Tag Archive | Decision-Making

Growth as puzzle-solving

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How can I become the best I can possibly be?”

“Strive to be the best you can possibly be moment to moment.

In every situation, there’s an optimal response and an optimal decision. Make it a game to discover it.

Think of every situation as a puzzle.

What is the best response?
What is the best decision?

One aspect of the process is solving situation-puzzles. How you solve them is a reflection of who you are and a measure of your success.

Another aspect of the process is discovering situation-puzzles. This is a matter of recognizing opportunities – which is essentially pattern-recognition.

Some situations form a clear pattern. Many do not. Quite often, you do not know that you could have done better, except in hindsight.

You discover many situation-puzzles looking backward. Looking backward you can also simulate solving them. 

What was the best response?
What was the best decision?

However you can only solve them looking forward.”

On Magic and Detachment

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“When playing Magic the Gathering, what’s the most challenging practice?”

“At first, it was keeping it under control. Playing only the amount of time I allocate for it, and playing only after finishing my work for the day, no earlier than 5pm. It was very challenging, but I succeeded. Considering how addictive the game is for me, this is a huge accomplishment.

The most challenging practice now is Detachment from the outcome. Maintaining Balance, by focusing on playing well (and on the beauty of the game) rather than on winning, and in the face of losing and winning.

As a side note, a beautiful thing about Magic is that it’s an environment that allows me to actually practice Detachment. Games in Magic are relatively short (10-20 minutes). I like to think of each game as a repetition (rep). Playing it every day, I get a lot of reps in.”

“How does losing and winning disturb your Balance?”

“There are many aspects that can influence the outcome of a game. The relative power-level of the decks, the skill of the players – which can be quantified by the quality of their decisions (decision-making) and the number of mistakes they make (focus) –, the cards they draw over the course of the game. Due to the random shuffling of the decks, every game of Magic is unique, every gameplay situation a unique puzzle. And, unlike jigsaw puzzles, Magic puzzles often have hidden information.

Magic is a game of decision-making under conditions of uncertainty. Your decisions and capacity to focus are the only things within your control, which do not guarantee victory. You will inevitably lose some games. But even though I understand these things, I have a tendency to forget after a game is over. 

After winning, I feel good, as if everything was under my control. There’s several cognitive biases at work here, among which Resulting, tendency to equate outcome-quality with decision-quality (it is possible to win even if I played poorly), and Hindsight Bias, tendency after an outcome is known to see it as inevitable.
After losing, I feel bad, perceiving it as a personal failure, as if everything was under my control.

Before a game, the practice lies in centering myself.
After a game, in letting go, reconnecting with the value of Humility, and asking myself:

Could I have played better?

On Magic and Decision-making

Fragment from imaginary dialogues

“Thinking Mastery is a both additive and subtractive process. 

Absorbing quality-information and improving your capacity to think and, equally important, minimizing our strong natural tendency to make errors of judgment.

I realize, I’ve been focusing too much on the additive aspect, and too little on the subtractive aspect. I decided to address that.”

“Doesn’t the former also address the latter?”

“Not by default. Combating errors of judgment is a very specific process. You need to know what you’re dealing with (specific knowledge acquisition), and to develop a practice for systematically dealing with them (deliberate practice). 

The end goal is to eventually integrate the two together, such that the additive and subtractive aspects become one. I call this process deconstruction / integration.”

“What’s your approach?”

“Errors of judgment come in two flavors: cognitive biases and illusions, and logical fallacies. The former are the most important, so I started by focusing on them. I’m using this [<link] beautiful resource as the starting point. I want to create a mind-map with all of them, and to also create flashcards with each.

The practice starts with noticing them (observation / introspection). 

That is, being constantly on the lookout for when they occur, and creating opportunities for them to occur.

Take Magic the Gathering for instance.

That’s a perfect micro-environment to work on several biases at once (which makes it a high-density practice):

Confirmation Bias: tendency to favor information that confirms our existing beliefs.

Self-Serving Bias: tendency to take credit for successes and deny responsibility for failures. 

Resulting: tendency to equate decision-quality with outcome-quality.

Hindsight Bias: tendency, after an outcome is known, to think of it as having been inevitable.

Fundamental Attribution Error: tendency to blame the person when other people make mistakes, but to blame the circumstances when we make mistakes.

