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The Pursuit of Happiness - Un-clutter your brain for decision making

Niel Pasricha author of  NYT bestseller 'The Happiness Equation' proposes nine secrets of happiness in his favorite book. I disdain or at least am suspicious of step by step program or book titles that deal with life in purely quantitative process oriented levels. They usually start with seven steps and four disciplines etc., but this one is an excellent read because of its simplicity, and the amount of research Niel has put in.  The sub-title of his book surmises the equation as "want nothing + do anything = have everything" is an interesting, eye-catching adage with some truth embedded in it. Actually, I am "The Lord is my Shepherd, and I shall not be in want."   To "want nothing" and to be "not be in want"  are two different things. To want nothing is a misleading idea, a false positive, a half visible diorama.  The idea of not being in want is entirely operating from another place, a place of abundance. Discussion of this idea is for another day, and this is not the objective of this post. My interest in decision theories attracted me to framework Niel proposes in his book. It's about uncluttering your brain for
reminded of Psalm 23 which begins with

If you mapped your daily/weekly or monthly activities in a four by four quadrant with "time" on one axis and "importance" on the other, this would start making sense. The decision framework here is from "low to high" in the order of time taken for an activity and how significant it is for you.  It gives you a framework to unclutter your brain.

If you are paying bills or you have x number of monthly repeating activities which take a small chunk of time and are low in importance - then automate those decisions and free your brain.  From my perspective, the inference here is in our pursuit for control and heightening the uncertainty variables eventually steals your time and keeps your mind captive.

The author proposes the effectuate actions are those that are important, like having family dinners, family time, attending parent-teacher meetings; however these are not decisions where the brain needs to be deliberately engaged. The idea here is to get it done and enjoy "being."

Things like checking email, reading time blocks (for me), managing calendars, meetings may involve a lot of time and may not be critical, but the idea here is to regulate these as habits.  For me, it is making rules, making time blocks and aggressively sticking to them. I am not saying you should not be flexible but deviating from the time blocks should not be the norm.

The activities or decisions that fall under the "debate" quadrant is where the brain needs to suspend, take as much time as necessary or possible to make those decisions. These are highly important and time-consuming for you and those involved. Examples can be like buying a house, starting a new program, project, hiring the right person. A good indicator is cost and impact ratios involved if they are high your brain needs to be in this space. As Niel puts it: deep thinking, questioning and wondering.  From this, I take away what big ideas and decisions can I act or influence so that we move towards doing the "Right thing."

Thinking in this framework positively helps in not only narrowing your focus but freeing your brain from the clutter.


Dr. Sam Kurien


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