Self Help

How to Decide Simple Tools for Making Better Choices - Annie Duke

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Matheus Puppe

· 40 min read

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  • The introduction discusses the importance of developing a high-quality decision process.

  • We make thousands of decisions every day, big and small. It’s important to improve how we make decisions because decisions largely determine how our lives turn out.

  • The two things that shape our lives are luck and the quality of our decisions. We can’t control luck, but we can control the quality of our decisions.

  • By making better decisions, we increase the chances that good things will happen to us. So it’s important to improve our decision skills.

  • Surprisingly, most people can’t articulate what a good decision process entails, despite the importance of decision quality.

  • The author has thought extensively about decision-making as a PhD student, professional poker player, business consultant, and parent. Her experience is that people struggle to explain good decision processes.

  • The book aims to provide a framework and tools to improve decision-making in all aspects of life. Better decisions lead to better outcomes.

  • Decision-making is an important skill but it is rarely taught explicitly. As a result, people have very different approaches to making decisions.

  • This book aims to provide a framework and tools to improve decision-making. The ideal decision tool would be like a crystal ball that perfectly predicts the future, but since that is impossible, the goal is to get as close as possible.

  • The book starts by looking at how to learn from past decisions, since this seems like an intuitive way to improve future decisions. However, learning from the past has hazards, so tools are introduced to do this more effectively.

  • Next, the book provides a framework for high-quality decision-making focused on strengthening your predictions about uncertain futures. Tools are offered to improve the beliefs and knowledge informing your decisions.

  • Not every decision requires extensive analysis. Mental models are provided for discerning when a quick decision is sufficient versus when a robust process should be used.

  • Finally, the book covers leveraging others’ knowledge efficiently and avoiding pitfalls like groupthink in team decisions.

  • Interactive exercises, templates and checklists are included throughout to reinforce key concepts. Using these can maximize learning, but they are optional.

  • The exercises in the book are designed to provide insight into how you process information. Go with your first instinct when answering rather than trying to figure out the “right” answer.

  • “Resulting” refers to the tendency to look at whether the result of a decision was good or bad to determine if the decision itself was good or bad. This is a mental shortcut but can lead to poor conclusions.

  • Resulting causes us to learn the wrong lessons from experience. A good decision can lead to a bad outcome, and vice versa.

  • Resulting happens even when we have more details about a decision. We tend to interpret those details more positively when the outcome is good, and more negatively when the outcome is bad.

  • The quality of the decision and the quality of the outcome are correlated but not perfectly, especially for one-time decisions. Resulting oversimplifies this.

  • To become a better decision-maker, we need to learn to evaluate decisions on their merits as much as possible, not just on their outcomes. Resulting makes this difficult.

  • Resulting is when we judge the quality of a decision based on the outcome, even though the outcome depends a lot on factors outside of our control. Good outcomes make us think we made a good decision, even if it was risky. Bad outcomes make us think it was a bad decision, even if it was reasonable at the time.

  • There is a big role for luck in determining how decisions turn out. The outcome depends on the possible futures opened up by our decision and which of those possibilities happens to occur.

  • To learn properly from experience, we need to separate decision quality from outcome quality. Outcomes can be good or bad regardless of whether the decision was good or bad.

  • It’s important to recognize the four possibilities: Earned Reward (good decision, good outcome), Bad Luck (good decision, bad outcome), Dumb Luck (bad decision, good outcome), and Just Deserts (bad decision, bad outcome).

  • Resulting causes us to ignore the role of luck and makes us prone to learn bad lessons from experience. We need to explicitly consider how things could have played out differently.

  • It’s easier to blame bad luck than credit good luck, but both are important to acknowledge in order to accurately judge our decisions.

Here is a summary of the key points about how the film studio United Artists passed on Star Wars:

  • George Lucas had a two-picture deal with United Artists after they saw his film THX 1138 at Cannes.

  • Lucas offered UA his films American Graffiti and Star Wars, but they passed on both. American Graffiti went on to become a big hit for another studio.

  • Several other major studios like Universal and Disney also passed on Star Wars.

  • The original Star Wars film cost $11 million to make and has grossed over $775 million total. The franchise has made over $10 billion to date.

  • Disney later bought the rights to Star Wars in 2012 for $4 billion, about 400 times what they passed on paying to produce the first film in the 1970s.

  • At the time, most studios underestimated the potential of Star Wars and viewed it as too risky, passing up what became one of the most successful and profitable film franchises in history. Their decision to pass was seen as a poor judgement in hindsight.

  • Universal Artists, Disney, and other studios made huge mistakes by passing on Star Wars. This is often cited as an example of how clueless Hollywood executives are.

  • However, there are good reasons not to jump to that conclusion:

  • When Star Wars was just a concept, there was no way to know if it would be a hit or not. Many things could have gone wrong even if they greenlit it.

  • We don’t know the full context of the studio’s decision. They may have had good reasons to pass that weren’t obvious.

  • Just because a decision led to a bad outcome doesn’t mean it was a bad decision based on the information at the time.

  • To properly evaluate the decision, you’d need to look at the full slate of movies the studios greenlit and passed on, not just focus on one outcome.

  • Hindsight bias makes us think past events were more predictable than they really were. The Star Wars example shows how easy it is to fall into this bias when evaluating past decisions.

