Here’s a powerful, yet simple heuristic you can use in decision-making that I got from Shane Parrish of Farnam Street Blog.
When faced with a tough decision, choose the one where the First Order Effects are negative, but the Second Order Effects are positive.
The first order effects of drinking alcohol are positive — “this is fun, I feel good!” But the second order effects are negative — “I feel like shit and I’m hungover and have low energy.”
The first order effects of eating a bunch of chocolate cake are “this is delicious,” but the second order effects are your body crashing from too more sugar.
The first order effects of staying in a job and pushing towards your goals is a feeling of comfort, stability, and predictability. The second order effects are complacency, laziness, and never fulfilling your true potential.
Now, flip this and find situations where the opposite is true.
The first order effects of running 10k is “man, my legs hurts. I hate running.” The second order effects is more energy, motivation, better mood, increased lifespan, and overall wellbeing.
The first order effects of going from a carb-heavy diet to a keto-diet is the “keto-flu,” where your body feels like absolute shit. The second order effects are greater health, sustained energy, and overall better blood markers.
The first order effects of starting a company are “fuck, I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m running out of money and every step feels like a failure.” The second order effects are creating something valuable that could potentially impact many lives — and a road to your personal freedom.
In other words, immediate gratification in life tends to have negative side effects. But the best decisions in life that appear to be negative or painful at first tend to produce positive results in the long run.
I repeat: when in doubt, when there’s a tough decision, or even if it seems 50/50, choose the choose the one where the First Order Effects are negative, but the Second Order Effects are positive.