“What would you say is the most impactful of these?”

Resulting, because it has the biggest potential to improve my decision-making more generally.

I got the concept from a book I’m currently reading called Thinking in Bets [<link], written by a former professional poker player named Annie Duke. The book has been a paradigm shift for me.”

“What other big-ideas have you gotten from the book?”

“One of them is,

Life is Poker, not Chess.

We crave certainty, so we create in our mind fixed – and often rigid – models of the world. We like to think that life aligns as neatly and predictably as Chess. Whenever we make a good decision, a good outcome is certain to follow. And, when life does not conform with our fantasies, we manage to maintain them through skillful application of Confirmation Bias.

I call this the Illusion of Order – our tendency to imagine the world as more orderly than it actually is.

Unlike Chess, Poker (and Magic the Gathering) is a game of incomplete information, a game of decision-making under conditions of uncertainty. Just like life.
In Poker (and Magic), it is possible to lose with a good hand and win with a bad one. Just like in life.

There’s much more uncertainty in our decision-making than we realize. To become a better decision-maker, you need to account for that uncertainty. You need to separate the decision-quality from the outcome-quality.

Annie takes it one step further:

All decisions are bets (on an uncertain future).
All decisions involve risks.
All decisions have an opportunity cost.

In our neat little fantasy world, we tend to operate under a black-and-white reductionistic decision-making model:
‘Good’ decisions produce good outcomes.
‘Bad’ decisions produce bad outcomes.

Under conditions of uncertainty, a better model to base your decisions on is a probabilistic one. According to this model, decisions fall on a continuum: from 0% probability to 100% probability.

With this model, we get a more nuanced image of what a good decision looks like:

A good decision is an informed decision.
A good decision takes into account multiple perspectives / models.
A good decision takes into account our tendency to make errors of judgment.
A good decision is a decision that increases the probability of obtaining the desired outcome.

For a long time in Magic the Gathering, I was focused on the outcome. Whenever I won, I took it as confirmation of how good a player I (thought I) was. Whenever I lost, I blamed it on luck, and felt a strong impulse to play again, in order to confirm how good a player I (thought I) was.”

“Reminds me of a quote by Mark Rosewater [the head designer of Magic the Gathering]:

If you blame luck for your failures, you’re never going to get better.

“There’s a life lesson in that.

Turns out I wasn’t as good a player as I thought I was. Far from it. With this realization, I finally started to improve.

I’m now focused only on the process, on playing as well as I can, and at the end of every game, whether I win or I lose, I ask myself:

Could I have played better?

There’s a life lesson in this too.”

On Presence and Decision-making

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How can I practice Decision-making?”

“We do many things on auto-pilot. When we do something without thinking about it, we bypass a decision-point. 

Every decision-point is an opportunity to practice Decision-making and Presence. 

Notice decision-points throughout the day.

Pause at decision-points, slow down, breathe

You’re thus creating space to ask:

Is this the best decision?
What is [the best decision]?

Decision-making Optimization

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What’s the best decision?”

“When do you usually make the worst decisions?”

“When I’m tired, so when my energy level is low, and when I’m in an unresourceful state.”

“The answer you get to your question depends on your clarity of thinking, which depends on your energy level and mental/emotional-state.

Precede your question with another question:

Do I have the optimal conditions to make the best decision?

Make a pre-decision check:

How’s my energy level?
Am I in a resourceful or unresourceful state?

This is crucial information. Depending on the circumstances, you may choose to proceed with caution, or defer making a decision for when the optimal conditions are met.”

Beautiful Models: Meta-Decisions

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“I don’t masturbate, nor will I masturbate EVER again.”

“Why?”

“Because I CHOOSE not to.”

“Is the desire still there?”

“Yes, but much fainter, like a muffled sound in the background.”

“How did you do it?”

“The essential thing to realize is that the desire to masturbate is a HABIT.

Like those ‘hitchhiker weeds’, it stuck to you at some point along the way. And it is in your power to rid yourself of it.

With the right strategy, ANY habit can be undone.

The process starts with a singular decision. That’s what I call a meta-decision, a decision that eliminates a thousand other decisions.

A meta-decision is a profound CHOICE.

A meta-decision is a 100% COMMITMENT.

Not 99.99%.