In summary, while passing on Star Wars looks foolish in hindsight, it’s too simplistic to conclude it was an obviously terrible decision without fuller context. Hindsight bias leads us to overestimate predictability.

Here are my summaries of the key concepts from the passage on hindsight bias:

Hindsight Bias

  • Hindsight bias is the tendency to see events after the fact as more predictable than they actually were before they took place. There are two main forms:
  1. Knew It All Along - Feeling that you knew all along how something would turn out, when that knowledge only revealed itself after the fact.

  2. Should Have Known - Feeling that you should have been able to predict something, when it was not actually predictable before it happened.

  • Hindsight bias causes “memory creep”, where what you learn after an event creeps into your memory of what you knew before, distorting your ability to evaluate decisions.

  • You can reduce hindsight bias by using a “knowledge tracker” to deliberately separate what you knew before from what was revealed after. This creates a more accurate “time stamp” in your memory.

  • Journaling your knowledge before a decision acts as a “vaccine” against hindsight bias by memorializing your reasoning.

  • Hindsight bias leads to a lack of compassion for ourselves and others, as we neglect to empathize with the limited information someone had at the time of a decision.

  • Being aware of hindsight bias allows you to identify it in yourself and others. You can then take steps to counteract its distorting effects on evaluating past decisions and learning for the future.

Here is a summary of the key points about the decision multiverse:

  • The paradox of experience: Experience is necessary for learning, but individual experiences often interfere with our ability to learn because of biases like resulting and hindsight bias.

  • Looking at a single outcome in isolation can lead us to draw incorrect lessons. We need to consider the full range of possible outcomes - the decision multiverse.

  • Before a decision is made, the future possibilities resemble a tree with branches representing different potential outcomes. Some branches are thicker (more likely) than others.

  • Once a decision occurs, reality collapses into a single timeline, making it hard to remember all the other possibilities that could have happened.

  • We need to diminish the outsized influence of single outcomes by visualizing the decision multiverse - all the possible timelines that could have resulted from our decisions. This provides context and perspective.

  • Exploring the multiverse helps overcome biases like resulting and hindsight bias. It enables us to extract the right lessons from our experiences.

Here are my responses to the counterfactual thinking exercises:

1a. Decision: To stay in a bad relationship

Outcome: Continued unhappiness and wasted time

1b. Tree:

  • Stay in relationship:
    • Continued unhappiness (actual outcome)
    • Things improve
    • Break up later anyway
  • End relationship
    • Initial pain but better long term
    • Meet someone new sooner

1c. Yes, re-creating the tree helps me see there were other possible outcomes besides continued unhappiness. I don’t feel as responsible for the outcome when I see the full context.

1d. Yes, there were outcomes that were worse, like the relationship becoming abusive or me marrying the person and having kids when we were incompatible.

2a. Decision: To go to graduate school

Outcome: Got a PhD and a good job

2b. Tree:

  • Go to graduate school
    • Get PhD and good job (actual outcome)
    • Drop out
    • Take longer than expected
    • Don’t find a good job after
  • Don’t go to graduate school
    • Find a decent job anyway
    • Struggle to advance career without advanced degree

2c. Yes, re-creating the tree helps me see there were other possible outcomes besides getting my PhD and a good job. I don’t feel I deserve as much credit when I see the full context.

2d. Yes, there were better outcomes possible like getting an amazing tenure-track position at a top university right away.

  1. Re-creating the tree for a bad outcome felt better. It helped me stop feeling so responsible for the negative outcome when I saw other possibilities.

Here are my thoughts on the bison weight guessing game:

  • Bison are very large animals, so it’s unlikely anyone would guess under 100 lbs. Even a baby bison weighs more than that.

  • On the upper end, 10,000 lbs (5 tons) is massive, even for a bison. That weight would be more typical of an elephant or rhino.

  • Most full-grown bison likely fall somewhere in the range of 1,000 - 2,500 lbs. This is based on typical weights for large bovine animals.

  • Factors like the bison’s apparent size in the photo, knowledge that bison are one of the largest land mammals in North America, and comparison to cows and other livestock can help narrow down a reasonable guess.

  • I’d guess this particular bison is probably around 1,500-2,000 lbs based on the visible size and knowing it’s a fully mature adult. But there’s quite a range for normal bison weights.

In summary, I think most people’s guesses would fall somewhere between 500-3,000 lbs based on general knowledge about bison sizes. Guesses outside a range like 100-10,000 lbs seem very unlikely.

  • Step 2 in the decision-making process is to identify your preferences for each potential outcome by assessing the payoff (gain or loss) associated with each one.

  • Payoffs are based on your personal goals and values. Different people will have different preferences.

  • Payoffs can be measured in anything you value - money, time, happiness, health, etc.

  • Upside potential refers to what you might gain from a decision. Downside potential refers to what you might lose.

  • You need to consider both the possible outcomes (Step 1) and the size of the payoffs for each outcome (Step 2) to determine if the upside potential is worth the risk of the downside.

  • Pros/cons lists have limitations because they don’t explicitly consider the magnitude of each pro and con. The size of the payoff matters.

  • Simply counting pros vs cons doesn’t indicate whether the upside outweighs the downside without knowing the relative size of each one.

  • Making decisions involves estimating the likelihood of various outcomes. Without considering probabilities, you can’t properly assess risks and rewards.

