How Can You Make Decisions The Most Effectively?

Has it ever happened to you that you needed to make an important decision in your life, and you had a gut feeling of what you thought you needed to do, but you didn’t felt so sure about your decision, so you asked for advice, then followed the advice, fucked up, only to discover afterwards that your gut decision was the best decision you could’ve taken in the first place? 

You’re not alone, it’s painfully common. 

Most of the time, when you look for advice in this way, is because you do not trust yourself enough. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are, in fact, many cases where following the advice from an expert, say, a doctor, is the best thing you could do. But almost always this is never the case. Almost always the best advisor for what you should do is yourself. 

This is because no one is living your life as you are living it. It’s impossible for another person to know every tiny matter that might affect your decision, they only know their side of the game. 

It is therefore logically incoherent to blindly follow advice from anyone but yourself. 

But at the same time, you still want to make sure you’re making the best decisions, right? I mean, that why you ask for advice for the first time. 

How can you make decisions the most effectively?

Living According To Nature

I always felt this proposition from Stoicism a bit weird. What exactly does living according to nature mean? 

“You desire to LIVE “according to Nature”? Oh, you noble Stoics, what fraud of words! Imagine to yourselves a being like Nature, boundlessly extravagant, boundlessly indifferent, without purpose or consideration, without pity or justice, at once fruitful and barren and uncertain: imagine to yourselves INDIFFERENCE as a power — how COULD you live in accordance with such indifference? To live — is not that just endeavouring to be otherwise than this Nature? Is not living valuing, preferring, being unjust, being limited, endeavouring to be different? And granted that your imperative, “living according to Nature,” means actually the same as “living according to life” — how could you do DIFFERENTLY? — Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

Ouch! Haha, you can see now why I found this living according to nature thing a bit weird. But, it is not so when you think about it, so let’s think about it. 

Remember, we are still trying to figure out how to make the best decisions. 

Nietzsche asks: How could you possibly not live according to life? And he’s right. You can’t. The modern Stoic definition for living according to nature is best described by Lawrence C. Baker in his great book A New Stoicism, and it says:

“Following nature means following the facts. It means getting the facts about the physical and social world we inhabit, and the facts about our situation in it — our own powers, relationships, limitations, possibilities, motives, intentions, and endeavors — before we deliberate about normative matters. It means facing those facts — accepting them for exactly what they are, no more and no less — before we draw normative conclusions from them. It means doing ethics from the facts — constructing normative propositions a posteriori. It means adjusting those normative propositions to fit changes in the facts, and accepting those adjustments for exactly what they are, no more and no less. And it means living within the facts — within the realm of actual rather than hypothetical norms.”
Lawrence C. Becker, A New Stoicism

Nietzsche is right, it is impossible to live something different to life, life is all there is. But what living according to nature to the stoics is, is to live as close to the facts as you possibly can. It means to accept the facts about your situation first for what they are, no more no less, and then develop a normative conclusion from it afterwards. In other words, you face the facts about your situation so you can come as close as you can to the reality of your situation and from there, make a decision. 

It means living within the facts — within the realm of actual rather than hypothetical norms.

This is what having a cool head means as well.

Living according to nature is to approach your life scientifically. You are going to make mistakes, but you will take those mistakes into account so that in the future you can adjust your decision making for the better. The best thing you can do is to deal with facts and not with what you’d like or what one person says might happen. You want to live as close to reality as possible. 

To conclude 

You are the only person living your life, so don’t expect better answers, ultimately, from anyone but yourself. 

The most precise way with which you can make decisions is to live according to nature. That is, live as close as you can to the facts about your situation, and from that point make your decisions. Your situation does not have to be pretty, it doesn’t have to be terrible either. It is what it is. Courage is needed to accept things as they are, but once this is done, you’ll be better off and better prepared for anything that comes at you. 

Bring it on is a good phrase for everything. 

