The Art Of Decision-Making: How To Make Better Decisions Faster With Paul Epstein

Penny ZenkerTake Back Time Podcast

TBT | Better Decisions Faster


“Show me the quality of your choices, I’ll show you the quality of your life.” — Paul Epstein.


Are you ready to take control of your life by making better decisions faster? In this engaging episode, host Penny Zenker welcomes Paul Epstein. Pulling insights from his book, “Better Decisions Faster”, Paul dives into the art of decision-making, productivity, and personal fulfillment. He introduces the “Head-Heart-Hands Equation,” a transformative approach to decision-making that aligns your mindset (head), authenticity (heart), and action (hands), leading to a more confident and fulfilling life. Paul also shares the concept of “good yellow” and “bad yellow” decisions and how to navigate them. Find out why prioritizing needle-moving activities, especially during your peak energy times, is essential for success. Paul also discusses the importance of values and how consistently acting on them can boost your confidence. Tune in now and get ready to make confident decisions that will transform your life.

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The Art Of Decision-Making: How To Make Better Decisions Faster With Paul Epstein

I’m excited to talk about decision-making because I was once asked to write one chapter in a book, and that chapter was supposed to encapsulate productivity. I was like, “Productivity is such a big topic. It’s so broad.” What I came up with was that decision-making was the heart of productivity. I’m super excited to talk about that and how that can help us to work smarter and get better results faster.

I’m super excited to have Paul Epstein with me. He has spent nearly fifteen years of his professional sports executive for multiple NFL and NBA teams. It’s a global sports agency and the NFL League office where he’s broken every premium revenue metric in Super Bowl history. This guy’s got some skills here. He’s opened a billion-dollar stadium. He’s founded the San Francisco 49ers Talent Academy. He’s become known as the Why Coach. He’s an award-winning keynote speaker. He is named one of the Success magazine’s Top Thought Leaders That Gets Results. That’s what we’re here for, Paul, to get results. Let’s talk there. Your latest book that’s been out is called Better Decisions Faster, and that’s what we’re going to talk about.

Let’s jam on all fronts. I’m fired up to be here.

I don’t even know where to start. Your bio is so interesting from so many different ways. Give us a short story of your background.

Short story, I hung out for a decade and a half in the professional sports world, like you said, NFL, NBA, and specifically, it was always in a sales and business development capacity. From an entry-level to an executive level, the way I describe it is you’re charged with selling the unsellable. If the building is already sold out, if every suite already has a company in it, if every single box and corporate organization in the market is already tapping into that stadium or arena, then they don’t need folks like me. They don’t need the teams that I led. When you open up billion-dollar stadiums, it’s about monetizing at 365. When it’s about shattering records, it means, “We could have sold it at a certain level, but we’re going to 4X this expectation year over year.”

When I say selling the unsellable, you never work for the popular team in town. You always have to sell the underdog. I’m from LA. I started at Staples Center. People say, “That’s awesome. You worked for the Lakers. You were rubbing elbows with Kobe, Shaq, Jack Nicholson, and the Laker girls.” No, I sold the Clippers. We were the redheaded stepchild of the building. ESPN said, “You’re the worst brand in sports.” Sports Illustrated says, “You’re the worst franchise in sports history.”

That turned out to be a very common theme of selling the unsellable, of walking through fires. There’s the performance, the production, the trophies, the success, and the accolades. I call that winning the outside game. It wasn’t until I mastered my own inside game that I married those trophies with true happiness, fulfillment, purpose, a sense of impact, and contribution. It wasn’t until a later stage of my sports career that I felt those things. It’s because of those wake-up calls, because of those inside transformations, that’s why I’m no longer in sports. It’s because I had to chase my passion, my purpose, and my bigger calling, but I needed every step of the journey to get me there.

Sometimes we forget that there’s a reason why. When you’re going through it, you don’t want to hear that this is going to lead to something or you can learn something. If we could take a little piece of that wherever we are and realize whatever struggles we’re going through, it’s making us stronger. It’s helping us to learn something that’s going to get us somewhere that we want to go. For those of you out there who are struggling right now, there’s going to be something that you’re going to learn from this that’s going to be very impactful and powerful for you.

