A long time ago, before creating the largest online retailer in the world, Jeff Bezos was a vice president at a fledgling hedge fund. Although he was very good at his job, Bezos couldn’t get rid of the idea of creating a startup that would use this fast-growing thing known as the Internet as a way to sell books online.
So Bezos went to his boss to inform him of his plans and that he would be leaving the company. His boss asked him to walk with him, which turned into a two-hour walk through Central Park.
“You know, that does sound like a very good idea to me,” Boss Bezos told him (as Bezos revealed in an interview a few 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 convinced Bezos to mull it over for 48 hours before making a final decision.
Bezos desperately searched for a framework to help guide his thinking, to convince him that he was making the right decision. Eventually he settled on what he describes as a “regret minimization framework,” which he admits only a nerd would call it.
But there is a much better name for this framework, something as simple and easy to remember as it is useful 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 make important decisions in your life? Let’s break this down.
How the golden question helps him make the right decisions
To help him decide whether to leave his very stable, very financially rewarding job to follow a crazy dream, Bezos projected himself into his 80s and looked back on his life to minimize regrets.
“I knew that when I was 80, I wasn’t going to regret trying it,” Bezos says. “I wasn’t going to regret trying to participate in this thing called the Internet, which I thought would be a really big deal. I knew that if I failed, I wouldn’t regret it, but I knew that the only thing I could regret was that I never tried, and I knew it would haunt me every day. And when I thought about it, it was an incredibly easy decision.”
This system of minimizing regrets can be useful when you’re trying to manage emotions, get through the noise, and make difficult decisions. Based on this structure, the golden question uses the five questions in one technique to help you do the same thing that Bezos did.
Here’s how it works. When managing your emotions, when you’re trying to make an important decision, ask yourself:
How am I going to feel about this in:
In a day?
In a week?
In a month?
Five, 15, or 20 years?
This question is useful because of the way our brains handle rational and emotional thinking.
We usually engage the frontal lobe when it comes to high-level executive functions like planning and organizing. But when we feel threatened, as Bezos may have done when he guessed twice whether leaving a stable job and an upcoming bonus was right, another part of our brain known as the amygdala body kicks in, often resulting in a fight, flight or freeze.
By asking yourself the golden question, you are using your brain as a whole, balancing rational