top of page

From four paths, we choose the worst

The dilemma 

My friend Heidi had just moved into a new apartment. She had a week left before she had to turn over her old apartment to the landlord and get her deposit back. She was agonizing over a choice.

If she cleaned up everything herself, which she didn't anticipate enjoying very much, she would also have the concern that it might not be good enough to convince the landlord to return the full deposit. If, instead, she hired a professional housecleaner to spend two hours doing it, she was confident she would get her full deposit back. But, not being flush with cash, Heidi was concerned about paying for the housekeeper when she could have tried to get it clean enough herself.

If Heidi followed her default pattern of indecisiveness, she would wait until the last minute before deciding, which, in this case, it would have likely removed the option of doing it herself. She would have also have incurred the additional cost of mental suffering as long as she delayed the decision.

It's not two paths to choose from, it's four

After listening to Heidi explain her conundrum, I pointed out to her a few facts.

Either path has costs and risks, whether short-term or long-term. She had no path open to her that has no costs or risks. 

She's unlikely to have any more information in the future that will help her to know more clearly which path has less cost and less risk.

There are actually two other paths before her, two paths to look at first and make a choice about, which if she doesn't look at it, thereby opting for the default of the first two paths, that will be making the worst choice of the four paths to choose from.


The first choice is to decide between the path of delaying a decision on which of the second two paths to take or to not delay on making that decision. Delaying that decision is almost always and very obviously worse than choosing to decide now and it's even worse that "making a mistake" in your decision about which of the second two paths to take. This is true because she is certainly no more likely to make a mistake if she makes that decision now rather than later. If fact, it is more likely that she'll make a better decision now because she's not waiting to be forced into it which will happen if she delays.


Moreover, whatever path she chooses, she will have more time to implement it well, thereby reducing costs and risks and increasing benefits and possibilities

Two forks in the road

Imagine you're driving down the road. There is a fork in the road ahead. But you don't notice the fork and consequently take the righthand path of the fork by default, not recognizing that it is the long, arduous route to the second fork, which you're going to eventually get to anyway. If you had taken the lefthand path, it would have taken you more quickly and easily to the second fork.


Heidi's choice

After new clarity from our conversation, Heidi made the choice immediately to call the cleaning lady and arrange for her to clean the apartment. She felt great about herself for choosing the courage to do that.

bottom of page