There’s a little bit of fatigue talking about this, so I’m not going to quadruple-click on this point, but it’s an important lesson. The same insights that 2020 and beyond have taught us. Not another COVID talk or not another pandemic talk. I’m not here to do that. I am here to say that whether you’re a person, you’re a team, you’re an organization, you’re either better or worse than you were in 2019. You didn’t stay the same. If you did stay the same and people around you raised their game, you’re getting worse.

The way I think about this is everybody’s got their own version of a pandemic. We have an inner pandemic that is inside of us. It could be a self-limiting belief, it could be a lack of confidence, a lack of belief, a lack of worth, or a lack of trust in others or self. There are some hurdles and obstacles that we always are facing. I’m not immune from this, by the way, but what I try to do is study how I’ve overcome adversity from the past. I unpack. I don’t go to the circumstances. I’ve never been through a global pandemic, so that’s where the news scares you with things like, “It’s unprecedented.” That’s a fear tactic. What really was not unprecedented is how COVID made us feel. We were afraid. There was risk. There was uncertainty.

We can certainly go back and find some of those times in our life when we felt all those things.

A hundred percent. Study how you overcame. When did I battle through fear? When did I successfully navigate uncertainty? Everybody has success stories, but we focus on the losses more than we focus on the wins. I study the wins, and then that helps build my confidence to say, “Bottle that up and apply it to the adversity of today. Now, I’m more armor-ready for the future.” Study the past. Apply it to the present. Now, you’re more ready for the future. If we all took that 1, 2, 3 step, then we would be a more resilient culture.

We get situational amnesia.

That’s a great way to put it.

The way that our brains work is we delete and generalize things. At the times when we need it most, we delete all those resources and all those times that we’ve beat this or we’ve done that. It is important to unpack it and be present with how we’ve handled it in the past. How does that come into this topic of decision-making? Where does that feed in, those challenges and how we overcome them and how’d you come here?

It’s a realization. I’ll reverse-engineer this. I now realize that life is nothing more than a game of decisions. If we were to audit our past, I don’t care whether we’re talking career, relationships, or health, show me the quality of your decisions. I’ll show you the quality of your life. Nobody challenges me on that. When I say literally do an audit, for better or worse, let’s look at your decisions through life. That’s where you land. If that’s the case, then it’s critical. It’s hyper-important. The consequences are so significant. What’s your process? What’s your system? When something’s important in life, we should have a process.

By the way, I am not wired to be a process guy. Let me just throw that disclaimer out. I was in sales and we fought against process all the time, and then all the numbers and all. No, I am not a process guy by nature, but I’ve realized the power of process. When it’s something that is important to you, you should have a plug-in system, so that your emotions can’t take you too off kilter.

When I was in the NFL and NBA, I was around the most elite athletes and high performers in the world. Those that consistently showed up. Know that in the NFL and NBA, there’s no shortage of gifts, talents, abilities, or skills. This is the top 0.1% in the world at what they do. Why does somebody dominate one day, and then fail the next day? It’s like this endless rollercoaster up and down.

Some players don’t ride that wave. This all comes back to the decisions we make and the actions we take. When I ask people, “What is your process? What is your system?” Nobody has one. “Risk reward. Logic and emotion. Gut impulse.” I’m like, “Cool. That’s how you make all your big decisions.” They hunker down a little bit because nobody wants to not have a process if something is important. Rather than vent about the problem, I exposed it, I shined a light on it, and I said, “I’m going to be a part of the solution.”

The solution now looks like a book called Better Decisions Faster. Speaking all over the globe about making better decisions faster and having unshakeable confidence at the most critical force in the road of life. I’m not this raw. Even though I have a lot of energy and passion, I’m not here to inspire people and leave it at that because inspiration becomes a sugar high. I can inspire everybody on the stage. If I don’t give them the how-to or if I don’t give them the application, then on Monday morning, they go back to their inbox, then their families, distractions, kids, coworkers, and then poof, it’s a sugar.