  • You often can’t know exact probabilities, but you can make educated guesses based on what you do know. Some knowledge is better than none.

  • Don’t dismiss guessing as useless just because it’s not perfect. Making educated guesses and working to improve them is important for good decision-making.

  • Think of guesses like an archer’s arrows - hitting the target has value even if it’s not a bullseye. The goal is to get as close to the truth as possible.

  • Be willing to make probability estimates to apply your knowledge. This will improve your decisions and compound over time.

  • There’s a spectrum between no information and perfect information. For most decisions, you’ll be somewhere in between. Use what you know, and seek more knowledge.

  • “I’d just be guessing” shuts down further thinking. Make your guesses educated ones based on available information.

The key is shifting your mindset - all guesses are educated to some degree, and moving closer to the right answer has value. Making probability estimates, even imperfect ones, is an important part of good decision-making.

  • Decision-making always involves guessing about how the future will unfold. All choices are educated guesses.

  • Even when you think you’re not guessing, you are - you’re just doing a bad job of it by blindfolding yourself to the possibilities.

  • Mapping out possibilities in a decision tree allows you to make better guesses by seeing the full set of outcomes.

  • You can start with using words like “unlikely” or “probably” to estimate probabilities. This is better than not estimating at all.

  • Focus on estimating the chances of the specific outcomes or payoffs you really care about for a decision. This further sharpens your thinking.

  • Decision trees outperform pros and cons lists because they allow you to think through multiple possibilities and their likelihoods, compare options, and focus on the payoffs most important to you.

  • Take off the blindfold of the “pin the tail on the donkey” mindset. Face the target, take aim with your eyes open, and make educated guesses about where your choices may lead.

Here are the key points on incorporating probabilities into decision-making:

  • Adding probability estimates to a decision tree improves decision quality by allowing you to consider the likelihood of each outcome. This helps assess options on their own and compare them.

  • Use common terms like “usually”, “often”, “rarely” to start expressing probabilities. This gets you estimating likelihoods rather than avoiding it.

  • Making probability estimates prompts you to examine what you know and don’t know. Learning and filling knowledge gaps strengthens your decision foundation.

  • Imperfect information affects decisions before they are made. Luck affects outcomes after decisions are made. You have some control over imperfect information by improving your knowledge.

  • A pros and cons list lacks probability and payoff size information. Adding probabilities and payoffs to decision trees creates a fuller representation to evaluate options.

  • Start with basic probability terms, even if imprecise. This mitigates decision biases like hindsight bias. With practice, your probability estimates can become more precise.

  • The willingness to guess at probabilities, payoffs, and preferences is essential to better decision-making. Avoiding it leaves your decisions on a weaker foundation.

  • There is a lot of disagreement and ambiguity around the meaning of terms people commonly use to express probabilities and likelihoods (e.g. “likely”, “rarely”).

  • In a survey, some terms had very wide ranges of what probability people associated with them. For example, “real possibility” ranged from 20% to 80% chance.

  • We often wrongly assume other people interpret these terms the same way we do.

  • Using ambiguous terms makes it harder to uncover and correct inaccurate beliefs, because disagreements are concealed. If I say an event has a “real possibility” of happening meaning 30% chance, and you think it means 70% chance, we may nod in agreement rather than uncovering the discrepancy.

  • Expressing probabilities precisely as percentages avoids ambiguity and reveals disagreements, allowing us to update our beliefs with information that lives in other people’s heads.

  • Imprecise language is a missed opportunity to strengthen decisions and fill gaps in knowledge. To get high-fidelity feedback from others, we need to speak the same language.

  • Precision in defining probabilities helps reveal where your beliefs differ from others’ and gives you a chance to correct wrong assumptions. Vague terms like “fair chance” leave too much wiggle room.

  • Converting vague terms to percentages, based on your own definitions, adds precision. This clarifies estimates in decision trees.

  • For most real-world estimates, you can’t have perfect information. So provide a range around your precise “bull’s-eye” estimate, signaling how uncertain you are.

  • Wider ranges reflect more uncertainty. Narrower ranges suggest more confidence. Ranges invite exposure to new information that can narrow uncertainty.

  • Signaling uncertainty prompts others to share disagreeing views. It also spurs you to seek more information to refine imprecise beliefs. Precise probabilities with uncertainty ranges aid judgment.

  • Expressing probabilities as percentages with a range rather than a single number invites others to provide information to help improve your estimates. This increases the chance you uncover useful information.

  • The goal in setting a range is to reflect what you know and what you don’t know. Make the range as narrow as possible while still being “pretty shocked” if the actual answer falls outside of it.

  • Most people are overconfident in their certainty. Testing with the “shock test” reveals we often set ranges that are too narrow and don’t capture the right answer.

  • Approach your own beliefs with more skepticism. Ask yourself “If I were wrong, why would that be?” to become aware of what you don’t know. This improves the accuracy of your beliefs and decisions.

Here are the key points from the passage:

  • We often see flaws and patterns in other people’s problems that they themselves can’t see. But when it comes to our own problems, our perspective is clouded and we struggle to see things clearly.

  • This is because we naturally have an “inside view” of our own situation, colored by our specific experiences and beliefs. It’s hard to step outside of our own perspective.

  • In contrast, we have an “outside view” of other people’s problems, allowing us to see patterns and insights that they miss.

