What goals should I set? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Auren Hoffman, SafeGraph CEO, on Quora:

One of the most important things in decision making is to have only a few goals. The fewer the goals, the easier it is to optimize decisions.

But even with a few goals, you will have to rank-order the goals when you are making difficult decisions. It is really important to understand your true goals. You need tie-breakers.

For instance, most politicians hold these two goals:

  1. Wanting to make the world a better place.
  2. Wanting to be known as making the world a better place.

Sometimes, one can achieve these goals simultaneously. However, many times these goals are in conflict. When your goals are in conflict, you need to have a tie-breaker so you know what you should do.

And that tie-breaker needs to be honest or you will have cognitive dissonance. Of course, most people will say making the world a better place is more important than getting the credit... but we all know that is a very difficult decision for most humans to make. So you need to understand your tie-breakers and choose.

Another common business trade-off is money today verses uncertain future investment. Goals:

  1. Wanting to earn profit today.
  2. Wanting to make investments to be more profitable in the future.

Here the trade-off is difficult because the future is unknown. Your company would of course trade money today for a guaranteed 20% yearly return in the future. But, of course, all investments have risks. Some might go to zero. Some might end up 1000x higher.

Parents suffer with this as well. Goals:

  1. Wanting to be a good parent.
  2. Wanting to be known as being a good parent.

For parents, doing what everyone else in your community is doing will help you optimize for #2. But it is unclear (because the future is uncertain) that doing what the other parents do is actually best for your children. It is also incredibly difficult to go against the grain as sometimes being a good parent could result in others thinking you are a bad parent.

Summation: in all decisions, be honest with yourself about your tie-breakers.

This question originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions:

Published on: May 24, 2018