A couple is shopping in their local supermarket. The man tosses a box of breakfast cereal into the trolley and the woman takes it back out.
Welcome to that classic grocery conundrum: Do we need this or not? It happens thousands of times a day, in supermarket aisles across the country; couples debating over washing powders and spreads and deodorants and paper towels, arguing over whether or not there’s any left at home.
But suppose they were to ask themselves: What’s worse? Two boxes of cereal or none? Would we rather have it and not need it… or need it and not have it?
In this situation I just buy the damn thing and risk having a little extra for a while, whether it’s shampoo or matches, cereal or tomato paste. The same principle works in many non-grocery situations as well: next time you head out the door and wonder ‘Should I take my jumper/my keys/my wallet/my inhaler?’ just ask:
Would I rather have it and not need it… or need it and not have it?
Actually, this trick works so well in so many instances I’ve made it a kind of policy: a decision I think through very carefully just once – and then apply until it backfires.
Over the years I’ve identified a whole range of tricky (but predictable) dilemmas that might overheat my poor brain: Should I race across town to catch a flight I’ll probably just miss anyway, or just start working on Plan B? Should I fix the interest on a bank loan, leave it variable or do a 50/50 split? Should I jump at the limited-time offer or let it slide? Will I start the workshop on time or wait till everybody turns up? And for each conundrum I’ve cooked up a special tailor-made decision in advance so I can make a confident choice without having to think too much about it on the spot.
All these little ‘policies’ of mine are just pre-fabricated decisions that slice through all those niggly little ‘Will I/Won’t I?’ dilemmas that chew up valuable brainspace and take our attention away from the truly important decisions that require careful and methodical thinking.
Like most things in life, the quality and quantity of your decisions are diametrically opposed: the more you have to make, the thinner your mental resources become and the worse your decisions (and therefore outcomes) will be.
So why not pick a familiar ‘Will I/Won’t I?’ dilemma that regularly torments you and think through very thoroughly how you’d like to handle it next time. And when the opportunity arises, try it out. If your plan works, make it a policy. If it doesn’t, make a better policy.
Before you know it, you’ll be making better decisions about fewer things.
And that’s the best policy.