Roman Imankulov

Roman Imankulov

Full-stack Python web developer from Porto

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31 Jan 2023

Say Maybe to Hell Yeah

There is a 2009 post from Derek Sivers, No yes. Either HELL YEAH! or no, a very short one, and it can be condensed even further in a single sentence.

If you’re not saying “HELL YEAH!” about something, say no.

Brilliant advice on learning to say “no” to so-so experiences to laser-focus on a single stellar thing.

Yet, there is a big-big caveat! HELL YEAH doesn’t guarantee you make the best choice out of the outcomes. It just helps you make the choice you are most excited about right now. And it’s not the same thing.

Two systems in your brain

My favorite 500-page-long explanation of why HELL YEAH doesn’t work as you would expect is the book “Thinking, fast and slow” by Daniel Kahneman.

The central idea of the book is that our brain has two systems. Kahneman calls them “system 1” and “system 2.” System 1 is responsible for quick, inexpensive, intuitive explanations, and it is correct, like, 99% of the time. All gut feelings, rules of thumb, etc., come from that System 1. In contrast, the slow System 2 does the heavy lifting of logical analysis. It’s about “on the one hand, on the other hand,” “what if,” etc.

We associate ourselves with our system 2, but most decisions are usually generated by system 1, and reach system 2 for a seal of approval. Also, as disappointing as it is, both systems are big cheaters. What can be more ironic than your own brain making fun of you?

System 1 applies all sorts of decision-making shortcuts. The List of cognitive biases of Wikipedia is no short of a few hundred biases, and System 1 actively employs them to provide the “mostly correct answer” in the shortest time.

As for System 2, is slow and expensive, and to save some precious calories, Mother Nature made it lazy. In other words, it tends to blindly approve the decisions from system 1 without scrutinizing them. What’s worse, to disguise its laziness, system 2 developed a super-sophisticated ability to explain whatever decision System 1 took from the rational, logical perspective. From innocent, “I ate that whole chocolate bar because my brain urgently needed carbs,” to borderline unlawful, “I rejected this candidate because he was not a good cultural fit.”

As you may guess, only System 1 can give you the HELL YEAH answer. The best answer System 2 can provide you is “yes, but…” with the whole page of fine print about why it doesn’t work. So, your HELL YEAH outcomes are inherently irrational. Is this how you want to make your life decisions?

When intuition is wrong

But is this whole “trust your gut feeling” necessarily a bad thing? Nature developed two systems for a reason, after all. System 1 is quick, but it’s also right most of the time, so why can’t I use the confidence of HELL YEAH as proof that I’m on the right track?

Several studies show that experts’ confidence in the predictions they make rarely correlates with the correctness of their predictions. This correlation varies from field to field. Kahneman differentiates “regular” and “unregular” environments. Intuition, Kahneman claims, is nothing but a pattern matching. Regular domains have some patterns to reveal and predict the future. Unregular environments are essentially white noise; no matter how hard you train your intuition, the environment doesn’t provide enough cues to make a call.

For example, chess is a complex but highly regular environment where experts can make good calls. On a different side of the spectrum, there are people inventing “systems to win the lottery” that try to find patterns in pure randomness. They can be very confident and convincing, but it doesn’t make their predictions more plausible.

How to live with it

Now, here are a few takeaways from these premises about two systems and how it all applies to the HELL YEAH strategy.

Think of your environment. Before judging your HELL YEAH instinct, think about how the regular environment is, and hence, how much you can trust your intuition.

Consider HELL YEAH as a yellow flag. I would raise a yellow flag here if you feel too enthusiastic about something or someone. There is nothing wrong with the hell yeah feeling itself, but overwhelming enthusiasm means that your system 1 kicks in and probably, prevents your logical and boring “system 2 accountant” from taking a look at the opportunity rationally.

It’s OK not to have a HELL YEAH level of excitement. If rarely, if ever, you have that “HELL YEAH” feeling, probably, it just means that you are a rational person who doesn’t let your System 1 take over the analytical part.

Roman Imankulov

Hey, I am Roman, and you can hire me.

I am a full-stack Python web developer who loves helping startups and small teams turn their ideas into products.

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