Life’s 10 Biggest Decisions | Dr. Adrian Camilleri on The Art of Manliness with Brett McKay

Check out The Art of Manliness Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • The most common biggest decisions are those related to career, marriage, and education
  • Two important aspects to decision making are: how common they are, and how important they are when they happen. 
  • The decision that ranked as the most important: the decision to end a life
  • “It seems like most of my big life decisions have already been made at 35, but I’m probably wrong and you are too if you are thinking the same thing.” – Dr. Adrian Camilleri
    • Life throws curveballs; you never know what to expect
  • “The most enduring regrets relate to social relationships due to our biological need to belong.” – Dr. Adrian Camilleri
  • People regret decisions that are inconsistent with their personal values
    • Understand yourself and know your values as your reference point
  • Being more analytical (doing more research, asking for help) instead of following your “gut feeling” usually makes for better decisions

Books Mentioned

Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing by Bronnie Ware

Intro

  • Dr. Adrian Camilleri (@arcamilleri) is a consumer psychologist that applies experimental and survey research methods to understand and explain the process of decision-making.
  • “If you were to ask me what is really the biggest decision in life, it would be the combination of the most the common and the most important” – Dr. Adrian Camilleri
  • Host – Brett McKay (@brettmckay)

Definition of a Big Life Decision

  • Big life decisions are a choice between multiple options that have significant, long-term consequences for everyone involved
  • Dr. Camilleri expanded on this definition by conducting an empirical study with hundreds of participants (there was no cross-cultural research)
  • They came up with nine or 10 core features of big life decisions:
    • They are rarely made (e.g. marriage)
    • They involve much thinking
    • Their outcome is uncertain 
    • They challenge our morals or values (e.g. abortion)
    • There is a significant investment of resources (e.g. buying a house)
    • They rule out many other options
    • They impact multiple areas of life, and people
    • They have many consequences
    • They are difficult to undo

The Most Common Big Life Decisions

  • Based on the study, there are 9 decision categories (and 58 different decision types)
    • People usually list 3 to 20 decisions, but 10 seems to be the sweet spot
  • In no particular order, 9 most common big life decision categories are:
    • Career-related decisions (e.g. starting a new job)
    • Education-related decisions (e.g. choosing a major)
    • Family-related decisions  (e.g. having a child)
    • Finance-related decisions (e.g. buying a car)
    • Relationship-related decisions (e.g. getting married)
    • Relocation-related decisions (e.g. moving to a different state)
    • Self destruction-related decisions (e.g. addiction)
    • Self developmental-related decisions (e.g. religion, spirituality, travel…)
    • Other
  • The most common ones are job, marriage, and degree-related decisions
  • Dr. Camilleri cross-referenced this data with the age of the participants
    • He concluded that younger people are more focused on education, while older people are more concerned with decisions about divorce and retirement.

 Decision-Making From Most to Least Important

  • “If you were to ask me what is really the biggest decision in life, it would be the combination of the most the common and the most important” – Dr. Adrian Camilleri
  • We can look at decision-making in two aspects; how common they are, and how important they are when they happen. 
    • Ending a life is less common than the decision to get married
  • The decision that ranked as the most important is ending a life (usually in the form of abortion)
  • Other important decisions include:
    • Engaging in self-harm
    • Getting married
    • Having a child
    • Pursuing religion or spirituality

Is Self-harming a Decision?

  • Do people decide to self-harm or does it just happen?
  • According to the answers from the survey, participants explain that self-harming was a decision
  • Self-harm behavior can be an active decision to seek help
  • Self-harm, substance abuse, or a  decision to commit a crime are usually decisions people do not spend much time thinking about

Decisions Made Earlier Vs Later in Life

  • Decisions made earlier in life include education, addiction, crime-related decisions, and joining the military
  • Decisions made later in life are about retirement, writing your will, selling a home, and closing down your business
  • “It seems like most of my big life decision have already been made at 35, but I’m probably wrong and you are too if you are thinking the same thing” – Dr. Adrian Camilleri
  • People overestimate how many of life’s biggest decisions they have already made
  • Life changes with every moment, and nobody knows what decisions they will have to make in future
    • People in their 70’s still expect to make big decisions, despite their age; and they are probably correct
    • 30’s and 40’s are decades characterized by high-pressure time due to mortgage, parenting, work, and other
    • They are also a time of lowest happiness
  • Reminiscence bump – for every age group, most of the big decisions were made in their 20’s
    • This is not surprising since the 20’s are a fundamental period of life where people usually establish themselves via degree, career, and relationships

Positive and Regretful Decisions

  • When asked to reexamine and re-evaluate their past decisions, most people think about them in a positive light – this is good news
    • This ties into the positivity bias – a tendency for people to be more focused on the positive features of reality
    • Older people are more focused on positive things
  • Decisions that were rated as most positive were decisions related to spirituality and religion and overcoming an addiction 
  • The least positive decisions or regretful decisions are self-destructive type decisions:
    • Becoming an addict
    • Taking part in criminal activities
    • Disconnecting from our friends
  • Some of the most enduring regrets relate to social relationships due to our biological need to belong” – Dr. Adrian Camilleri
  • We also regret the decisions we make that are inconsistent with our personal values
    • Even if we make poor decisions, it is important that they are in congruence with our values

How To Make Decisions For Your Future-Self

  • This is a big question: How to make someone do changes that will benefit them 30 years down the road (e.g. taking care of our body, investing our savings)?
  • People are really poor at predicting when their big life decisions are going to happen” – Dr. Adrian Camilleri
  • You are going to be a different person in 5, 10, 15 years because you will want different things
  • We can improve our future if we learn from people with more experience than us

Practice and Tips for Making Good Big Life Decisions

  • We should prioritize change above the status quo 
    • If it’s 50/50 (you can’t decide) – just make the change already
  • Being more analytical instead of “trusting your gut” usually makes for better decisions
    • being analytical means spending more time, doing more research to make a decision
  • Confidence in our decisions comes from goal reflection and decision commitment
  • Avoid the sense of obligation, do not make big decisions because of others
    • Understand yourself and know your values as your reference point
  • Do not focus too much on the outcome, instead reflect on the process
  • Take advice and you will help your future self not feel regret
    • Seek out the wisdom of others who already did some of the decisions you are pondering about

Future Plans for Research

  • So far, Dr. Camilleri has only focused on Americans; but he wants to include different cultures
  • He wants to write a book that summarizes his research and helps people navigate through their biggest life decisions
  • You can complete the survey at tenbiggestdecisions.com, and compare your results with other people
    • Support the data and fill the survey!
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