Once upon a time, before building what would become the largest online retailer in the world, Jeff Bezos was a vice president at a fledgling hedge fund. Despite being very good at his job, Bezos couldn't shake the idea of building a startup that would leverage this rapidly growing thing known as the internet as a way to sell books online.
So, Bezos went to his boss to let him know his plans, and that he would be leaving the company. The boss asked him to join him for a walk, which turned into a two-hour trek through Central Park.
"You know, this actually sounds like a really good idea to me," Bezos's boss told him (as Bezos revealed in an interview several years ago). "But it sounds like it would be a better idea for somebody who didn't already have a good job." The boss then persuaded Bezos to think about it for 48 hours before making a final decision.
Bezos desperately searched for a framework to help guide his thinking, to reassure him he was making a good decision. He finally settled on one he describes as the "regret minimization framework," something he admits only a nerd would call it.
But there's a much better name for this framework, something as simple and easy to remember as it is helpful in making decisions with emotional intelligence, the ability to understand and manage emotions.
I like to call it the golden question.
What is the golden question? How did it help Bezos make his final decision? And how can it help you to make big decisions in your life? Let's break it down.
(If you find value in the golden question, you might be interested in my emotional intelligence course--which includes 20 more frameworks, or rules, that will help you develop your emotional intelligence. Check out the course here.)
How the golden question helps you make good decisions
To help him decide whether or not to leave his very stable, very financially rewarding job to pursue a crazy dream, Bezos projected himself forward to age 80 and looked back on his life with the goal of minimizing regrets.
"I knew that when I was 80 I was not going to regret having tried this," says Bezos. "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 and I knew that that would haunt me every day. And so when I thought about it that way, it was an incredibly easy decision."
This regret minimization framework can be useful when you're trying to manage emotions, cut through the noise, and make difficult decisions. Building upon this framework, the golden question uses a five-question-in-one technique to help you do the same thing as Bezos.
Here's how it works. When navigating your emotions as you attempt to make a major decision, ask yourself the following:
How will I feel about this in:
- a day?
- a week?
- a month?
- a year?
- Five, 15, or 20 years?
This question is helpful because of the way our brains handle both rational and emotional thinking.
We typically engage the frontal lobe when it comes to high-level executive functions such as planning and organizing. But when we feel threatened, as Bezos may have when he second guessed whether or not leaving a stable job and upcoming bonus was the right thing to do, another part of our brain known as the amygdala jumps into action, often resulting in a fight, flight, or freeze response.
By asking yourself the golden question, you use your brain as a whole, balancing rational thought and emotions. Yes, you have the ability now to carefully and thoughtfully imagine how things will play out in the years to come, but you also keep emotions as part of the equation.
Because regret is a powerful feeling that no one wants to experience, it can help you make a decision that reduces regret and helps you move forward, without looking back.
So, the next time you're faced with a challenging decision, remember the golden question. Because the key to making emotionally intelligent decisions isn't taking emotions out of the equation--it's finding a way to keep them in balance.