100%. NOTHING less.”

“The difference doesn’t seem like much.”

“The difference, while apparently insignificant, is HUGE.

Whenever the desire arises is a decision-point.

With anything less than 100% commitment, the decision is between whether to give in to the impulse or not. Sometimes it’s easy, other times – especially when in an unresourceful state – it’s not, and it takes a lot of effort to talk yourself out of it.

It’s a struggle.

Successfully keeping the impulse in check may seem like a victory in the moment. But the impulse will appear again and again and again. This can be during the course of a single day. But day follows day, week follows week, month follows month, year follows year… it adds up.

A useful exercise to realize the sheer magnitude of it is to project it far into the future.

You have to realize at a visceral level that, over the years of your life, you’ll have to fight it a THOUSAND times again.

You’re undoubtedly familiar with chunking-down.”

“Breaking down a problem into smaller pieces to make it more manageable?”

“Yes. The exercise is an inversion of chunking-down. Focusing on the sheer size of the problem. We could call it chunking-up.

With a 100% commitment, on the other hand, whenever the desire arises, you simply and serenely say to yourself ‘I don’t masturbate‘… End of story.

It’s effortless.

You won’t get there instantly. You build up to it. But it starts with a DESIRE to get there, and a BELIEF that you CAN.

I CAN!

This is a mantra worth repeating a thousand times, until it sticks. Because when it does, it will stay with you FOREVER.

The masturbation habit will also stay with you forever, unless you do something about it.

Contrast these two against one another. Which one would you rather have?”

“Isn’t it restrictive framing?”

“It’s strategic framing.

The choice is symbolic.

One choice symbolizes the extraordinary life you know you want. 
One choice symbolizes the small life you’ve been living until now.

Make your pick.”

“Another meta-decision?”

“Good eye.”

Two Games

When force of circumstance upsets your equanimity, lose no time in recovering your self-control, and do not remain out of tune longer than you can help. Habitual recurrence to the harmony will increase your mastery of it. (Marcus Aurelius)


Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“Even if I no longer play it, Magic the Gathering remains one of my all-time favorite games.”

“What do you like about it?”

“The art of it, the creativity, the design, the structure, the modularity, the variety, the flavor, many things.

Magic is really not one game but a series of different games connected by a shared rule set and game pieces. (Mark Rosewater, head designer for Magic)

For me, Magic is a beautiful resource, a rich metaphoric system, a source of design inspiration, and in many ways, a model for The Beautiful Game [<link; medium length].

Magic the Puzzling

The picture you see is a Magic the Gathering puzzle, a game situation specifically created by someone to solve.

However, I like to see any game situation in Magic as a puzzle.

You have a set of game resources (life total, cards* in your deck, cards in hand, cards on the table), and a unique game state, and you have a limited time to make the best possible decision given these circumstances.

I realize, for me, part of the joy of playing Magic was solving such puzzles, and adapting to any game situation.

In the same way, any life situation can be seen as a beautiful puzzle to solve.

You have set of life resources (energy level, learned mental tools, mental tools available, prior set-up/build-up), and a unique life state, and you have a limited time to make the best possible decision given these circumstances.

We could call this The Decision-making Game. Its essence can be captured with a question:

What’s the best decision?

However, unlike Magic, the Decision-making Life-Game has an additional layer: accessing your resources, which is dependent on your mental state.

In an unresourceful state you only see problems not solutions. (Tim Ferris)

Being able to play the Decision-making game requires that you put yourself in a resourceful state. Or, to use Tony Robbins’ (and my preferred) terminology, a beautiful state [<link; medium].

We can think of being in an unresourceful state as being out of balance.”

“Makes me think of what Brian Johnson called ‘The Equanimity Game‘ seeing how fast you can recover balance once lost.”

“I love Brian’s idea of The Equanimity Game. This is just my take on it.

Whenever you’re out of balance, the micro-quest (and absolute priority) becomes to recover it and to return to the beautiful state.

“What if you made the beautiful state your baseline, your center?”

“That’s one of the life-puzzles I’m working on right now.

The Equanimity Game and the Decision-making Game are twin games. The Equanimity Game is an enabler, it sets the stage and opens the door for the Decision-making Game.”


* The cards in Magic the Gathering represent spells, and mana-generating lands that allow you to cast the spells.