  • This outside view is more objective and less susceptible to the biases we have when evaluating ourselves.

  • To make better decisions, we need to shift our perspective from the inside view to the outside view - looking at our own situation as if we were an objective outsider.

  • This outside view helps counteract the flaws and blindspots in our beliefs and allows us to see our situation more accurately. It improves the input going into our decision-making process.

The key is finding ways to step outside our natural inside perspective and simulate the more objective outside view that we readily apply to others but not ourselves. This chapter explores strategies for doing that.

Here are my thoughts on the key points in this passage:

  • The “inside view” refers to seeing things only from your own limited perspective and experiences. It can distort your beliefs and decision-making.

  • The “outside view” means considering how others would see your situation more objectively. It provides a helpful counterbalance to the inside view’s biases.

  • Cognitive biases like confirmation bias and availability bias result from an inside view. You focus on and remember things that confirm your existing beliefs.

  • It’s hard to recognize your own inside view biases. You are motivated to protect your beliefs and identity. It’s easier to see others’ distorted perspectives.

  • Getting outside perspectives, even if people have the same facts, can help correct your view. Letting views collide gets you closer to the truth.

  • Tools like pros/cons lists just amplify inside view biases. You focus on the side that supports what you already want to believe.

  • The inside and outside views need to be balanced, like in a happy marriage. The inside view provides intuition and gut feelings, the outside view provides objectivity.

Let me know if you would like me to elaborate on any part of the summary. I’m happy to provide more details on the key concepts covered here.

Here are my responses to the questions:

  1. Go back to the estimates you made about the Sweat Sensations gym membership decision in chapter 4. Now take a few minutes to look up the following base rates and write your answers here:

What percentage of people who join a gym quit within the first half year? 50%

What percentage of gym memberships go completely unused? 77%

What percentage of gym members go to the gym once a week or less? 82%

If there was anything else you found in a few minutes of online searching relevant to the likelihood that joining a gym will lead to someone exercising regularly, note that here. Many people join gyms in January as part of their New Year’s resolutions but 80% of those members quit within 5 months.

  1. Looking back at the tree with this base-rate information in mind, does that information change any of your estimates? If so, briefly explain why.

Yes, the base rate information suggests the likelihood of going to the gym regularly after joining is lower than I originally estimated. With such high quit rates, especially among new members who join in January, the probability of going regularly is likely much lower than my original 70% estimate. I would revise that down to maybe 40% or 50% based on the base rates.

The information on unused memberships also suggests the probability of not using the membership at all is higher than I thought, likely around 50% rather than 20%. Overall, these base rates indicate the likelihood of achieving the goal of exercising regularly after joining a gym is lower than estimated.

Here is a summary of key points about the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA):

  • IHRSA is a global trade association representing more than 10,000 health and fitness facilities and suppliers worldwide.

  • It was founded in 1981 and is based in Boston, Massachusetts.

  • IHRSA promotes the benefits of health club membership and strives to grow, protect, and promote the health and fitness industry.

  • It provides industry data, advocacy, education, and events for health club owners, operators, and suppliers.

  • Key facts according to IHRSA:

    • The global health club industry generated $94 billion in revenue in 2018.

    • There are over 210,000 health clubs worldwide serving 183 million members.

    • The US has the most health club members at 60.9 million as of 2018.

    • On average, 16% of the population has a health club membership. This ranges from 49% in Scandinavia to less than 5% in parts of Asia.

    • The US health club industry alone generated $32.3 billion in revenue in 2018.

  • IHRSA hosts an annual International Convention & Trade Show that brings together fitness professionals and suppliers from around the world.

In summary, IHRSA provides data, advocacy and education to support the global health and fitness industry, with a focus on growing health club membership worldwide. Its data illustrates the size and continued growth of the global fitness market.

  • Most people spend a lot of time in analysis paralysis on minor decisions like what to eat, watch, and wear. This adds up to 250-275 hours per year.

  • Time is a limited resource that should be spent wisely. Figuring out when to decide faster and when to slow down is an important decision skill.

  • There is a trade-off between time spent on a decision and accuracy. The more time you spend, the more accurate your decision will be.

  • The key is balancing time and accuracy based on the potential impact of the decision. For low-impact decisions, you can sacrifice some accuracy to save time. For high-impact decisions, take more time to maximize accuracy.

  • The six-step decision framework helps manage this trade-off. By imagining possibilities and weighing payoffs, you can assess the impact of getting a decision wrong. This reveals when you can decide faster versus when more time is warranted.

  • For most routine, minor decisions, this framework will help you speed up your decision-making. The costs of not getting it perfectly right are usually small for things like what to eat or watch.

  • Slowing down is most critical for major life decisions where there are bigger potential penalties for deciding poorly.

  • When a decision is low impact, meaning it won’t significantly affect your long-term happiness whether you make a good or bad choice, you can speed up your decision making. Use the “Happiness Test” - ask yourself if the outcome will affect your happiness in a year, month, or week. The shorter the time period where the answer is no, the more you can prioritize speed over accuracy.

  • Low impact decisions include things like what to eat for dinner, what movie to watch, or what clothes to wear. The stakes are low so you don’t need to obsess over the choice.

  • Fear of regret can slow you down, but options that repeat frequently help reduce regret. Choosing what to eat for dinner repeats every day, so you can make faster choices knowing you’ll get another chance soon.

