How to Make Better Decisions

That picture above is a WW2 poster reminding soldiers of informed self-interest, which is something we ought to consider when making decisions. We live in a world where we often make decisions quickly and expect to see quick results. That works whenever I buy from Amazon. I order a new belt, and it shows up in two days, like magic. I start to expect everything to work like that…

Whenever I go to the gym (which isn't very often), I get frustrated by how long it can take to see results. If I eat one nasty salad, I expect to see my spare tire melt away that afternoon.

On the one hand, I know eating right and getting exercise is good for me. On the other hand, it's annoying and takes too long, so I stop and eat at Sonny's BBQ.

We can all look around our trade and see TERRIBLE decisions made every day. Bad workmanship, unsafe practices, emotionally driven reactions, unprofessional customer service, and the list goes on and on.

Short-Term vs. Long-Term Decision-Making

 

I've talked before about how Dan Holohan talks about search vs. research in learning. Search is simply looking for a quick answer, and research is the study of a topic or practice of a discipline until you really understand it.

The first mindset is about convenience and expedience. The other is about the long haul, the future benefit.

Deep in each of us is a desire to act according to what is best for ourselves, our families, and our careers. Some would call this “self-interest” a problem. I think it's actually the key to good decision-making.

People acting in their own self-interest is the fuel for all the discovery, innovation, and prosperity that powers the world.

-John Stossel

The world needs people who see an opportunity to better themselves, rise to a challenge, make a difference, and reap the reward. That isn't “selfish” or “entitled” in the negative sense; the things that make us truly happy are good things. For example, taking a week off to go to a trade show or educational conference can give your career a huge boost. Is it selfish to take a week off from work (if you can) in the name of personal development? I don't think so; broadening your network, knowledge, and skills can lead to a more rewarding career and being a better provider for your family down the line. (Speaking of trade events, we've just released some information about the 4th Annual HVACR Training Symposium in 2023.)

And I don't know about you, but I feel best when I treat people well, get a good night's sleep, and use what I have to make the world a better place in one way or another.

The barrier to making “good” decisions isn't self-interest vs. altruism; it's more about making long-term decisions instead of short-term. It's about making choices based on informed self-interest rather than on basic emotional reactions or the “tyranny of the urgent.”

Emotional Decision-Making

I know this may come as a shock, but I've lost my cool quite a few times over my career. Thankfully, none of these instances led to any major consequences (that I'm aware of).

On the other hand, I don't look back at any of those emotional reactions and think, “Gosh, I'm glad that's how I behaved.”

Informed self-interest teaches you that reacting out of emotion isn't good for you over the long haul. I've learned that I usually respond with negative emotions when I feel attacked or disrespected. To avoid making rash decisions when that happens, it's best for me to back off, give it some time, and then come back and address it with a solution in mind rather than emotion.

The Tyranny of the Urgent

My business (Kalos Services) is an HVAC/R, electrical, and general contracting business. My father is a GC & EC, and we started the business together in 2005 with all three disciplines under one roof.

I joke around with my dad about how demanding construction managers and superintendents can be on subcontractors.

In construction, emergencies take precedent over planning and quality work… and EVERYTHING is an emergency.

Of course, that's an exaggeration, but not by much.

This pressure to drop everything and take care of the “emergency” is called the tyranny of the urgent. Sometimes, those emergencies are real. Other times, they are imagined. Either way, we have to make a decision when these “emergencies” are forced into our laps.

In our trade, there is a constant tension between the business side—production, execution, and timelines—and the commitment to quality, safety, and general mental health.

Sometimes, you do need to “get after it” to get a job done, but it can't be every day. It also shouldn't be at the expense of your long-term health or safety.

A tradesperson working with informed self-interest will work hard and efficiently, but they won't take foolish risks or give in to the pressure to perform poor quality work.

Often, this push to get work done in the summer leads to service techs who cut corners, end up with a trashed van, and leave paperwork improperly done. It's a slippery slope, and every company and tech needs to do a reset every now and then and think:

Are you really making the best choices for your business, techs, and customers, or are you giving in to a constant emergency mindset?

Short-Term Urges

I have 10 kids, so I'd say I have at least a little experience working with them. I love kids; they are great, but they are driven by short-term, uninformed desires. Hunger, anger, fear, etc.

These are instincts or urges. We are all born with them, and one of the defining characteristics of being an adult is curbing them so that we can make progress in our lives.

As adults, these are everything from addictions, a quick temper, overeating, laziness, and hypochondria.

All too often, we find ways to excuse our behavior to ourselves while everyone around us knows that we are bound by them.

In other words, to act in your own real long-term self-interest, you need to be able to control what “feels” right in the short term.

The Most Important Choices

I don't know about you, but I really enjoy this trade. I don't always enjoy the business model or the hours, but the work is really interesting. I've also had the privilege of meeting some great people over the years.

However…

The most important decisions we can make in our own best interest have to do with things other than air conditioning. These are things like:

  • Calling your parents and siblings
  • Writing a nice email to an old friend, teacher, or mentor encouraging them
  • Going on more dates and vacations with your spouse
  • Eating right
  • Saving a percentage of every paycheck
  • Giving a percentage of your income to help others
  • Playing in the yard with your kids
  • Getting out and playing your favorite sport
  • Learning something new
  • Working safely and taking care of your back

So on and so forth…

All of these things are pretty obvious, but they're all pretty hard to do in our business, especially in the busy season.

They are still all according to the philosophy of informed self-interest. They are all choices you will look back on and feel good about.

You probably won't feel the same about:

  • Telling that customer or guy on Facebook where to shove it
  • Drinking another beer
  • Working more overtime (even when the job supervisor says it's an emergency)
  • Watching more Netflix

I'm NOT saying there is anything wrong with an occasional 70-hour work week or some informed risk-taking now and again. The American flag is on the moon because many smart people worked hard and took a TON of well-educated but very real risks.

Thoughtful risk-taking and sacrifice are fine and good; it's what this country was built on. However, you need to look back at choices with the eyes of the future and consider if the risk and reward are worth it.

SOMETIMES WE NEED TO PAUSE AND TAKE STOCK

I know it probably sounds like I'm preaching. Truth be told, I'm struggling with all these same things right now. This is written to me as much as anyone.

Have a great informed, self-interested week.

—Bryan

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