The ability to accurately estimate a target value is an asset to any brain. Learn to hone this ability, embrace it, and use it to optimize your life.
Our lives are surrounded by invisible data – most of it in units of time, energy, space, and money. Essentially, our brains are huge folded databases that store this data, and use it to make decisions, plan ahead, and live each day. But as with many types of data, there exists some uncertainty about that data. Unknowns about how long, how big, how much, from where, until when, should i, almost enough, maybe tomorrow… well you get the picture. Our life data is filled with unknowns.
That’s why estimation is essential. Without it we’d get lost, fall behind, and lose our sense of security and awareness. Whether we know it or not, our brains constantly work to estimate and approximate values, given set of life data at that moment in time. And whether we know it or not, our brains run predictive models to assess hypothetical scenarios, basically using present life data to predict future life outcomes.
These are important realizations, and strong connections of human nature to an innate mathematical realm. Estimation is both an art and a science, as it takes creativity and thought supported by various numerical methods. Having the mathematical ability to estimate proves useful in most situations, but without the artistic component, you lose the ability to understand and contextualize your estimation.
The main point here is that estimation should be embraced as part of human nature, supported by numerical methods. This is how we can optimize our life – by recognizing the units with which our lives are measured each day, and reducing as much uncertainty in those values as humanly possible. It will not make you completely successful and happy and secure, but it will get you close.
Here are some random examples of estimation from my life. The methods of estimation vary, but the fundamental questions being asked all have outcomes of an unknown nature.
1. Shopping: Budgeting $150 for a dinner party, break budget down to categories of purchases then allocate funds accordingly. Estimate totals and percent of total budget category to make decisions on necessity.
Outcome: Go bigger on the dinner and ask a couple guests to bring desserts.
2. Sports: Ten minutes left in the game, down by 2 goals. Have two full lines of players so will sub soon and again with 4 min left. Need at least 1 goal every 4 minutes leaving a 2 min buffer to protect the tie and go for a win, should allocate 60% of strategy to offense and 40% to defense for next 8 minutes. If I’m in for 6 min and need 60% offensive mindset, how inclined should I be to make a run towards the goal, leaving my defensive position?
3. Personal Finance: How much to take out at the ATM? Need to estimate expenses for the week – lunch, happy hour, gas, dinner, cab to meeting, etc. How often will I use my credit card? Am I more inclined to spend if I have cash? Will I be near another ATM this week if I need more cash? How conservative should I be in my spending given the holiday season is arriving?
Outcome: Take out $60 and bring lunch.
4. Daily Planning: Got a hour-long meeting at 3:30pm, soccer game at 6:30pm. Assuming there will be traffic, it will take me 35 minutes to get home then 5 minutes to change, 10 to heat up leftovers, 10 to eat, and 15 to switch and fold laundry. Need 25 minutes to get to field and 15 min to warm up. Will I have enough time if my 3:30pm meeting goes long or do I need to put off the laundry and/or dinner?
Outcome: Always put off laundry, but never dinner 😉