Select: The power of extreme criteria

Published on Oct 17, 2020

This is my ongoing series with notes as I explore the concept of Essentialism.

Introduction to Essentialism

The power of choice

The unimportance of practically everything

Trade-offs: Which problem do I want?

The perks of being unavailable

See what really matters

Play: Embrace the wisdom of your inner child

Sleep: Protect the asset

Derek Sivers describes a simple technique for becoming more selective in the choices we make. The key is to put the decision to an extreme test: If we feel total and utter conviction to do something, then we say yes. Anything less gets a thumbs down. In other words, it's either a "Hell yes!" or a no. 

The 90 Percent Rule

As you evaluate an option, think about the single most important criterion for that decision, and then simply give the option a score between 0 and 100. If you rate it any lower than 90 percent, then automatically change the rating to 0 and reject it. 

Mastering selection means that we have to be vigilant about acknowledging trade-offs. Sometimes you will have to turn down a seemingly very good option and have faith that the perfect option will soon come along. Sometimes it will, sometimes it won't, but the point is that the very act of applying selective criteria forces you to choose which perfect option to wait for, rather than letting other people, or the universe, choose for you. This skill forces you to make decisions by design, rather than default. When our selection criteria are too broad, we will find ourselves committing to too many options. What's more, assigning simple numerical values to our options forces us to make decisions consciously, logically, and rationally, rather than impulsively or emotionally. Yes, it takes discipline to apply tough criteria. But failing to do so carries a high cost.

Here is a systematic process to apply selection criteria to opportunities that come your way. First, write down the opportunity. Second, write down a list of three "minimum criteria" the options would need to "pass" in order to be considered. Third, write down a list of three ideal or "extreme criteria" the options would need to "pass in order to be considered. By definition, if the opportunity doesn't pass the first set of criteria, the answer is obviously no. But if it also doesn't pass two of your three extreme criteria, the answer is still no.


Says yes to almost every request or opportunity

Uses broad, implicit criteria like "If someone I know is doing it, I should do it."


Says yes to only the top 10 percent of opportunities.

Uses narrow, explicit criteria like "Is this exactly what I am looking for?"