Saul’s Laws:* #4. Binary Decision Making

Saturday, August 29, 2009
*See the Preface to the “Saul’s Laws” page at the WordFeeder.

Some of Saul’s Laws are technical, like this one.

We are a people with way too many choices. Making the routine decisions of our lives has become too time-consuming and the source of petty, but sometimes major stress we really don’t need. Whether you’re trying to pick out a color to repaint your bedroom, choose the perfect new cell phone or figure out which one of the girls in your dorm you should ask out first, we’ve all had the problem of picking “the one” out of many.

Whenever possible, reduce all decisions to choices between just two alternatives. This is Saul’s Law of Binary Decision Making. It’s a simple trick. Try it. It works. What the law forces you to do is organize your thinking. Rather than seeing all the options in front of you as a single blob that’s starting to make your head hurt, Binary Decision Making steps you through the process of quickly reducing your options to the point of choosing between or among the last two or three.

Whenever you need to choose from among a number of things, start by discarding the one you like least, or that you know you like less than at least one of the others, and then work your way up to the two or three you like most, eliminating the least attractive alternatives as you go

If you’re facing three alternatives, and are having trouble deciding among them, pair them off. Look for a pair with one alternative you prefer over the other and eliminate that one, the one you like less. Then work on the two that are left.

The first couple of times you do this, it may seem time consuming. Be patient. It’s an illusion that will go away with experience. Not only will complicated, multiple choice decisions be less stressful, the results will more accurately represent your preferences because you’re not rushing your decision or avoiding having to think it through by just picking something to get it over with.

Go ahead. Two at a time. You’ll thank me in the morning.


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