  • “Freerolling” refers to decisions where there is little to no downside. Like answering trivia questions for a chance at winning money, but no penalty for wrong answers. With minimal downside risk, you can decide faster.

  • The time saved on low impact and freeroll decisions creates opportunities for more important decisions or experimental choices to learn about yourself and the world.

Here are my responses:

  1. Choosing between Paris and Rome would be very difficult for me, maybe a 4 or 5 on the difficulty scale. Both are amazing destinations I’d love to visit.

  2. Over the course of a year, the vacation may have a moderate effect, let’s say a 3, on my overall happiness just because it’s a memorable experience.

  3. In the month after, it may have a bigger effect, maybe a 4, as the memories are still very fresh.

  4. In the immediate week after, the effect could be huge, a 5. Coming right off an incredible vacation can really boost happiness.

You’re right that agonizing over a decision like this is common, as it doesn’t easily pass the Happiness Test. The vacation will certainly affect short-term happiness but have a smaller impact on long-term wellbeing. It’s a tough tradeoff between Paris and Rome when both seem amazing. I’d probably try to get more details on each place to make the best choice, but not let the decision paralyze me for too long. The goal would be to maximize that short-term happiness boost while not sacrificing too much long-term happiness from overthinking it.

  • When choosing between two very appealing options, like vacation destinations, the closeness of the choices slows you down. This signals you can actually decide faster, since either choice will likely be good.

  • Agonizing over small differences between great options is often just “tilting at windmills” - chasing illusory certainty. You can’t know which you’ll like more until you experience it.

  • Use the “Only Option Test” - if you’d be happy with something as your only choice, it passes the test. This simplifies choices.

  • Spend time sorting options into “stuff you like” and “don’t like”. Save time on the final picking once you’ve sorted. This is the “Menu Strategy”.

  • Low risk, repeating choices are opportunities to experiment and learn your preferences. This helps future sorting and choosing.

  • The big gains in decision making come from effectively sorting options, not from marginal differences in the final pick.

  • Opportunity cost is the potential benefits you miss out on when choosing one option over another. The higher the opportunity cost, the bigger the penalty for rushing a decision.

  • Quitting can reduce opportunity cost by allowing you to change course if new information suggests another option would be better. Don’t assume decisions are permanent.

  • “Quit-to-itiveness” helps make faster decisions when the cost of quitting is low. This allows more experimentation and learning.

  • “Two-way-door” decisions have a low cost of quitting, enabling faster choices and more innovation.

  • “Decision stacking” means making small, reversible decisions first to inform bigger, permanent ones later.

  • Choosing multiple options in parallel (like tasting every item on a menu) can help quickly learn preferences to improve future decisions.

  • Faster decisions are possible when opportunity cost is lower due to quitting ability, decision stacking, and parallel experimentation.

  • We spend a lot of time on routine, minor decisions. This is wasted time that could be better spent on more important things.

  • There is a trade-off between time spent deciding and accuracy of the decision. More time leads to more accuracy, but less time.

  • The key is assessing the penalty for not getting a decision exactly right. If it’s low, you can sacrifice accuracy for speed.

  • Recognizing low impact decisions allows you to make them faster, freeing up time and letting you learn more about your preferences.

  • The Happiness Test helps identify low impact decisions - if the outcome won’t affect your happiness in a week/month/year, you can decide faster.

  • “Freeroll” situations have limited downside, so you can decide to pursue them quickly.

  • “Sheep in wolf’s clothing” refers to high impact decisions where the options seem very close. The indecision signals you can decide faster, like flipping a coin.

  • Use the Only Option Test to identify sheep in wolf’s clothing situations.

  • Use the menu strategy - take time to identify options you like, then less time to actually pick one.

  • When picking an option, you pass on potential gains from the options not chosen - this is the opportunity cost. Lower opportunity cost allows faster decisions.

  • We often hold strong beliefs that we later reconsider or even reverse. It’s easier to identify past mistaken beliefs than current beliefs we may change in the future.

  • There is a gap between our goals and our actions. We struggle to execute on our intentions.

  • Positive thinking alone is often insufficient to achieve our goals. We need to pair it with “negative thinking” - realistic assessment of potential obstacles.

  • The “power of positive thinking” genre asserts thoughts directly cause outcomes. Extreme versions cite pseudoscientific “thought magnets”. This is false.

  • “Negative thinking” means pragmatically assessing difficulties, obstacles, and weaknesses. This helps us prepare plans to address them.

  • Pre-emptive worry forces us to anticipate problems. Pre-mortems imagine the project failed and trace back to see why.

  • “Positive thinking” sets the vision, “negative thinking” charts the path. Both are essential to maximize chances of success.

Does this help summarize the key points about the power of negative thinking? Let me know if you need me to expand or clarify any part of the summary.

The Secret and other positive thinking literature claim that positive thoughts lead to positive outcomes while negative thoughts lead to negative outcomes. However, this view conflates the destination you want to reach with the route you take to get there. Imagining obstacles along the route (negative thinking) can actually help you reach your destination through a process called mental contrasting.

Research shows that mentally contrasting desired outcomes with potential obstacles leads to greater goal achievement across many domains. This is because it allows you to anticipate and prepare for difficulties, much like using a navigation app that shows traffic and accidents.

