21st Century Decision Fatigue

Humans are extremely good decision makers in the scheme of things. We’re able, with the proper training and time, to see the world from the high-ground.

Observe our environment, make a call and take action.

If you’re going to be a great decision maker you need to be able to see the high-ground and seeing the high-ground takes patience, the space to think and time.

In the 21st century we all have next to none of these things and it’s by choice. We’re inundated with so many systems that are working to steal our attention. They don’t remind you before usage that this is a non-renewable resource. There isn’t a push notification that tells you of their true intentions. They don’t tell you that the only metric for success is how much time you spend on site and they don’t tell you it’s free because you’re the product.

If you think Mark Zuckerberg cares about the breadth and depth of your relationships you’ve been Zucked.

Perhaps the antidote is to limit our decisions. Don’t choose between 90 podcasts, choose between 10. Don’t debate with yourself about waking up at 5:45am or 6:00am. Don’t worry about everything, but see it for what it is: a series of next-best-decisions on the road to wherever you’re going. Just make the next-best-decision.

The only way to survive the 21st century is to limit decision fatigue and understand that in the moment you really only have 2-4 decisions worth making: don’t do it, do it, do nothing or do something totally different. Even within those options there are likely only 2 good ones for any given event in life.

So how to know what is truly important in a sea of smart, young people making 6-figures that are trying to steal our attention? It’s not processing power alone.

In 1997 a supercomputer birthed by IBM called Deep Blue beat the reigning chess champion, Gary Kasparov. This was the official birth of the almighty algorithm.

The AI-Superpower era was fascinating to watch in the beginning because beating Kasparov was not processing power alone. Yes, Deep Blue could make millions of calculations per second but the vast majority of those possible moves in any given chess situation are completely useless.

To be human is to know what is important in the moment and what is not. If you’re staring down the barrel of check-mate, moving your furthest pawn to the left is an option but it’s not one of your 2-4 next-best-decisions so forget about it immediately.

That’s what we don’t understand about being human: chess algorithms like Deep Blue could process all of the possible moves in chess easily, that’s just horsepower. But understanding what is important within that data is next level and we humans have seemingly been born with that ability.

Google has the current gold-standard of machine learning in games with AlphaZero and it has processing power coupled with incredibly good learning software. A0 is frequently matched with opponents who far outweigh it in terms of raw power but it’s ability to think and learn makes it the King of Games.

In the 21st century avoiding decision fatigue and a brain explosion means knowing what’s important. We need to know how to process and then cut until we find the smallest number of possible next-best-decisions.

Identify them, relax, make a call, move on.