Thanks for reading, 

Ricardo Guaderrama 

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You Are Not Using Your Most Important Asset

“Television, radio, and all the sources of amusement and information that surround us in our daily lives are also artificial props. They can give us the impression that our minds are active, because we are required to react to stimuli from the outside. But the power of those external stimuli to keep us going is limited. They are like drugs. We grow used to them, and we continuously need more and more of them. Eventually, they have little or no effect. Then, if we lack resources within ourselves, we cease to grow intellectually, morally, and spiritually. And we we cease to grow, we begin to die.”
Mortimer J. Adler

The Brain

The most important asset you possess is your capacity to think, to act rationally. You may think that you are always thinking, but just because you can hear your brain giving opinions about absolutely everything all the time, doesn’t mean that you are actually thinking in the sense that I mean here. 

I mean thinking to solve problems and to answer important questions about your life. Questions such as: What the hell am I going to do with the coming recession? Or, how can I earn more money? Or, how can I find out what I actually want to do with my life?

The headline from this blog post may seem like an insult to you. What?! You’re telling me that I’m not thinking?! That I’m a brainless potato?! 

And for that my friend I will have to say, yes. 

Day to day life

Daily life requires a lot of thinking, of course. When you are working, for example, even if you don’t notice it, you are constantly asking and answering (at least unconsciously) questions about how to get something done. Your brain is on a type of HOW mode. That is why, if you work on a computer the entire day, at the end of the day, you’ll be very, very tired. And that is because you were using your brain to answer questions. 

Anything you ask to your brain, it will come with an answer. Answering some questions is harder than answering other questions. 4*4? 16, easy, 45465412354 * 4561321561, not so easy, right? 

 When your brain is working it constantly tells you where to go next or what to do next and so on. 

Now. The problem is that, most of the time, we only use our brains for work, or to get us out of immediate trouble, but almost never in a conscious manner to mold and to give direction to our lives. 

I got this idea from Mortimer Adler’s great book, How To Read A Book. The main lesson from the book is that, if you want to get the most out of a book, you need to ask questions as you read it. You need to ask questions to really comprehend what is being talked about and understand it fully. 

I tried reading other books in this way and he is right. In the past, whenever I read a book, I just read it without really asking me anything, just kind of surfing through it until I got to the end with maybe one solid idea in my mind. But if you were to ask me about what the whole book was about, I couldn’t provide you with a satisfactory answer, just a half baked answer to what I just read. 

Ask questions

As with books, so it is with life. Your most important asset is your rationality, your rationality is nothing more than asking questions in your head and then wait for the magic. Think about it. How utterly and unbelievably amazing is that, if you ask yourself a question, an answer will spring from nowhere and into existence within your brain. The workings of our minds are truly incredible. 

We all have problems that we need to solve. Having problems is not bad, it’s just the way life is, and the quality of our problems, it is said, determines the quality of our lives. 

“What would have become of Hercules do you think if there had been no lion, hydra, stag or boar — and no savage criminals to rid the world of? What would he have done in the absence of such challenges?

Obviously he would have just rolled over in bed and gone back to sleep. So by snoring his life away in luxury and comfort he never would have developed into the mighty Hercules.

And even if he had, what good would it have done him? What would have been the use of those arms, that physique, and that noble soul, without crises or conditions to stir into him action?”

― Epictetus, The Discourses

How to use it right

As I said before, most likely you are currently using your brain to solve the immediate problems of life. Like work and keeping you and your family up and running in the world. 

But! Life is not just that, life can be really damn fun, and it should be. I’m sure you have other things you’d wish to do or to be as well, just for the fun of it. And for that, exactly for doing that, is why you need to sit down and ask better questions. 

Your head is going to be on idle chatter endlessly unless you direct it somewhere with a question. When you are reading a book, for example, you constantly ask yourself, what is he trying to tell me up until now. And you think about it until you can provide an answer yourself. Only then will you know that you truly understand it. 

“The person who says he knows what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks.”
Mortimer J. Adler

I recommend to sit down with a notebook and think about your problem. Which can be whatever, and then formulate a proper question that, if answered, would solve the problem. It doesn’t have to be just one question, of course, there can be as much as the complexity of the solution requires. 

But what happens when you ask the correct question, is that you begin to form a path that will eventually get you to the solution and to better, more complex problems as well. 

Ask questions and follow the path of your answers. I’ll end this post with this jewel. 

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”
Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Subscribe and receive the Askesis ebook to further develop your practice of stoicism. 
Connect with Stoic Answers

Special thanks to my Patreons:
Edward Hackett
Michael Thelen
Melville Alexander

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