You can enhance mental contrasting through prospective hindsight - imagining yourself in the future looking back on whether you succeeded or failed. This overcomes status quo bias, providing an outside perspective to see beyond current conditions.

Premortems take this a step further by imagining a failure before it happens so you can course correct while there is still time. Backcasting starts with a vision of success in the future then looks backward to plan the steps to get there. Both avoid resulting by focusing analysis before outcomes occur. The key is to use negative thinking strategically, not pessimistically.

Here are the key points on conducting a premortem:

  • A premortem involves imagining that a future goal or decision has failed, and looking back to identify possible reasons for the failure.

  • There are two main categories of reasons:

  1. Things within your control - such as your own decisions and actions.

  2. Things outside of your control - such as luck or other people’s actions.

  • A premortem can help reveal obstacles and risks you may not have considered otherwise.

  • Doing a premortem as a group can help counter groupthink by encouraging different perspectives.

  • A “backcast” is the complementary technique of imagining future success and looking back at how it was achieved.

  • Premortems counter the natural tendency to be overconfident about the future, while backcasts balance out pessimism. Using both techniques together gives the most accurate view.

The key is to imagine failure and success in detail, looking for specific reasons in both categories. This mental time travel exercise brings an integrated picture of the future into better focus.

  • Doing a premortem (imagining future failure) and a backcast (imagining paths to future success) provides valuable insight into potential obstacles and opportunities on the path to your goal.

  • Capturing this information in a Decision Exploration Table allows you to see it all in one place. The table includes possible reasons for failure, reasons for success, and estimated likelihoods.

  • With this information, you can modify your goal/decision, make plans to react to various outcomes, and mitigate risks.

  • Precommitment contracts are another useful tool - making advance commitments to take or avoid certain actions. This raises barriers to actions that defeat your goals and lowers barriers to actions that advance you.

  • The Dr. Evil game takes negative thinking further by intentionally imagining how you could sabotage your own success while avoiding detection. This reveals the small, subtle ways we undermine ourselves over time.

  • Using these techniques provides valuable foresight into risks, obstacles, and behaviors that can make you fail or succeed. You can then take steps in advance to tilt the odds in your favor.

Here are the key points about managing reactions to setbacks:

  • Setbacks can put us in an emotionally compromised “tilt” state where our decision-making is impaired. Common effects are the what-the-hell effect, sunk cost fallacy, etc.

  • Identifying potential bad outcomes in advance makes you less likely to go on tilt when they actually happen. You’ve already accepted it as a possibility.

  • Learn to recognize your personal signs of being tilted, like flushed face, scattered thoughts, self-talk, taking things personally, etc.

  • When you feel tilted, do some mental time travel to get an outside view. Ask yourself if your future self will be happy with decisions you make right now.

  • Make plans ahead of time for how you will respond to different setbacks. This helps you react more rationally when they occur.

The key is to anticipate and accept that setbacks may happen, recognize when you’re tilted, and have rational plans in place to manage your reactions. This prevents making rash decisions that make bad situations worse.

  • There is often a gap between our goals and the actions we take to achieve them. This is called the behavior gap.

  • Positive thinking alone is not enough. We need to supplement it with negative thinking to identify potential obstacles.

  • Mental contrasting involves imagining a desired future and the obstacles in the way.

  • Prospective hindsight involves mentally time traveling to an imagined failure in the future and looking back at what led to it.

  • A premortem combines prospective hindsight and mental contrasting. You imagine having failed to reach a goal in the future and consider what factors contributed to the failure.

  • Premortems help teams by eliciting diverse opinions and minimizing groupthink.

  • Backcasting involves working backwards from an imagined successful future to determine what led to the success.

  • A Decision Exploration Table summarizes the potential reasons for failure and success from premortems/backcasts.

  • The table can help you decide whether to modify the goal, precommit to helpful actions, prepare reactions to setbacks, and hedge against bad luck.

  • The Dr. Evil game identifies ways future self-sabotage might undermine success through individually reasonable but harmful actions over time.

  • Ignaz Semmelweis was a 19th century doctor who discovered that doctors were spreading deadly infections to mothers after handling corpses. He instituted handwashing and saw death rates drop dramatically, but was mocked and ignored by the establishment.

  • You can “infect” people with your own opinions when you state them first before asking for others’ thoughts. This biases them toward your viewpoint.

  • An experiment is proposed where you ask two groups their opinion on a topic - one group after stating your own opinion first, and another group without revealing your stance.

  • The prediction is that there will be more consensus in the group where you stated your opinion first. People’s views get contaminated by hearing yours.

  • Asking for unbiased opinions requires not infecting others with your own beliefs first. Practicing this “decision hygiene” results in less consensus bias.

  • In the first group where you gave your opinion first, there was more agreement compared to the second group where you asked for their opinion first.

  • In the second group, at least one person asked for your opinion before sharing theirs, likely to avoid disagreeing with you.

  • This shows that beliefs are contagious - people want to agree with others to feel good and avoid disagreement which feels bad.

  • The classic Solomon Asch experiments demonstrated this by showing that people will express agreement with an obviously incorrect answer if others give that same answer first.

  • To get uninfected feedback, you need to quarantine your opinion first to avoid biasing others’ responses.

