72 - Tilt in decision-making and 3 ways to avoid it



Imagine a day where you open your inbox to a stinker. It’s the last one in, but there’s no doubt it has to be the first one out. You respond with a suitably charged email to refute the hideous allegations made against you. Thankfully though, from that point on, your day goes on to break even.

Now picture a day that starts off spectacularly. You’re acing it; you’re the star of the day if ever there was one. Until, just as you’re about to wrap up, there drops an absolute rotten one. What do you do? You respond pronto, of course. You need to have the last word.

How do you think you’re feeling as you drive back home? My bet is that you’re pretty good in the first case. The morning tornado has blown over. In the second case, though, the winds haven’t died. You’re still cross.

The average of your day is the same in both cases. Yet, you feel good in one and miserable in another. Why?

Our feelings are path-dependent. Where we end up is less important than how we got there. This is a key message from the book Thinking in Bets.

Knowledge workers in decision-making positions have to switch contexts and respond to high-pressure situations several times a day. They are in a constant battle to maintain perspective and manage emotions–a battle they sometimes lose. And over time, as these losses add up, they lead to stress for the decision-makers and those around them.

When we watch our inbox like a live scoreboard, we’re likely to respond to the smallest turn in the score. Because in the moment those changes appear far bigger, good or bad.

And when we start paying attention to those changes in the moment, we make it harder for ourselves to stay balanced. In poker, this is called tilt. A knowledge worker, manager, or leader is like a poker player who has to play tens and hundreds of hands every day. If they react poorly to one event, their reaction could easily bleed into the rest of their day until it is hard to snap out of it.

Here are three ways to avoid tilt in decision-making so that we don’t feel rotten at the end of the day. These practices range from the instantaneous to long-term.

1️⃣Precommit to walk away. Set a rule. For example, if I feel my breath quickening, I bring it down first before I do anything else.

2️⃣Practice time travel. Ask: If I make this decision, how will I feel 10 minutes from now? 10 days from now? 10 months from now?

3️⃣Form a buddy system. Form a group with others like you who want to improve their decision-making and have them assess the quality of your decisions.

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