Treat more decisions as binary

Mar 31, 2021 | Kaizen, Newsletter, Writing

I haven’t really done much today. I haven’t exercised, or done my neck stretches. I haven’t done any work. I haven’t showered. I haven’t really made any good choices thus far.


Because I haven’t felt like it.

As much as I want to make good choices and be productive, a lot of my actions are based on whether or not I want to do something. I have a strong need for autonomy, which over the years has morphed into a default setting of basing decisions on how I’m feeling at the time. For me, the struggle is not usually that I’m doing something I shouldn’t do, like making poor choices because of recklessness or seeking instant gratification, but rather not doing the things that I should do, which manifests itself as procrastination or avoidance.

By choosing whether or not to do something, I get to be in control. I get to satisfy my need for autonomy and have the freedom to do what I want. At least that’s what I tell myself. The funny thing is that the luxury of doing what I want might actually be doing me more harm than good.

What if I didn’t deliberate all day as to whether or not I could muster up the energy to do a workout? What if I didn’t stretch a twenty-minute task into three hours? What if instead of asking myself what I feel like eating right now, I thought of what food would be most beneficial for my health? What if instead of having internal debates about decisions, my default was to automatically do what was best, regardless of how I felt?

Treat more decisions as binary.

That’s the perspective that I’ve had in the back of my mind that I hope to internalize someday.

Instead of deliberating in the moment, I take an objective, binary, big-picture approach. I switch from a micro decision to a macro decision. There is no long, drawn-out choice, there are simply two very clear options. Yes or no. More or less. Better or worse.

So “Do I feel like exercising today?” or “What do I feel like eating?” become “Do I want to be healthy, both now and in the future?”

Yes or no?

If the answer is yes, then proper exercise, sleep, nutrition, etc. become no-brainers. They’re required as part of the equation. By thinking this way, I’m attuned to the long-term benefits, not just the short-term.

The choice of wording and how you phrase things internally has a substantial effect on your perspective and actions. For example, I’ve been having trouble forming a habit of doing my daily neck stretches because I often don’t feel like it or don’t want to take the time. If I were to simply reframe my inner dialogue, “Do I want my neck to get better or do I want my neck to get worse?” is a much more convicting question than “Do I feel like doing neck stretches today?” and is much more likely to help me make the right choice.

By reframing my thinking, it helps me to identify with the underlying purpose behind the activity, ideally making it seem more attractive and like less of an obligation. So go ahead and rephrase your inner dialogue to have more of a bird’s-eye view of the situation, giving yourself only two distinct options, and see if it makes a difference.

Will buying this add stress to our financial situation? Do I want more energy tomorrow, or less? Will these words make my relationship with this person better or worse? Will taking a break right now be helpful or harmful? Is this decision something I will regret later on or be proud of? Does this choice reflect the type of person that I want to be?

There are many ways to go about treating more decisions as binary, so you can customize it to your liking. Not everything has to be framed as a life-changing perspective, but the goal is to cut down on the inner dialogue so as to avoid talking yourself out of a good decision, talking yourself into a bad one, or procrastinating on the inevitable.

As with most of my ideas, they all sound great (to me) in theory, but I have yet to gain any real traction on implementing this in my day-to-day life. If you end up experimenting at all with this way of thinking, I’d love to hear about your experience.

As for me, I guess I just need to ask myself, “Do I want to have an easier time making good decisions, or a harder time?”

Pin It on Pinterest