Not all decisions matter.

Yet some decisions are critical — they change our lives. “Few things will change your trajectory in life as effectively as learning to make better decisions,’ argues Shane Parish.

We make 226.7 decisions each day on just food alone according to researchers at Cornell University. Don’t make a hundred decisions when you can make one smart one that can save your brain energy for another important decision. Many people think they are making so many decisions every day, but they are actually making the same decisions that are really part of the same category of a decision.

If you want to improve your health, finance, career, or start a new habit, commit to the most impactful system that makes the process of change better, easier or sustainable and focus on just that until the bigger picture is achieved. Or better still improve the system that is already working. Most people easily get distracted by other hacks, tips, strategies, activities and resources that causes even more confusion.

When you are distracted, you experience decision fatigue, stress, and frustration. The downside of decision fatigue is two-fold: when you get tired of making decisions, you either start avoiding making decisions or worse you don’t make the right decisions.

Action for the sake of acting only creates more complexity, chaos, and uncertainty. Uncertainty creates confusion. And that confusion causes you to stall which increases the number of decisions in the same category of thought. For smarter, and better decisions pursue your highest point of clarity, before stagnation sets in.

The power of smart defaults

Making too many decisions is often a symptom of poor systems or process. The most important question you should be asking yourself about your decision-making process is this: what can I completely remove, even temporarily, to make it easier to make a smarter choice?

To reduce the number of decisions I have to make about investing for my future, I have chosen to invest mostly in index funds (“..a mutual fund or exchange-traded fund (ETF) designed to follow certain preset rules so that the fund can track a specified basket of underlying investments.”). The cost is low, and the risk is also relatively low. It minimizes almost all investment decisions for me now so I can focus on generating income.

Warren Buffett has been preaching the importance of compound interest for six decades, and it’s made him billions. He relies on proven investing principles to make smarter choices.

About 3 years ago, I decided to turn off notifications on my phone. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made about controlling technology in my life. It has helped me become proactive, instead of reacting to every email, or message. Push notifications interrupts productivity and concentration.

Think about the number of decisions you make every day when you respond to every notification. You don’t even have to read those messages for your mental gears to toggle off what you are focusing on something important. Smartphones aren’t your problem. It’s all the buzzing and dinging, endlessly calling for your attention and action.

I am building better systems in other areas of my life to reduce decision fatigue and the stress of daily decisions. Simple errors in judgment, that don’t seem to make any difference today, can cost you tomorrow. Build better systems as a foundation for smarter actions.

High-achievers make higher-level decisions that take care of the unnecessary hundreds of decisions. They selectively choose to avoid decisions, which are not worthy of their precious time. They have strong mental maps of how things should be done and at the same time a willingness to improve those mental maps and change how they do things to make them work better.

The people at the top aren’t necessarily more special than the rest of us, they have designed frameworks, principles, and philosophies that guide their actions. “Principles are fundamental truths that serve as the foundations for behaviour that gets you what you want out of life. They can be applied again and again in similar situations to help you achieve your goals,” writes Ray Dalio (billionaire investor, hedge fund manager, and philanthropist) in his book Principles: Life and Work.

The most important thing is that you develop your own principles and ideally write them down to guide your actions, minimise decision making and make smarter choices. It is increasingly important that you reduce your non-critical decisions as much as possible to free your brain for more important high-order thinking.

Building better systems can be applied to choosing books to read, eating well, working out, meditating, saving, sleeping well, getting up early, or designing a system to get things done. All it takes is a few simple good decisions that will eliminate thousands of unnecessary ones. Learning and using a practical system can save you a tremendous amount of time and energy.

The key is to design, adapt and refine. If you’re constantly using better systems, your evolutionary process will be ascending. It pays to simplify and reduce the mental clutter that can plague modern life.

To make smarter decisions, your goal is to create “good by default” options and systems. The good news is you can design your defaults in almost every area of your life to help you make smarter decisions. Rethink all the defaults in your life. Are they working against you or for you? When in doubt, eliminate options.

Originally published on Medium.

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