A mental model to rationalize your decision-making

Temporary feelings ebb and flow through our minds all the time. And yet, despite our knowledge of them, we still make bold permanent decisions under their influence. It is a reckless way to decide on what to do.

So, I wanted to frame a couple of ideas that would help manage the risk of making a critical decision, especially when we’re affected by temporary feelings.  

  • A way to manage your temporary feelings better
  • Using a mental model (the 10/10/10) to shift perspective

How we feel changes all the time. In fact, most of our feelings are momentary. Many aspects can affect our feelings; the environment around us, the things that other people do or say, and even the moment we are in.

Let’s think about the title for a second; How to stop making permanent decisions with temporary feelings. Surely it would be better to try and manage our passing thoughts with less emotion, as you’ll see. 


Temporary Feelings – How Anger Rises

Blood surged through my body as my heart rate increased. The adrenaline was doing its job accordingly, as anger triggered my body’s senses to react at what I had just witnessed.

As I approach the traffic lights, so they changed. I almost jumped them but hesitated and decided not to. So, I pulled in next to the tall pole with its box of lights mounted at the top, the red stop light glowing brightly – even in the morning sun.

The two vehicles behind me had other ideas, one a car, and the other a van. Both pulling out to overtake me and speeding on down past the cones that cordoned off the ongoing road works. “What the hell…” I spluttered to myself at the shock at what was taking place.

I was furious, rage and anger rising from within – all because someone else had jumped the lights. Those two drivers had broken the rules, a red light means stop.

I wanted to educate them; I wanted to shout and tell them they had done something dangerous. They could have caused an accident. I could feel the rage growing inside me as I digested what had happened. My momentary anger found its vent; first with me striking the airbag in the middle of the steering wheel, and then again when I found the button for the horn.


A Stoic Approach to Passing Feelings

I’m sure you can relate – the stoics do – as this quote from the daily stoic suggests.

Something may happen today that upsets you. Someone might be rude, your car could break down, an employee might mess something up despite your very careful instructions. Your instinct may be to yell and get angry. It’s natural.

But just because it’s “natural” doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Remember Marcus Aurelius’ observation, “how much more harmful are the consequences of anger…than the circumstances that aroused them in us.”

Yelling might make you feel better for a second, but does it solve the problem? Of course not. Arguing with a rude person only offers them more opportunity to be rude. Getting worked up over car trouble doesn’t fix the car, it just raises your blood pressure. Berating an employee who messed up? Now they’ll either resent you or they’ll be more likely to screw up again in the future because they’re nervous and self-conscious.

Anger only makes things worse. Remember that today.

the daily stoic

My ‘road rage’ highlights the just how impactful, and conversely – short-lived – passing thoughts can be. I couldn’t stop those drivers from doing what they did. So why waste energy on it.

Anger only makes things worse.

The Power of the Pause

I’m constantly reminded of a quote from Stephen Covey.

“In the space between stimulus (what happens) and how we respond, lies our freedom to choose. Ultimately, this power to choose is what defines us as human beings. We may have limited choices, but we can always choose. We can choose our thoughts, emotions, moods, our words, our actions; we can choose our values and live by principles. It is the choice of acting or being acted upon.”

Stephen R. Covey

Use that space wisely. Hopefully, by now I’ve convinced you to separate your decision-making from your emotion. If not, this mental model might make all the difference.


The 10/10/10 mental model decision rule

A mental model is a thought process that can help us with thinking and decision-making. There are many different mental models – mostly designed for making thinking easier.

The 10/10/10 decision rule offers three questions to help give some perspective to the decision your about to make.

Quite simply:

  • How will you feel about this decision in ten minutes?
  • How will you feel about this decision in ten months?
  • How will you feel about this decision in ten years?

Asking yourself these questions offers you the chance to put some distance on the ‘now’. Right now, emotions – both good and bad – will be swirling in your head, creating a fog of temporary feelings.

Let’s consider buying a new car. How would you feel about it in 10 minutes?

  • Excited about having something new and relieved you have now got a reliable car, but what about 10 months from now?
  • How will you feel about the monthly repayments and the effect it is having your disposable income?
  • In 10 years from now, you might not even have the car. You might have sold it, or the re-payments were too much, and you have damaged your credit rating as a result.

When you put an unfamiliar perspective in place, other factors that won’t have entered your mind at the time come into play. You may still decide to buy the car, but it will on the back of a more considered & thought out decision.


Concluding Thoughts

My earlier road rage would have benefited from a pause and the 10/10/10 mental model.

Ten minutes let alone ten months would have shifted my view of the incident completely. I would have realized that I couldn’t undo what had taken place and moved on. Those drivers alone were responsible for their actions – not me.

For me, this is the whole point of using mental models because they give an immediate shift to your point of view. Mental models offer powerful ways of applying well thought out models to our thinking. When it comes to making permanent decisions – the model offers a filter to gain an alternative perspective.

Of course, there are many other types of mental models you could use. Many biases can muddle our thought processes. Our inbuilt aversion to loss – or our views on the sunk cost fallacy all cloud our judgement.

The 10/10/10 rule isn’t perfect. But it is a start to help you make permanent decisions with temporary feelings.


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