French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre described life as being “C between B and D” — C as in the Choices we make between B-Birth and D-Death.
There are several proposed mental models that may help optimize for Choice and by extension life. Here are a few:
- Jeff Bezos’ Regret Minimization Framework (RMF if you are keen on acronyms): imagining if you will regret not doing something in X years. And if the answer yes, the framework dictates that you should do it.
- Friedrich Nietzsche’s ‘Eternal recurrence’: imagining that you will have to live the life you are currently living on repeat for eternity, and then making the choices you think will create a life worthy of playing on repeat (like a good song).
- The Stoic mindset of Memento Mori (Latin for ‘remember that you will die’) which Steve Jobs described best in his 2005 Stanford commencement speech:
“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living in with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
Optimizing choice is not the same as perfecting it — even if these frameworks help us make what feels like better decisions, we will invariably take actions that lead to an unfolding of events that we are not immediately fond of.
But here’s a bit of helpful insight: when such perturbing events do happen, we can make yet another choice to reconstitute our reaction to them:
A prototype that fails to met spec can turn into an opportunity to learn.
A team on the verge of burning out can turn into an opportunity to build a better and more resilient culture.
The negative response you initially find yourself invoking can turn into an opportunity to mindfully observe harmful emotions fade away which can then make space for you to respond more productively.
As you go about your day, remember that you have the ability to turn the dials on how you act and how you respond in a way that is helpful for the life you are living, the people around you, and the people that you aim to serve.