“It was a tough choice, but I’ve finally decided — so why don’t I feel any resolution?”

Finally making a big decision should bring peace of mind, but it often doesn’t, and that is true for two reasons:

First, with big decisions, there is little immediate feedback about how well you chose. Bet on red at the roulette table, and you find out how you did in less than a minute. Take a test, and you get the results within a week. But decide to move to a new home, stay with your partner after all, put your kids in private school, take that new job — it may be years before you know whether you made the right choice.

Second, as soon as you decide, you’re immediately strapped with two negatives — you’re forced to assume all the costs associated with the option you’ve chosen, and you say good-bye to all the benefits of the options you didn’t take: You miss your old home. You have to get used to your partner’s bad habits all over again. You have to pay the private school bill. You get wistful at your old job’s going-away party.

Mind Readers Dictionary: The Podfast : Play in Popup

Mind Readers Dictionary : Play in Popup


No wonder so many decisive acts carry with them a bit of buyer’s remorse. No wonder, even after deciding what to do, we can be thrown right back into doubt. And no wonder we try to get over the two negatives by trivializing them: The old house was a dump. The new one is perfect.

I have argued that, as a rule, after you’ve made a tough decision, it’s best to muster your powers of persuasion to convince all involved — especially yourself — that you made the right choice.

When deciding, be doubtful, but once you’ve decided, spin your decision as the clear and obvious choice. That’s the Spin Doctor’s Hippocratic Oath.

Convincing yourself that you made the right choice helps you move forward with conviction. Conviction can serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy, actually increasing the likelihood that your choice will pay off.

Moreover, it sets you up for an easy landing if your choice flops. When things don’t work out, there’s no better consolation than knowing you made a thorough effort. It frees you from regret. It enables you to make your next choices with a clear mind.

Still, there’s a risk of overdoing the Spin Doctor’s Hippocratic Oath. Some people are so good at convincing themselves they bet well that they forget it was only a bet. They erase all memory of doubt as they move forward. In the process, they burn the best bridge back to reasoned reassessment.

Weighing the pros and cons of options A and B is an investment in research. If, after you’ve chosen A, you discard your list of reasons for B and against A, you’re throwing away valuable research. Those lists are your best source of guidance about when to reassess and what’s most likely to be worth reassessing.

Doubt is like the smoke alarm that wakes you if your bet is about to go up in flames. If your alarm is too sensitive, your focus is dissipated by the distraction of constant reassessment. That’s why you should spin your bet as a good one. But you don’t want to disconnect the smoke alarm. Rather, you want to calibrate it well.

Really, the question is what kind of residual doubt to harbor after you’ve placed your bet. You don’t want to harbor a juggernaut of a battleship, massive and unstoppable as it crashes through your convictions. Nor do you want to harbor a submarine that surfaces every time you are reminded of the negatives your choice entailed.

All you really want to harbor is a wee dinghy of doubt, a little 1 percent reserve of doubt, a lifeboat for the rockiest seas.

Harboring a dinghy of doubt gives you a bet marker, a little reminder that you did investigate before betting. This reminder prevents discouraging news from throwing you into a free fall of self doubt. Instead of saying, “Uh-oh, how did I stumble into this mess? I must not have been paying attention,” you’ll say, “Oh, yeah, I knew there might be news like this.”

So, here’s a refinement to the Spin Doctor’s Hippocratic Oath: Once you’ve made your decision, spin your choices so you end up 99 percent confident and 1 percent doubtful. Tuck all your doubts into the little one percent dinghy. When discouraging news strikes, go visit your dinghy where you’ve docked it. Rifling through the stuff you tucked into it, you’ll likely find representatives of the very doubts that are triggered by the discouraging news. Pick them up, look at them again, tuck them back into the dinghy, and return to your convictions confident that if and when the time comes for a full-scale reassessment, you already have a safe and tidy inventory of useful doubts on deck.