Steve Jobs’ Most Important Decision Making Tip


Our lives are defined by our decisions.  Try this thought experiment: consider your life as separate from the decisions you have made.  You can’t.  They are one in the same.

Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates and the author of the book Principles, put it eloquently:

“The quality of our lives depends on the quality of our decisions.”

If Dalio is right, and I believe he is, then the study of decision making should take up a much larger percentage of our education and schooling than it does.

Consider the typical subjects covered at school: mathematics, physics, biology, chemistry, economics, literature and philosophy.  Taken as a whole, these subjects give us a general understanding of the world and how it works, however, unless we also understand how to use the accumulation of this knowledge across all the disciplines in order to make a decision, what have we learned? 

It is the act of moving toward our goal or purpose in life that is truly valuable.  And the way we move forward is by making decisions.  What we’re really after is wisdom – the judgment to make the right choice.  We want to know what to do. Without judgment, how useful is all this knowledge really?

There are many tools we can apply to help us make better decisions, but for the purpose of this blog post I will focus on two:

Remembering You’ll Be Dead Soon

On the surface it sounds harsh and depressing, but when used appropriately it is positive and self-affirming. This technique has been around since the Stoic philosophers of ancient Greece, but it was perhaps best described by Steve Jobs in his 2005 Stanford Commencement Address:

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Steve Jobs 2005 Stanford Commencement Address

Decision Journaling

The Nobel-prize winning economist and author Daniel Kahneman was once asked, “what’s the one thing we can do to get better at decision making?” and his answer was, “Keep a decision journal.”

As you work through the decision process, write down the key elements of the decision; the ultimate goal or purpose of the decision, the options you considered, the people you consulted, the information sources, what was known, what was unknown, the risk factors, and your best estimate for the probability of success. 

This will prove invaluable when you revisit your decision later.  Once the outcome of the decision is known, it is very difficult to recreate your mindset at the time of the decision.

To improve your decision making cultivate a set of mental tools you can apply to your decision making.  As you invest in personal development, carve out time specifically for improving your decision making.  It’s a life-skill worthy of development.

If you are interested in developing decision making skills, we offer the Decision Mojo workshop that explores these topics and more.

About the Author

Sean P. Murray is an author, speaker and consultant in the areas of leadership development and talent management. Learn more at RealTime Performance.

Follow Me on Twitter: @seanpmurray111

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