The ‘it never happened’ button

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Making decisions is strangely difficult for a Melancholic. For reasons I won’t elaborate at this point, we often find ourselves mired in endless loops of hypothetical outcomes and utilitarian calculations, pragmatic considerations clashing with idealistic ones, fate and destiny alternating with existential self-determination.

We might never know what the “right” decision would be, but I’ve nonetheless discovered and created a small collection of heuristics (rules of thumb) to put an end to indecision. I’d like to do a series of posts to help catalog and elaborate on these heuristics and maybe discover more.

Today’s heuristic is the “it never happened” button.

The background

The “it never happened” button was first invented when someone offered me some paid work that I didn’t especially want to do.

The dilemma

Take the work or don’t take the work?

How much do I need the money? Let’s be honest: I always need the money.

Do I want to do the work? Wrong question: should I want to do the work?

It sounds awful…but it could be the start of something bigger! I could look back on this event as the moment my career in X first began!

Don’t you have an obligation to take on paid work so long as it’s not unethical? Aren’t you being a little stubborn, naive, idealistic, soft?

The work is vaguely within your field…isn’t this how people get their big break?

The resolution

The indecision continued for hours and the only progress lay in feeling more conflicted.

I felt like I was trying to arbitrate over two equally compelling, passionate, and reasonable parties, both of whom just happened to be me.

Then, like the wisdom of Solomon, an answer came to me seemingly out of nowhere:

“If you had a magic button that could go back in time and make it so that this person never offered you work in the first place, would you press the button?”

Yes. O God, yes I would press the button.

And in that moment I knew my answer.

The analysis

This heuristic works because it separates the question of “do I want to do this?” from all the associated social challenges of saying “no” to someone, of turning down work, turning down money, and trying to fit seemingly random and unsolicited events into your own sense of a personal journey.

It also implies that saying “no” to something is not going to have devastating and unexpected repercussions.

I’ve used this heuristic in about a half-dozen instances, and each time it has provided a quicker and easier end to the otherwise wearying and self-destructive loops of indecision.

Chances are that if you really want to do something, you won’t feel so conflicted about it in the first place. But if you are conflicted, give the “it never happened” button a try and see if it helps.

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One thought on “The ‘it never happened’ button

  1. Pingback: Wherein Tipsy exhibits a little political retraint | Tipsy Teetotaler

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