The importance of life benchmarks

How to use expectations and acceptance criteria to drive larger life decisions

I’ve often wondered, “how do I know when a decision or choice is good enough to act on?” From something as simple as, “what restaurant should I eat at?” to more complex decisions, like “should I buy a house? what kind of house should it be?” More often than not, I rely on intuition, which I believe to be a combination of experience and knowledge. But there’s a central problem with intuition: it’s not immediately measurable. More so, it may not actually align with my longterm happiness or expectations.

A tool for evaluation

I realized that I needed a better, more reliable way to evaluate these situations. Intuition felt sufficient for more trivial scenarios, but for more complex or variable decisions, like “where should I travel to this year,” I felt myself lacking acceptance criteria.

Enter benchmarks. Benchmarks are a standard set of expectations or measurements, by which we can evaluate something. People typically use them for business and the development of products, but they can be just as effective for making life decisions.

Creating a benchmark

So, let’s talk about the “travel destination” situation. How could we go about establishing a benchmark for a vacation? You might start with a list of how you could evaluate a trip:

  • Climate
  • Cost
  • Duration
  • Access
  • Outdoors
  • Amenities
  • Adventure and Attractions
  • Social Activity

I call these variables, because they can vary depending on who you are and the time of life you are in. From here, we could go a step further and prioritize our list with expectations and acceptance criteria:

  1. Outdoors — must have nature and hiking trails.
  2. Climate — should ideally be moderate to warm temperatures.
  3. Adventure and Attractions — should incorporate novel experiences and unique sights.
  4. Duration — between 3 days and 2 weeks.
  5. Cost — should cost no more than $3,000.
  6. Access — shouldn’t take more than 4 hours to drive to or 9 hours of flight time.
  7. Amenities — need basic housing accommodations. Restaurants and coffee shops are negotiable.
  8. Social Activity — prefer solitude and minimal interaction.

There are so many implicit outcomes of creating a benchmark like this. We now have a basic understanding of what’s acceptable, and just as important, what’s not acceptable. Judging from this list, any large metropolis, like New York City or LA, is out of the question. If we desire more moderate temperatures, this may even refine the time of year we choose to go. Ultimately, we can now consider a range of options, from a weekend wilderness get away to an extensive, hiking trip through the Colorado Rockies.

And, we don’t have to stick to our original list. I encourage a cycle of scope, search, repeat. As you research and acquire more knowledge, you can evolve and update your current benchmarks.

Benchmarks FTW

One of the greatest benefits of life benchmarks is that they enable effective and reliable decision-making. They empower us to get what we want out of our life experiences and resources. So next time you’re faced with a larger life decision, consider the benchmark, grab some coffee, and try creating an expectations and evaluations list.