64 - The very powerful decision-hygiene habit of time travel



There’s a basic but powerful decision hygiene habit that few of us practice: time travel. It may sound outlandish, something you thought only happened in sci-fi dramas. It’s anything but.

Uncertainty is what makes decision-making a skill. Anticipating the future means reducing uncertainty. How can we anticipate the future while living in the present? Most of us make predictions. But we’ve got a shitty record at that. No one predicted anything of consequence–from electricity to elevators to covid–or how human life would change. A better solution, as Annie Duke, author of _Thinking in Bets _says, is not to get caught up in our heads. It is to travel across time.

Let me explain.

What if we can imagine an ideal future, place ourselves in it, and look back at the path that got us there? Positive visualization, but from the future all the way back to the present. This approach is known as backcasting.

And now let’s add another dimension to our time travel: negative visualization. The worst-case scenario. Why just hope that we avoid the worst? Why not plan for it? Negative visualization prepares us for the obstacles we’ll inevitably meet along the way. There are two approaches that meet this brief: mental contrasting and premortems.

And finally, and this is the last tool in the time travel toolbox, how about we imagine the _unseen _problems and opportunities created by every action we take? Everyone can see the immediate consequences. When everyone has thought the job’s done, how about we ask “And then what?” This is second-order thinking.

We’re all used to thinking forward and thinking positive. Scenario planning, forecasting, future mapping–all the ways you look at the future speaks to that. So why change?

I believe you should not change your forward-thinking and positive-thinking ways one bit. You should ignore this advice IF:

  • You’re certain about your prediction about the future
  • You’re certain that present trends are laws of nature and will continue
  • You’re certain any uncertainty about the future is well within your threshold
  • You’re certain the cost of a wrong prediction is affordable
  • You’re certain you can course-correct if the situation deviates from your predicted model

But if you’re curious to know how to reduce uncertainty and regret; how to be prepared for multiple futures, not just one; and how long-term change doesn’t sit well with predictions, then learning to do time travel for better decision-making may just be the thing for you. There’s a fat chance you’ll love it.

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