DRMacIver's Notebook

Find a forking path

Find a forking path

Suppose you come to a fork in the road. You know that one arm of the fork goes to an amazing destination. The other arm goes to a mildly disappointing destination - nothing too terrible, but the knowledge that you've ended up there instead of the great destination will make you sad. There's nothing to distinguish which path is which. What do you do?

Well, based on my keen and insightful observation of human behaviour, I can tell you what you probably do: you sit down in the road and cry about it, and eventually waste away and die never having taken either path.

This is a bad plan. Just flip a coin and use that outcome. If you want to spend a little while looking for clues first, you can do that, but picking either path is ging to be better than being paralysed for choice.

Even if you end up in the destination of mild disappointment, you're still better off than before. You've learned something. Maybe that knowledge will help you find the great destination? If nothing else you could walk back up the path and go the other way.

Coming to forks like this is generally a really good thing, because:

  1. Both outcomes are a strict improvement on the status quo.
  2. One of the outcomes is really really good, easily justifying the effort of taking the fork.

But because we are unable to deal with the fear of making a bad choice, we end up with decision paralysis instead, the very idea of taking the fork becomes scary, and we either sit down and cry or (more often) pretend the fork doesn't exist and back away slowly down the path.

As a result, forks like these are fnords - things that we learn not to see, because seeing them makes us feel obliged to deal with them, so every time we run into them we flinch away and pretend not to have noticed.

A neat consequence of this is that we are probably surrounded by high value opportunities that we are ignoring. If you start looking for this pattern, you'll probably find all sorts of examples.

Here are a couple I'm aware of:

Another one I'm currently entertaining but haven't really committed to: I think it might be possible to break habits that you don't like by trying to actively enjoy that habit. If you have a compulsive snacking problem, say "OK. It's completely fine for me to snack, but I've got to really revel in it. I'm going to enjoy this food dammit". If you have a compulsive urge to check Twitter, aim to have fun on Twitter - go into a deep nerd dive on someone's timeline, do something interesting other than just scrolling.

If this works (I'm not sure the fork is viable, which is why I don't know if it will work yet), either you break the habit or you enjoy yourself more, and both of these are good things.