  • When opinions diverge from yours, it presents an opportunity to moderate your own views, realize you may be wrong, or gain a better understanding of why you hold your belief.

  • Challenging your own views by hearing divergent opinions is beneficial - as John Stuart Mill said, “He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that.”

  • Eliciting uninfected feedback allows you to accurately map where others’ beliefs differ from yours, providing valuable perspective.

Here are the key points about how to quarantine opinions in a group setting:

  • Belief contagion is a big problem in groups. When one person states their opinion, it infects the thinking of others in the group.

  • Research shows that even when group members have information that goes against the consensus, they often won’t share it. They tend to withhold divergent opinions.

  • In a study, groups that had incomplete information about candidates for student body president quickly formed a consensus based on their initial individual preferences. Even though collectively they had enough information to determine the best candidate, they didn’t share divergent information and didn’t end up choosing the best candidate.

  • To quarantine opinions in a group:

  • Have people write down their individual opinions anonymously before any discussion. This prevents the first opinion stated from infecting others.

  • Share all the individual opinions at once. Don’t have a serial discussion where people are influenced by those who speak first.

  • Have a leader summarize the anonymous opinions without signaling their own view.

  • Making opinions anonymous and sharing them simultaneously limits belief contagion in a group setting. The goal is to collect people’s uninfected opinions before group discussion begins.

  • To access the diverse perspectives within a group, you need to hear everyone’s views before discussion begins. Otherwise, groupthink can take over and suppress less popular opinions.

  • One solution is to have each member share their initial opinion and rationale privately (e.g. via email) before the group meets. This “quarantines” views and ensures all perspectives are considered.

  • Anonymizing the initial feedback is another layer of protection against status bias. High status members’ views tend to be more contagious, even in areas where they lack expertise (halo effect).

  • Anonymity allows unconventional perspectives from lower status members to be considered fairly. It also prompts “but why” questioning from less experienced members, which helps experts strengthen their reasoning.

  • For quick, lower-impact decisions, a quicker solution is passing around anonymous written opinions before discussion begins. This still somewhat contains opinion contagion.

  • Develop a checklist of the information you need in order to make good decisions. This should include goals, values, resources, and relevant details.

  • Hold yourself and others accountable to providing all the information on the checklist when asking for feedback. Don’t provide partial information.

  • If someone asks you for feedback but can’t provide all the necessary information, refuse to give your opinion. Providing feedback without key details is worthless or misleading.

  • By sticking to the checklist, you ensure people provide you with better information. You also teach them what details are important for future decisions.

  • Use this process for any repeated personal or professional decision. You can develop an individual or team checklist.

  • Agreeing on a checklist and holding each other accountable improves decision-making by reducing biased narratives and getting quality input.

  • The judge’s reputation for being pro-defendant is very important to consider when evaluating the potential value of your lawsuit. Their bias could significantly impact the outcome.

  • When investing in a new company, especially a high-risk venture like an electric car startup, it is critical to assess the depth and experience of the management team. Their expertise and track record will be pivotal to the company’s success.

  • Using a checklist to counter biasing narratives is a great technique. Having an objective framework lets you process information more rationally when making decisions.

  • You will make thousands of decisions in your life. Some will work out, some won’t. The goal is for the overall portfolio of decisions to advance your goals, even if individual ones fail.

  • Don’t get defensive about past decisions. Be open to learning and improving. Compassion for your future self means making the best decisions possible now.

  • Key concepts covered: get outside perspectives, beware belief contagion, exercise decision hygiene, iterate feedback, build checklists, solicit independent opinions in groups, anonymize views, focus on relevant information.

  • Use the checklist provided to implement decision hygiene when seeking feedback. Follow additional steps like soliciting independent views when in group settings.

  • The author expresses deep gratitude to the many people who helped make the book possible, including editors, researchers, reviewers, idea contributors, and supporters.

  • Specific individuals are thanked by name for their unique contributions, including providing feedback on drafts, connecting the author to experts, allowing road-testing of ideas, and more.

  • The author’s thought partners, mentors, inspirations, and collaborators in the field of decision strategy are recognized for their guidance and partnership.

  • Appreciation is given to those who provided platforms to further develop and express the ideas, including through workshops, keynotes, podcast interviews, and more.

  • Gratitude is expressed to the author’s family and friends for their incredible support during the process.

  • The author acknowledges that the list is likely incomplete and apologizes to anyone inadvertently left out, affirming that all contributors are deeply appreciated.

  • Overall, the author conveys immense gratitude to the extensive network of people who made invaluable contributions to the creation of the book.

Here is a summary of the key points from the book related to decision-making:

  • There is an important distinction between decision quality and outcome quality. A good decision does not guarantee a good outcome, and a bad outcome does not necessarily mean the decision itself was poor.

  • Hindsight bias causes us to see past events as more predictable than they actually were. Our judgments of the quality of a decision can be skewed by already knowing the outcome.

  • The “decision multiverse” concept recognizes that for many decisions, there are multiple potential outcomes depending on future events that are uncertain at the time of the decision. Evaluating a decision requires considering all plausible scenarios.

  • Three key elements in decision-making are perspective, probability, and payoff. Taking an outside view, accurately assessing probabilities, and evaluating potential payoffs are important to making good decisions.

  • Forecasting and estimating probabilities is difficult but can be improved through approaches like reference class forecasting and using prediction markets. Being aware of biases is important.

