like when I was trying to make a decision, I would do what I called my rocking chair test.

I took a helicopter ride one time.

Like we’re flying straight across all the people, bumper-to-bumper, no stop,
this is the way to live!

What would it take to learn how to fly a helicopter? Money, time, energy, where am I gonna fit all this in?

What would life be like, I’m 85 years old, I’m in my rocking chair, and I flew helicopters, and I took my friends and family, and took the doors off and we
screamed down on the water, and we lived this life where you could go wherever you want the way you want.

It was like wow.

And I looked at what that life would be, felt it. It felt incredible.

And what if you had never learned. What if you’d come up with all these fears, I don’t have time, I don’t have the money, I don’t know if I can do it, I don’t know if I can master it.

And then you let the fears dominate me and I’d never learned to fly a helicopter and I’m 85 and in my rocking chair and I look back on my life and I missed out on all that.

But the fastest way to deal with fear is do it anyway. You don’t have to feel good to do stuff, that’s an illusion.

Make yourself do it.

What I’ve trained my brain is, when I say do it we do it. It doesn’t matter if it feels good, doesn’t matter if it’s too cold, doesn’t matter if I don’t feel like it, doesn’t matter if I’m fearful, I do it anyway.

And when you train yourself to do it anyway, you have a freedom most people will never have.

My Reverse Method

Okay, so both of these guys have a very similar way of pushing through the fear that comes with decision making.

But I have one more thing that I want to share. It’s the way I’ve made a ton of decisions over the last few years. And it’s the reverse of what these guys are doing.

Instead of flashing forward to old age, I flash backwards to my teenage years.

When I get offered the chance to do something, I run it through the 15 year old version of me. The kid who was lost and wandering and looking for any way out of a small town to find a bigger world of opportunity.

I ask myself “Would 15 year old Malan do this?

If the answer is yes, I do it.

A few examples:

#1) Bjork did two shows at the Palladium, directly across the street from my apartment.

I wasn’t going to go out of laziness, then I snapped out of it and said “Would 15 (or 25) year old Malan go see Bjork if she was across the street?”

The answer was a huge YES! I went to the show – and it was one of the best I’ve ever seen.

#2) Another time I used this was for a recent cruise. One of my oldest friends invited me to go on a Cruise to Mexico to see the ocean and explore some ancient Mayan Ruins.

My first thought was that it was just too time consuming. Then I stopped and ran it through my 15 year old filter and decided “YES! 15 year old Malan would have jumped at the chance to do this”.

So I went on the trip – and had more fun that I’ve had in years.

Wrap It Up

If you get stuck when it comes to making decisions, try this.

  1. Flash forward to your 80 year old self and think “Would I regret not doing this? If the answer is yes, do it right away, screw the results.
  2. Or, flash backwards to your 15 year old self and ask “Would 15 year old me have wanted to do this?” If the answer is yes, do it right away, screw the results.

Making decisions can be tough. And as we get older we tend to say “No” more often. Don’t get caught in that trap.

The 15 and 80 year old version of you are counting on you.