3 Ideas in 2 Minutes on Good Decision-Making
Mental Shotgun, Reversible and Irreversible Decisions & Decision Fatigue
I. Mental Shotgun
The mental shotgun illustrates our human tendency to assess the world around us continuously. We compute all the time, effortlessly and intuitively, though often more than needed. On the downside, this quick way of thinking lacks precision — like a shotgun.
The term was coined by psychologist Daniel Kahneman. He popularised the distinction between our fast and instinctive System 1 of thinking and the slow and logical System 2, which sets off the mental shotgun:
An intention of System 2 to answer a specific question or evaluate a particular attribute of the situation automatically triggers other computations, including basic assessments.
—Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow
To learn more, check out my essay about mental shortcuts and how they can be misapplied.
II. Reversible and Irreversible Decisions
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos on a useful distinction between two types of decisions.
Some decisions are consequential and irreversible or nearly irreversible — one-way doors — and these decisions must be made methodically, carefully, slowly, with great deliberation and consultation. If you walk through and don’t like what you see on the other side, you can’t get back to where you were before. We can call these Type 1 decisions.
But most decisions aren’t like that — they are changeable, reversible — they’re two-way doors. If you’ve made a suboptimal Type 2 decision, you don’t have to live with the consequences for that long. You can reopen the door and go back through. Type 2 decisions can and should be made quickly by high judgment individuals or small groups.
In case you’re interested, I’ve written more about decision-making advice and making recommendations.
III. Decision Fatigue
Sushi or sandwiches? Coffee or juice? Eat-in or take-away? The more decisions we make throughout the day, the lower our mental energy level drops. We get tired of picking and choosing as it depletes our self-regulatory resources.2 The quality of our decisions deteriorates.
Naturally, our mind tries to save energy. Either impulsively by taking mental shortcuts (“Sushi. Whatever…”) or by shutting down entirely and doing nothing (“No lunch for me, thanks.”) — with potential long-term consequences.3
Decision fatigue is also the reason why you see certain businesspeople wear the same outfits every day. Seems like reducing the number of trivial choices we have to make every day can be quite liberating. 🐘
Have a great week,
Vohs et al., Decision Fatigue Exhausts Self-Regulatory Resources