Jun 28, 2021 • 8M

Mental Razors

20+ powerful razors to help you cut through life's noise

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Mental Razors

Razors are rules that simplify decisions.

20+ powerful razors (to help you cut through life’s noise):

The ELI5 Razor

Complexity and jargon are often used to mask a lack of true understanding.

If you can’t explain it to a 5-year-old, you don’t really understand it. If someone uses a lot of complexity and jargon to explain something to you, they probably don’t understand it.

Munger’s Rule of Opinions

“I never allow myself to have an opinion on anything that I don’t know the other side’s argument better than they do.” - Charlie Munger

Opinions aren’t free. You have to work to earn the right to have them.

The Taleb “Look the Part” Razor

If forced to choose between two options of seemingly equal merit, choose the one that doesn’t look the part. The one who doesn’t look the part has had to overcome much more to achieve its status than the one who fit in perfectly.

The Bezos Regret Minimization Framework

The goal is to minimize the number of regrets in life.

When faced with a difficult decision:

  1. Project yourself into the future

  2. Look back on the decision

  3. Ask "Will I regret not doing this?"

  4. Take action

The Boaster’s Razor

Truly successful people rarely feel the need to boast about their success.

If someone regularly boasts about their income, wealth, or success, it’s fair to assume the reality is a fraction of what they claim.

The Steve Jobs Quality Razor

“When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.” - Steve Jobs

When building, take pride in carrying the quality all the way through. Would you be proud for your work to be seen from every angle and perspective? If not, keep working.

Buffett’s Rule of Holes

“The most important thing to do if you find yourself in a hole is to stop digging." - Warren Buffett

When things aren’t working, change course and try something different. When you find yourself at the bottom of a hole, stop digging and climb out of it.

The Paul Graham Crazy Idea Razor

If someone proposes a crazy idea, ask:

  1. Are they a domain expert?

  2. Do I know them to be reasonable?

If yes on (1) and (2), you should take the idea seriously, as it may be an asymmetric bet on the future.

The Circle of Competence

Be ruthless in identifying your circle of competence (and its boundaries). When faced with a big decision, ask yourself whether you are qualified to handle it given your circle. If yes, proceed. If no, outsource it to someone who is.

The Duck Test

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. You can determine a lot about a person by regularly observing their habitual characteristics.

Buffett’s Juicy Pitch

“You don't have to swing at everything - you can wait for your pitch." - Warren Buffett

Life doesn’t reward you for the number of swings you take. Slow down and focus on identifying the juiciest pitch. When it comes, swing hard and don’t miss it.

Occam’s Razor

The simplest explanation is often the best one. Simple assumptions > complex assumptions. Simple is beautiful.

The Buffett Reputation Razor

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently.” - Warren Buffett

Remember that quote and act accordingly. Your character is your fate.

Hanlon’s Razor

Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.

In assessing someone's actions, we should not assume negative intent if there is a viable alternative explanation, such as different beliefs, incompetence, or ignorance.

Machiavelli’s Razor

A simple modification of Hanlon’s Razor:

Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by self-interest.

In assessing someone's actions, we should not assume negative intent if there is a viable alternative explanation that they are acting on rooted self-interest.

Newton’s Flaming Laser Sword

If something cannot be settled by experiment or observation, it is not worth debating. This will save you from wasting a lot of time on pointless arguments.

Hitchens’ Razor

What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence. The burden of proof regarding a claim lies with the one who makes the claim. If unmet, no argument is required to dismiss it.

Sagan’s Standard

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” - Carl Sagan

The more crazy and outrageous the claim, the more crazy and outrageous the body of evidence must be in order to prove it.

The Naval Reading Razor

“Read what you love until you love to read.” - Naval

When deciding what to read, just read whatever grabs you. Avoid the trap of only reading “impressive” or “smart” books that bore you to death. Never establish vanity metrics (e.g. # of books) as goals.

The Eisenhower Decision Matrix

When faced with a task, ask: “Is this urgent? Is this important?”

An "urgent" task is one that requires immediate attention. An "important" task is one that promotes or furthers your long-term goals.

Place it on a 2x2 matrix and act accordingly.

The Steve Jobs Settling Razor

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.” - Steve Jobs

It’s Monday morning. Did you wake up with energy or with dread? Your answer will tell you if you’re settling.

The Career Razor

When deciding on a new job, choose the one that will challenge you the most (intellectually, physically, or emotionally). Challenge and discomfort forces growth.

P.S. Check out The Bloomboard for challenging new roles!


Those are 20+ powerful razors to help you cut through life’s noise. What are your favorites? What razors am I missing?

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