Use Zero Based Thinking to Guide your Decisions

Some years back, I came across a stunning decision-making or thinking technique called Zero Based Thinking, I’ve got Brian Tracy to thank for that. One thing I have come to notice in life is that we make wrong decisions a lot of times. It’s only natural to make a mistake, that’s how life operates. We are bound to make mistakes from our actions, but that does not stop us, we keep heading forward. But the big question is how do you realize you have made a mistake? Unluckily, we tend to cloud our judgments with “emotions.” Our emotions make us realize mistakes when it’s late. Even after recognizing a mistake, you may not want to act because everything could appear challenging or more difficult because of our emotions. That’s why most of us are professionals when it comes to advising our friends to make decisions, but we fail to make decisions in matters concerning us. Thus, a thinking technique like zero based thinking can be really useful.

Zero-based thinking can guide your decision. It means “would you make the same decision if you know what you know now? The examples below will help you understand this easily.


Most of the people I know – friends in their late 20’s– are at that point of making a key decision in their relationships. They have been dating their girlfriend for more than two years and are under pressure to get married, but they are uncertain if they are ready for marriage.

If they turn to me for advice, I will recommend zero-based thinking. “Would you ask her out to be your girlfriend or be in a relationship with you again if she was not your girlfriend?”

I recommend this approach because I am only encouraging people to think deeper, not end their relationship.


If you own a company, or you have the power to hire or fire, then it is possible you will make a bad hire sooner or later. So, how do you know if you should let someone go?

The best way to go about it is to imagine if this particular person was not an employee in your organization. Would you recruit them again considering their past performance and how they fit into your company?

If your answer is yes, then they can stay, but if you think hiring them would be a wrong choice, then it’s time to let such a person go.

Things like this are bound to happen. It could be their performance in the past was superb, but they could not sustain such performance or keep up with the growth of the company. Or, it could be they became lazy over time. I must say, I had to let go some of my employees, and it was not an easy decision. In fact, it becomes more difficult the more you do it.


I have a friend who created an application for iPhone. He spent a lot of money and time developing the iPhone app, but it never took off. He got a fantastic job offer, and he needed to decide if he should take the job or continue with the app?

He knew deep down he had to shun the app, but it was difficult doing that. He gave a lot to this project and was uncertain about his feelings if he gives up.

I introduced him to zero-based thinking. “You gave everything to developing this app. Would you do this again if you could travel back in time?” He answered no, so he decided to take the job offer.

Is he weak or a quitter? Definitely not. Sometimes, the best decision you can ever make is to quit. Right now, he is making a lot of money from the job and uses his spare time in developing another application.

The fact that you quit on a failing project does not make you a quitter. You become a quitter when you give up in the pursuit for success or when you fail to chase your dreams.


You have lots of stuff and the New Year is by the corner. It’s so difficult being a minimalist if you are into technology and gadgets. Throwing things out is very difficult because of the memories attached to it or the money spent on it.

So the question is, “Would you purchase this item again?” Go through your stuff and ask yourself this question. Anything you know you would buy again, keep it; any item, gadget or clothes you know you wouldn’t purchase again, give it out – charity.

Doing this will keep your organized, clean, and also thankful because you gave to charity.

Sunk Cost Bias

For those who studied psychology, you will notice that zero-based thinking and sunk cost bias are similar.

A cost already paid for or incurred that cannot be recovered is referred to as a sunk cost. Thus, do not allow the cost affect your decisions in the future.

Last year, I was in Vietnam, and I paid for non-refundable tickets/hotels to Bangkok. I was all set and prepared, but I fell sick the previous night. I really wanted to go; I wanted forcing myself because I have paid about 600 USD for the tickets/hotels. I would be wasting money if I did not go.

That’s me loosing 600 bucks. There is no way I can get that back. I discovered that it is a sunk cost.

So, I had to come up with a better decision. I am not feeling well, is traveling to Bangkok worth it? I did not go, the feeling was not right, and I will spend more than 600 USD if my condition becomes worse if I traveled.

Some people are terrible gamblers because of this. They are aware they have lost money to gambling, but because they want to get back their money, they insist on playing.


You can shape your decision-making process with zero-based thinking; it is a great technique to improve your decisions. Do not allow your previous decisions to tie you down. Life changes, and you become smarter and also acquire wisdom in the process. And with wisdom, you can pinpoint where you made mistakes.

Know that changing the past is an impossible task; you don’t have the power to do that. But you can decide on your future by making better decisions.