A year ago at this time, I was getting feedback on my book and making a few final tweaks to the website. The designer I hired—well, let’s just say that I learned a lot about who to hire. The big takeaway was this: to avoid making a decision you’ll regret, always start looking for something well before you actually need it.
- Are you single? Don’t date if you’re lonely or really dislike being alone. Desperation is a surefire way to end up in an abysmal, subpar relationship.
- Are you thinking about hiring someone to expand your team? Start putting out feelers. Now.
- Think you’re going to have a big presentation, date, interview? Start browsing for work clothes now, not just the night beforehand.
- Do you want a new job? Don’t wait until you hate going to work to look for a new gig. Don’t wait until your bank account is getting close to zero.
“Choices do more than reveal preferences; they also reflect subtle, yet often quite reasonable, dependencies on the environment.” (source)
Don’t get me wrong—constraints are good! They’re necessary, because if we don’t make a decision, we’ll never get anything done.
But the downfall of a time constraint is that when we think we have to choose—and, like, soon—it can become incredibly easy to make a subpar decision. Our brain is remarkably efficient at factoring in real world constraints, without even realizing it. When you know that any choice is better than no choice, you stop collecting data and start zeroing in on an option, ultimately choosing whatever the best option seems to be—out of whatever options you think you have.
Why else would so many online retailers put up banner ads, counting down how many hours are left in a sale? (Do you really think that Banana Republic isn’t going to sell you that sweater tomorrow?) I’ve seen many friends wind up in relationships best described as “meh” because they’ve fallen victim to the false ticking of their biological clock. We look at someone, think “this is a human who has agreed to spend time with me,” and try to make it work. You might end up taking a subpar job that sets your career back. Out of loneliness, you might become friends with people who don’t share your values. You get that shirt that you never end up wearing again, simply because you needed something that would cover your tattoos the next day and you really hate shopping.
I make the best decisions when I’m not actively looking for something. Most of us do. That’s when we stop unknowingly limiting ourselves to “the three options that happen to be in front of me right now.”
Instead, we’ve waited until something is so great that it grabs our attention, distinguishing itself from everything else in the environment.
To make the best choice? Stop actively looking. Think about “things you’d like to do someday” (hire, date, furnish your living room, take a class), and let that simmer in the back of your mind.