18 February, 2024
All actions present a risk. There will be some upsides to any action, some downsides, and some probabilities governing which of those upsides and downsides are likely to occur.
Every action can be thought of as a bet on those probabilities. In fact, Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke proposes this as an optimal way to reflect on outcomes and improve future decisions.
In any life, though, I’ve found there are a few “sure things”: Actions that can be relied upon to deliver maximal upside with little to no downside. These are the actions I never regret taking.
I’m sure everyone has a slightly different list, but here’s mine, as of early 2024.
(Quick couple of disclaimers: these are in no particular order; and also, just because it’s on the list doesn’t mean I remember to do it regularly.)
Right off the bat, here’s one I always forget is a sure-fire winner. A combination of 2020’s lockdown and moving to working remotely means that going for a walk now has to be an intentional choice. It always feels like slightly too much of a hassle to be worth it, but that feeling vanishes as soon as I’m putting one foot in front of the other.
Napping is hugely underrated, and is absolutely not a passive activity — your brain and body do so much work when asleep, whether it’s on clearing out stress hormones or synthesising recent inputs into insights, sleep is just the best.
Film is not meant for a small screen. That’s not to say I’ll never watch a movie on a cellphone (I’ve definitely done it), but if there’s an option to get a bigger screen, I’ll never regret taking it.
When the kids were small, I saw my fair share of absolutely terrible movies. But I always loved seeing them since kids really don’t care if the film has a satisfying character arc or a good script. They just care that they’re having fun with people they love. Being reminded of this, and trying to carry it to all activities, is one of the ways we get to cut through the bullshit and enjoy every minute of this short time we have in the universe.
A bit of a two for one here. Like walking, reading books is now an activity I have to consciously choose to do. Part of that is worrying that I’ll waste time picking the wrong one. It’s only in recent years I’ve come to accept the fact that it’s okay to leave a book unfinished if it’s lost my interest. It’ll still be there on the shelf to come back to.
Key to making this work, though, is to put the book back in the library when I’ve decided to stop reading it. I’ve always ended up regretting leaving unfinished books in my “to be read” pile. Just accept that it’s not for right now and put it back.
This is something I’ve only realised recently — there’s an acoustic guitar in my youngest’s bedroom (they’re way better than me at playing), and each night at bedtime, when they’re being tucked in, I grab the guitar and pick out some notes.
And I always love it. No pressure to perform, just the satisfaction of making some nice sounds.
If you’re lucky enough to have a partner, and you’re then lucky enough to have kids (or a dog!), you also lose some of your freedom to be together: date night is hard with a newborn, for example.
At that point, it’s the small moments that start to matter most, and being aware of them is critical. Taking a second to hold hands while walking is one of the purest joys, as it reminds me that at least one hand isn’t juggling a toddler, a day bag, a dog’s leash, a buggy or whatever.
My kids hug with no sense of time, and it’s wonderful. Like fighting a bear, you don’t stop when you’ve had enough, you stop when they’ve had enough.
I’m just bad at this. When I was a kid, I was taught the value of trying to solve my own problems, and while this is hugely valuable, it can be taken too far. I was never taught to identify the point where I should ask for help, so I only ever spot it in hindsight.
I never regret doing it though — my only regret is usually not asking sooner.
Yeah, this is another one I’m super bad at. I seem to be pretty good at spotting patterns and diagnosing root causes, which means I’m often very excited to jump ahead to the conclusion. The times I’m wrong, though? My opinion has just destroyed any chance for an open and honest discussion.
My opinion can always wait.
Dogs are just the best.