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Make Better Decisions

Updated: Dec 22, 2022

Introduction

The most important task for an individual is to know what is and what is not within their control. In fact the first main writings on this go back to the early Roman Empire from Epictetus, the philosopher slave who became one of the chief advisors to Marcus Aurelius, who many consider the father of the Philosophy of Stoicism.

“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control.” — Epictetus

Common Human Tendencies

There are typically two types of human tendencies when we are faced with a decision, usually a fear of failure or not being enough, or being unable to accomplish the action necessary once the decision is made. Or, there is the an ego-driven false sense of ability which tells us that we can take an action that will affect the outcome in our favor not matter what. Both will lead typically to unwise action or lack of action.

The first question we face is, can we do anything about the situation at all? Do we have any type of control over the outcome or the circumstance?


Techniques From Stoicism

The concept of Dichotomy of Control (DOC) from Stoic philosophy is the understanding of what is and what is not within our control, and it is one of the most important tenets laid out in Stoicism.

Many add a third element to this dichotomy. For in fact, life is not black or white. We do not have control or not have control is the argument. This third possibility is that we have SOME control or ability to influence outcomes.

Life is not about absolutes, but always degrees. Our actions or lack of action have consequence to some degree. This is considered the Trichotomy of Control (TOC) in some Stoic thinking as espoused by William Irvine, in his book “A Guide to A Good Life”.

How We Frame Things


However, this opens up a large can of worms to define the “extent to which” we have partial control over. Therefore, the most simple way to frame things is we only have control over ourselves. Period.

For example, we cannot control whether it rains. But we can control how we respond to the rain. Some may become gloomy or grumpy because they will have to do more work to drive to work and put on another layer of clothing. Then rain becomes a negative thing in their life at the moment.

Some, may frame it as an opportunity to try on a new outfit and get an earlier start to the day to account for the additional rain delays. Then rain becomes something positive.

This is the key. How you frame the situation and how you respond. These are the ONLY things about rain that you can control.

The same goes for any other situation you will encounter.


Spiritual Perspective

Many religious institutions and self-help programs have a common prayer termed the Serenity Prayer. This prayer is attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, a theologian, author from the 1930’s.

The original text from Niebuhr reads:

"Father, give us courage to change what must be altered,

serenity to accept what cannot be helped,

and the insight to know the one from the other."

The most popular version, the authorship of which is unknown, reads:

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference.”


You Can Only Control Yourself


This is a simple way to frame it. You FRAME IT INTERNALLY. It also makes it a personal binary action either accept a thing or change a thing. Your response is the only thing you control. You accept it or you choose to change it. It requires you to make a decision that is binary. Accept a thing as it is and do not try to change it. Or believe that you can change it and make a decision to take action in order to do so.


So the Balance Filter is simply a process of determining on a visual scale how to go about determining the choice to take action or not take action based on a decision you need to make.


In this diagram the filter is laid out as a scale with one end being accepting a thing and the other as taking action to change a thing. The fulcrum of the scale, and this is literally the crux of the matter is the wisdom to know the difference.


Conclusion


So, when you are determining your choice:


  1. Frame it internally

  2. Don’t Rush if you don’t have to

  3. Respond don’t React

  4. Run your options by 3 people that you trust


It is that simple. So, keep the visual in your mind of the scale, use it as a mnemonic memory cue for you to add to your mental tools.