To Make Efficient Decisions, Know You Don’t Have Free Will

All of those decisions you have to make — the ones that keep you up at night and prevent you from being present — they’re not worth the worry. According to the laws of physics, you don’t actually have any free will. Apparently, you can’t control what you do — at least not to the extent you think you can.

Of course, you still need to make decisions. But your struggle to come to a decision is futile — nothing but a waste of time. And no one likes to waste their time. If you wait too long to make a decision, you might miss an opportunity, worry for no reason, and delay the inevitable. It’s inefficient and counter-productive.

Understanding why you don’t have as much control as you think can help you stop this annoying cycle. You’ll start to think differently about the future, and approach decisions with a new mind-set — because you’ll understand why any decision you make, is the right decision.

In fact, if some of today’s greatest entrepreneurs hadn’t approached decisions through this lens, the world would be a very different place. There might not even have been a ‘Google’.

The Logic Behind Working For Google

Ranking at number 13 on Forbes’s Power Women of 2020Susan Wojcicki has been one of the most powerful women at Google from day 1. She was Google’s first Marketing Manager and became CEO of YouTube in 2014 after it was acquired by Google in 2006.

She comes from a family of high achievers. Her mother was an educator and her father a Physics Professor at Stanford University. Wojcicki literally grew up on the Stanford Campus. She graduated with honors from Harvard University, and later went on to study a Master’s of Science in Economics and an MBA.

It was September 1998 when Wojcicki welcomed Larry Page and Sergey Brin to set up their office in her garage in Menlo Park. It’s in this very garage that Google was incorporated.

Wojcicki was pregnant with her first child, working hard to make her mortgage payments and repay a huge student loan when she told her friends and family that she was going to work for Google. As you can probably imagine, they thought she was crazy — Google was in its infancy, they were barely making any money.

But she explained her logic during a graduation speech she gave at Johns Hopkins University in 2014:

“Opportunities come when you least expect them, or when you’re not ready for them…the good ones — they’re messy, confusing and hard to recognize. They’re risky. They challenge you. But things happen so fast because our world is changing so much, that you have to make decisions without perfect information.”

She took a leap of faith and followed her intuition, accepting that was all she could do. ‘Physically speaking’, she was right.

The Physics That Says You Have No Free-Will

The laws of physics suggest that the future is pre-determined, and thus, that there is no such thing as free will.

Everything that has happened since the creation of the universe is a result of a chain reaction caused by the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago. Like a line of dominoes; you knock one down, which knocks over the next, which knocks over the next…The Big Bang was that first domino.

There was a point along this chain where the universe cooled enough to form atoms. Since your brain is made up of atoms — those same atoms that are subject to the chain reaction driven by the big bang — your own brain is subject to the laws of physics.

So in a deterministic universe, where one thing leads to another; when you think you’re making a conscious decision, you’re actually just witnessing physics play out in your head. That decision you’re struggling to make might already have an answer. You just don’t know it yet.

You have the illusion of free will because your brain is so complex that you can’t predict what you’re going to do. But physics suggests, that whatever decision you make, was always the one you were going to make.

This doesn’t imply that you don’t need to make decisions. The universe has put you in the position you’re in to make that decision. When you’re making it, you’re acting within the confines of the position you’re in within the chain-reaction of the universe. The reason why you’re making this decision is that you’re in a situation that has occurred thanks to everything that’s come before. And everything that happens from now is pre-defined by the confined decision you make.

Like a character in a play, your story is pre-determined. But you still need to play it out.


Admittedly, letting go of control, or at least, the illusion of control, is easier said than done. I won’t pretend I have it all figured out. In fact, the pandemic has only made my indecisiveness worse.

For weeks I struggled to decide what I would do after the summer. I was self-inflicting my own chain reaction. An annoying and exhausting list of questions kept ruminating in my head as I considered taking a job abroad in the midst of covid-19:

Do I want to risk not being able to see my family for months? Should I stay closer to home then? Or does this mean I’m putting my life on hold? Am I missing out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity if I don’t go? But what if I don’t like it there and I can’t get back?

You can probably relate; we all have to make decisions — from tedious little daily choices, to seemingly life-altering decisions. So the real question we should be asking is:

How can we continue to make decisions, knowing that we don’t actually have free will?

There’s a stoic method called the ‘Pre-Meditation of Evils’ that can help.

It’s a practice adopted by world-class leaders and top athletes as a form of mental toughness training. Award-winning author and early-tech investor Tim Ferriss considers it the best and most effective decision-making system for high-stress environments.

Ferriss explains that you begin by visualizing the worst-case scenario. This is the fear that’s preventing you from making a decision. You then dissect this fear to plan how you could face this eventuality and overcome it.

  • The first step is to write down the option you’re contemplating. The answer to the question: “What if I…?”
  • Then you dissect the option using three columns; “define”, “prevent”, and “repair”.
  • In the first column, you write down all of the possible things that could go wrong if you take that step. These are the things you fear.
  • In the second column, you write the steps you could take to prevent each outcome from occurring.
  • And in the last column, you write down, how you could repair the damage if the event that you fear were to occur.

Whether or not you have free will, this exercise provides a semblance of control and mitigates your fear of the future with preparation. Although you might not know how the chain reaction of the universe will play out, you can prepare yourself as best as possible for the outcome.

But that’s not all. Once you’ve identified how you could mitigate the downsides — if these were to occur, you consider the alternative:

  • “What might be the benefit of an attempt or partial success?”

There will be times where you feel like you’ve made the wrong decision. The outcome might not be what you planned, hoped, or expected. It’s not what you wanted. You might not succeed. But there’s always something you will have gained — always something to be learned. When you’re making a decision, consider — could it be worth it, even if I fail?


Final Thoughts

Ignoring the fact that humans once thought the Earth was flat, and that throughout history, we’ve consistently disproved the theories our ancestors believed, if we trust in the laws of physics as we understand them today — that the future is pre-determined — we can find the courage to make difficult decisions.

If we trust that we can’t control the future, we accept that failure is a possible and uncontrollable outcome.

The things we can control are limited — They’re constrained by our standing in the universe at any particular time.

We need to keep acting out our story; as Wojcicki did, to do the best we can with the information we have, but unafraid — unafraid because our future is inevitable.

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