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When you’re pondering whether to start a new project, quit your job or any other important decision you need to make, take out a piece of paper and start writing the answers to the following questions (it’s easier to get to the truth when you put it on paper, and writing by hand will force you to slow down your thinking):
1. What’s important to you?
Know what matters to you and say no to anything else that might distract you.
“When I die, if people say, ‘Man, he was an incredible entrepreneur’, but my kids are thinking, ‘He was a piece-of-shit dad’, then I failed. But if I lost everything, and my kids felt, He lost everything but he was still a good dad to us, then I succeeded.” (talent manager Scooter Braun)
“‘I don’t have time’ is just another way of saying, ‘it’s not a priority’. What you really have to do is say is it a priority or not. If something is your number one priority then you will get it. That’s just the way life works. If you’ve got a fuzzy basket of 10 or 15 different priorities, you’re going to end up getting none of them.” (Naval Ravikant, founder of AngelList)
“I immediately started to think about what I would miss most if it were taken away from me. Material stuff fell way down to the bottom of the list, and people and relationships rose to the top. So I wrote up how important my team is to me, how much I care about whom I hire, and how those people create the company that I get to work at every day. If they weren’t around, I wouldn’t want to be around, either.” (Jason Fried, co-founder of Basecamp)
2. What’s the worst thing that could happen?
Define your fears and envision them in the tiniest details – they’ll be more easy to handle.
How essential are those things? And how likely is it that they will really happen?
Also beware not to remain trapped in a comfortable zone:
“Most who avoid quitting their jobs entertain the thought that their course will improve with time or increases in income. This seems valid and is a tempting hallucination when a job is boring or uninspiring instead of pure hell. Pure hell forces action, but anything less can be endured with enough clever rationalization.” (Tim Ferriss)
3. What can you do to mitigate the risk?
Take those negative scenarios and think about everything’s that under your control in order to prevent them from happening. Also think about what you’ll do if they do happen – what steps can you take to repair the damage?
And don’t put everything you have in high-risk baskets – stay away from decisions that might have permanent impact. (do read Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Black Swan).
“If you can accept that you control only the effort that goes in and not the results which come out, you will be mastering your ego. All work leaves our hands at some point. Ego wants to control everything — but it cannot control other people or their reactions. Focus on your end of the equation, leave them to theirs.” (must-read: Ego is the Enemy, by Ryan Holiday)
4. Will this matter in 10 years?
Will you remember it? Will you regret (not) doing it? Try to put things in perspective.
And don’t fool yourself. Life is short.