Occam's Razor might sharpen your decision making.

Written by Cole Schafer

Occam’s Razor is a philosophical principle that states that when given two explanations, the obvious explanation is generally the most likely explanation.

Here’s an example…

You ate at a seafood restaurant and you’re now violently vomiting into your commode –– do you have food poisoning or stomach cancer?

While your anxious, neurotic mind might lead you to wonder if it’s stomach cancer, chances are that you just ate a bad lobster.

Here’s another example…

You haven’t run in a while but one afternoon you decide to get ambitious and power through a couple of miles –– you find that you can barely walk the next day –– did you tear a hamstring or are you just out of shape?

While once upon a time you were one hell of an athlete, chances are you’ve just let yourself go.

Why decisions are so challenging.

Decisions are challenging (and at times even painful) because they involve us removing at least one possibility for a future outcome and, in a very small way (or not so small way), cause us to mourn the loss of that future outcome.

If you’re deciding between two vehicles to purchase, you’re not just choosing to gain future experiences with a vehicle but you’re also choosing to lose future experiences with a vehicle.

The word “decision” stems from the word “incision” which means to cut –– so when you’re making a decision you’re literally cutting something off.

Cutting one of something is difficult enough. But, cutting two and three and four of something…

When you consider that we now live in an age where decisions are no longer made between “A” and “B” but between “A” through “Z”, you realize just how painful decision-making can become.

Barry Schwartz calls this “the paradox of choice”, which is this idea that as our number of choices for any given decision increases, so does the pain and difficulty in making them.

Occam’s Razor can be used to help us ease our suspicions and anxieties. But, it also can be wielded to improve our decision-making by removing options from the table.

While Occam’s Razor certainly can’t work every time you make a decision –– especially in hyper-creative fields –– it is a marvelous means of not getting too caught up in the details.

Occam’s Razor in practice.

Let’s say you’re looking for a new car and you have a fat budget and so the price doesn’t really matter.

And, because price doesn’t really matter, you’re looking at everything from a badass Range Rover Defender to a flashy Mercedes G-Wagon to a lightning-fast BMW X6 to a trendy Toyota 4-runner.

Occam’s Razor would tell you the best decision is the most obvious decision: The Toyota 4-runner.

Not because these other vehicles aren’t stupendous cars but because of all the cars listed, a 4-runner is unmatched at holding its value.

Here’s an example of where Occam’s Razor couldn’t apply.

Let’s say you’ve made the decision to go with the Toyota 4-runner.

Now, you have another decision… which color?

You’ve narrowed it down to two colors that couldn’t be any more different… yellow or white.

Occam’s Razor might tell you that the obvious decision is white because it’s easier on the eyes, probably shows fewer scratches and isn’t overly “loud” in catching the attention of cops anxious to write you a ticket.

However, when it comes to SUVs, yellow vehicles depreciate at 30.3% every three years, while white vehicles depreciate at 40.1% every three years.

So, if you truly love both colors, the obvious decision of white wouldn’t be the right decision, would it?

The yellow vehicle would be.

But, I digress.

By Cole Schafer.