Navigating life by avoiding bad paths

As kid I assumed that grown-ups, especially my parents, always knew what was “the right” thing to do in any situation. It’s one of my surprises of growing up and having freedom over (and responsibility for) every aspect of my own life that ambivalence and uncertainty are just everywhere. While I’m getting better at knowing myself, I still often struggle to know what I want.

I still often struggle to know what I want.

There’s definitely people around me who seem to be much better at knowing what they want, more focused, more determined. The approach I’m about to share is not for them, but for fellow people who are not locked into one dream.

Think about life as an infinite decision tree

Every day, we make thousands of decisions. With any decision we go a step further along the path of the decision tree of our life. Every decision has opportunity costs, as any decision for one path excludes other paths. Most decisions (e.g. what to eat for breakfast) are minor, and the opportunity costs negligible (ok, let’s have that nice cheese sandwich tomorrow). Still, it’s valuable to have in mind that with any decision we’re inadvertently moving in one direction and not others.

Exclude unattractive outcomes

My way of dealing with making decisions without knowing what I want: I think about the things that I do not want for myself. Then I choose one of the paths that is not leading me towards one of the undesired future scenarios. Avoiding bad outcomes is much easier for me than continuously feeling the pressure of knowing the best, the “only right” path. For me, it’s easier to see what I don’t want than what I want. It comes with more benefits:

  • Choosing against a few paths is easier than targeting exactly one.
  • Choosing against bad outcomes leaves tons of options for the future open, as there’s a wide range of outcomes that are not excluded.