Jeff Bezos had an idea. A great idea. But he hadn’t made the jump yet.
Even so, he wasn’t shy about it, telling everyone including his boss his intentions. He told them he wanted to start an online store to sell books. His boss was intrigued, but told him to think it over. After all, he had a great job, why bother with a startup?
So Bezos took 48 hours to think it through, but he needed a way to help him make this decision. He needed a mental model that would allow him to come to the right answer.
A mental model is a way to think about the world. It is how we respond and make decisions on the things we encounter in daily life. No single model is right for every person, so it’s important to understand what works for you. You need to understand how you perceive the world and what you hold important. Furthermore, different models work for different situations.
For Bezos, the model he used for this decision became the Regret Minimization Framework. While simple, it’s what got him to take action on the idea he had been incubating for some time. It was what turned a difficult decision into an easy one.
It all starts with a question: In X years, will I regret not doing this?
The idea is to project yourself into the future and look back on your decision from that perspective. For Bezos, he thought of when he would be 80 and if he would regret not trying to start this company. Yes or no. His answer was quite clear.
As Bezos puts it:
I knew that when I was 80 I was not going to regret having tried this. I was not going to regret trying to participate in this thing called the Internet that I thought was going to be a really big deal. I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not ever having tried.
I love this for a few reasons. First, it forces you to think beyond the moment. Past all the fears and doubts that you may be having. Instead, you fast forward into the future and assess things from that perspective.
This presents the decision in a completely new light. One that may make your fears and doubts hardly relevant in the grand scheme of things. It certainly worked for Bezos.
Second, it’s a model that can be used throughout your life, whenever you face tough decisions that rest on your shoulders. Having such a tool to leverage when you’re not quite sure what to do is powerful.
While the Regret Minimization Framework (RMF) may not be right for you, having mental models in your toolkit is essential. They help you take action, make hard decisions, and lead a life in line with your ideals.
To break a mental model is harder than splitting an atom.
Moreover, they are nearly infallible. It’s difficult to dispute the results of a good mental model, no matter how hard you try. So try the regret minimization framework or one of many other mental models out there and see which ones work for you and why.
By creating a collection of models based on the principles of your life, decisions will never be a problem. The key is finding the ones that work for you.