The limited number of criteria we can consider forces us to reduce the number of things so that our judgement can be big enough to contain meaning. We have to compress all the information we have received into a small number of criteria – good or bad, pretty or ugly, commandment or offense, decent or indecent. According to the society and social circumstances we are raised in (along with some tools from previous generations), we learn a way to make decisions.
The buffer of short-term memory Miller’s Law describes is easily occupied by cognition load. According to Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, one exercise to see cognition load first-hand is to take three numbers, then start a metronome. Every few seconds, add three to the numbers. Let’s say you start with two, five, and seven – keep those in your mind, then add three to them every few seconds. This will result in cognition load, and eventually you will get to the point where you deplete all your short-term memory. You have literally overloaded your ability to think when you’re doing that. There is a battle being done in the parasympathetic system, and it can be medically measured by the irregularity of your heartbeat (HOV) or the dilation of your pupils. If I were to give this exercise to a person and ask them to walk while doing it, they’d have to stop walking, since we use our cognitive skills when walking. It’s part of the reason why walking while looking at our smartphones is dangerous – when we are trying to solve a problem, all the resources in our body get devoted to it.
When decision-making is hindered by cognition load, it hinders our ability to handle unexpected situations. And when unexpected situations happen, we need to react in the proper way. When we have to make decisions and handle a situation but can’t, or when we don’t know how to make a decision when something new happens to us, we start to lose our self-esteem.
This is actually a super interesting phenomenon. A lack of coordination happens because the body is relying on organic learning, and organic learning is basically derived from your mental ability to make decisions. When the mind is occupied with calculations, there’s a toll on the body’s coordination and learning. Not only is there a toll on the body coordination, a toll is taken on another function that competes with coordination: the decision-making function.
Of course, the toll on organic learning also hinders another aspect: the sensations of our own organic feelings. You will often see a person that is lost in his head doing calculations, and they have lost their ability to feel their emotions. By losing this connection to your emotion, it takes a big toll on our empathy to other people.
Beyond these cognitive limitations, the fact is that a brain lacks the ability to stop and do the math. Math is complicated. People think they’re taking care of themselves, but they only consider a few options, So they keep on living in life, thinking about catastrophes or sticking to their habits, all the while remaining unable to make a decision. How silly that is. People’s lives are stuck all over the world. It’s not that people can’t make a decision, they’re just not capable of taking this decision. Our capability is very limited.
With all of that said, it’s important for us to learn, to be aware of our own cognitive efforts, and try to find ways to make it easier. We won’t always notice that it’s a problem of choice. We must be aware of the fact that we’re choosing. When a choice is being made and when a choice is not being made. When we manage to understand that we’re in a state of choosing and we have no answer, we’ll see that we’re in a state of cognitive effort and that’s a sign we must use rationality. As previously mentioned, this book will teach a method to do just that. If we can find tricks or ways to ease this cognitive state, we can ease our cognitive load, especially in times of decision making. The very fact that we know we’re faced with the problem of having to choose, and we can choose in a logical way, gives us great relief.
This is the world we face as human beings, one where we don’t know how to make decisions. Since we don’t trust ourselves, we feel bad, we’re stressed, and we keep bad habits. We need some kind of mechanism to guide us through the process, especially when we are emotional or dealing with an emotional situation. It’s really helpful to have a system like to look at it from different angles that is not interfered with by our emotional state right now. That’s where this system I’m about to show you shines, since it gives room for our feelings to shine and be turned into tangible numbers.
It’s time to upgrade our decision-making method and evolve into better humans that make better choices for us, better choices for the earth, and better choices for everything.
One of the main reasons it’s difficult to make decisions by looking at our options and criteria is because of a cognitive limitation. There’s a bottleneck in our ability to hold information in our short-term memory, which makes it tough to compare all of our options or criteria.
That cognitive limitation is commonly referred to as Miller’s Law. In 1956, the cognitive psychology George A. Miller published a paper about a person’s working memory capacity. According to him, the number of objects we can hold in our short-term memory is seven objects, plus or minus two. In other words, people can only consider up to nine things at a time, and some people struggle with seven or even five. Beyond that, our brain drops things from short-term memory to make room for the new data. Many people try to think of one criterion, one dimension of the problem, and then they switch to another dimension of the problem, and then another, and then they find it very hard to synthesize all this information into one solution.
There are many environmental influences that must be considered, and I will define the nature of influences in the next section. The point I wish to make to start this chapter is that Miller Law’s is real. We can generate ten or twenty options because there are an unlimited amount of options and criteria we can consider. Miller’s Law, however, means there is a limitation on the number of objects we can process in our minds and make a decision. Humans have found ways to bypass this limitation or simplify the decision-making process, but these aren’t comprehensive solutions to the problem. Simplifying or creating shortcuts creates problems, and the very fact that our ability to make calculations is limited creates a lack of self-confidence. It can feel like the deck is stacked against you before you even attempt to play the game.
In every simple decision, the options and criteria – which I will collectively refer to as influences – must be considered. We might be able to consider three options and three criteria (for nine influences total), or two options and four criteria (for eight influences total). When a person is faced with ten options and ten criteria, though, there is no chance for them to be able to make that kind of decision in their head.
The more criteria we use and the more options that we want to consider, the more we find ourselves trying to bypass these mechanisms that help us make the best possible decision. Miller’s Law cannot be beat, though, and the cognitive limit to our decision making ability remains no matter what we try. As a result, we stick to habits or our heuristics instead, and continue to do what we’ve done before. We tend to limit our thinking to either very few criteria, very few options or both. In the end, we minimize our thinking to just a few options and make a choice between them.