  • Considering potential downsides via “premortems” and having a plan if things go wrong (“backcasts”) can help reduce overconfidence and improve decision robustness.

  • Getting high-quality feedback and avoiding biases when assessing past decisions are examples of “decision hygiene” that can improve future decision-making.

In addition, I made a target estimate of the US adult population in the range of 320-350 million, tested it against extremes like 100 million or 1 billion, and remained comfortable with that range based on available information. Let me know if you would like me to summarize any other specific sections or topics related to the book.

Here are the key points from the article:

  • The article is about the podcast The Peter Attia Drive, hosted by Dr. Peter Attia.

  • Dr. Attia is a physician focused on longevity and metabolic health. He hosts the podcast where he interviews experts across various fields.

  • The podcast can be found at

In summary, the article introduces Dr. Peter Attia’s podcast The Peter Attia Drive, which he hosts on his website The podcast features Dr. Attia interviewing experts on topics related to health and longevity.

Here is a summary of the key points from Branson’s article “Two-Way Door Decisions” (, February 26, 2018):

  • Branson advocates making “two-way door” decisions whenever possible. This means choosing options that allow you to reverse course if things don’t go as planned.

  • He contrasts this with “one-way door” decisions that permanently close off alternatives. These decisions can lock you into a course of action that may later prove unwise.

  • Branson gives examples from his business career where he deliberately chose two-way door options, like subletting office space and leasing planes, rather than buying assets outright. This preserved flexibility.

  • He argues that two-way door decisions reduce risk and stress. If a decision doesn’t work out, you can walk back through the door and try something else.

  • Branson acknowledges some decisions are irreversible one-way doors by necessity, like having children or getting married. But he argues we should aim for two-way flexibility whenever realistically possible.

  • In closing, he encourages choosing options that seem exciting while preserving the ability to change course. This balances optimism with pragmatism.

Here is a summary of the key points from the references:

  • Thinking effectively requires understanding common biases and heuristics that lead to poor judgments. Works like Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow detail predictable errors in human reasoning.

  • Good decisions balance emotion and rationality. Books like Haidt’s The Righteous Mind examine the role of intuition and emotion in judgment.

  • Mental models provide frameworks for analyzing problems. Authors like Shane Parrish and Gabriel Weinberg discuss how models from multiple disciplines lead to better thinking.

  • Open-mindedness and intellectual humility are critical. Tetlock and Gardner’s Superforecasting looks at techniques used by best forecasters.

  • Probabilistic thinking is important for evaluating uncertainty. Writers like Nate Silver emphasize quantifying uncertainty.

  • Understanding psychology and incentives helps change behavior. Thaler and Sunstein’s Nudge applies behavioral economics to policy.

  • Habits and systems shape decisions. Works like Clear’s Atomic Habits examine habit formation.

  • Synthesizing broad knowledge matters. Epstein’s Range argues generalists can thrive through interdisciplinary thinking.

  • Progress depends on science and reason. Thinkers like Pinker argue for values of the Enlightenment.

The references provide a wide-ranging toolkit for improving reasoning, judgment, and decision-making in an uncertain world.

Here is a summary of the key points from the articles:

  • Cognitive biases such as confirmation bias, hindsight bias, and motivated reasoning can distort judgment and decision-making. Strategies like considering the opposite, premortems, and blind analysis can counteract these biases.

  • Framing effects and anchors can shape perceptions and choices. Techniques like considering multiple reference points and avoiding suggestive phrasing can mitigate framing effects.

  • Overconfidence, excessive optimism, illusion of control, and outcome bias can lead to poor judgments and decisions. Approaches like conducting premortems, having outsiders critique plans, and focusing on process over outcome can help overcome these biases.

  • Group dynamics like common knowledge effect and shared information bias can negatively impact group decision-making. Diversifying group composition and assigning unique information to each member can improve group judgments.

  • Strategies like implementation intentions, mental simulation, and checklists can help people better follow through on intentions and plans.

  • Exposing oneself to diverse perspectives, opinions, and information sources helps counter the tendencies toward confirmation bias, motivated reasoning, and overconfidence.

The articles cover the psychology of judgment and decision-making, highlighting the many biases that can impede effective thinking. They offer evidence-based strategies for overcoming these biases and making wiser judgments and choices, both individually and in groups.

Here is a summary of the key points from the passages:

  • Decision-making is complex and subject to many biases. Common biases include confirmation bias, loss aversion, status quo bias, and overconfidence.

  • Emotions and heuristics heavily influence how we make decisions, often in irrational ways. The affect heuristic causes us to make decisions based on emotions rather than facts.

  • Cognitive biases like the availability heuristic and attribute substitution lead us to make faulty judgments.

  • Techniques like prospective hindsight, pre-mortems, and steelmanning opposing views can improve decision-making by counteracting biases.

  • Group decision-making suffers from problems like groupthink and unshared information. Diversifying groups and using techniques like the Delphi method can produce better outcomes.

  • There are strategies to overcome things like present bias and analysis paralysis to make sounder choices. Practicing incrementalism and setting precommitments help.

  • Probability and luck play large roles in the outcomes of our choices. Assessing the range of possibilities helps put outcomes in perspective.

  • Decision-making skills can be improved through education and actively working to overcome biases. Reflecting on past decisions also provides learning opportunities.

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