Right back to the way things were. I hear you. As a keynote speaker, I do the same thing. Also, the speaking world has changed. People don’t want to be motivated, inspired, and hyped up. They want tools. They want to be able to have practical mechanisms that they can take away and put into place that’s going to make them different. As you said, it can be their default, something they fall back on something that gives them more control and more ability to be more resilient and have those tools available when they need it. Tell us, making decisions faster. You’re sharing the decision process that you’ve unpacked in helping others to be more present and to use this decision-making practice. Is that right?

Absolutely. Here are the problems that it solves. If you are a leader, you’re an executive. You always hear things like decision fatigue and decision overwhelm. For every single person in the world, we suffer from paralysis. Whether by analysis or something else, we freeze, we get stuck, we’re paralyzed. This happens to be often when the stakes are highest. Often, we get in our own heads and it leads to the worst possible decision of them all, which is indecision. We never make the call.

I want to point out. If you’ve ever been in a place where you weren’t sure if your relationship was going to work or not, indecision whether you’re going to divorce, or indecision is the most stressful place there is. We don’t want to be there. We want to make those decisions faster so we can move on.

With indecision, as you said, it’s a silent killer because when we take no action, there can be no progress, no growth, no momentum. Even if we had to fall flat on our faces, I put that in the category of imperfect action. Those who consistently win are very decisive and they’re very comfortable with imperfect action because they’re either going to succeed and get the outcome that they want, or they learn, they grow, they iterate, they evolve, they adapt, and they’re agile.

Indecision is a silent killer because when we take no action, there can be no progress, no growth, and no momentum. Share on X

They make new decisions. A decision isn’t forever. It’s a pivot point. You make a decision, you move forward, then you get more information, and then you decide, do you continue to move forward or do you pivot? It’s a process. It’s not a finality.

In a nutshell, I wrote the book to solve the problem of paralysis and indecision. How do we make better decisions faster? It’s called the head, heart, hands, and equation. Think of your head as your mindset, then think of your heart as your authenticity. That’s your truth. Think of hands as the action. Mindset, authenticity, action, head, heart, hands.

Here’s the equation. Head plus heart equals hands. In other words, when deciding whether to use your hands, deciding whether to take action or not, there are two checkpoints, head and heart. Head, do I think it’s a good idea? Heart, do I feel it’s a good idea? Just like when you pull up to every intersection you’ve ever driven through, there’s a very familiar signal, green, yellow, and red. That’s how we apply the head, heart, and hands equation.

When your head and your heart are on board, it’s a green light to take action. When there’s no head, no heart, neither is onboard, that’s a red light. We either don’t do it or if we’re already doing it, we stop doing it. When only the head or the heart is on board, that’s a yellow light, and we solve the gap. I wrote the book. When I speak about better decisions faster, it’s to feel our life with an abundance of green lights where our head is a hell yes and our heart is a hell yes. Now, we take action. We’re action-based, not outcome-based. That’s the power of green lights.

On the red side, that is a matter of awareness. Now that I’ve made people aware of reds, we stop running reds. Here’s the challenge. A lot of folks that are tuning in to this and me too, struggle with things like, “I feel stuck. I’m lost. I’m exhausted. I’m fatigued. I’m burned out. I’m not happy. I’m not fulfilled.” That is not a byproduct of running one red light. That means subconsciously, we’ve been running red lights for months or years and we end up in this broken feeling of a place and wonder, “How did I get here? I’ll tell you how. Subconsciously you’ve been running reds. I wrote the book to get more green, stop running red. Here is the playbook for how to navigate the messy middle of yellow..

Where is it? Tell us. We’re going to be running short on time here, but give us one insight into that. Give us a practical strategy that is in the book that we can implement right away to help us.

There’s a good yellow and a bad yellow. Remember a yellow is when either your head or your heart is on board. Here’s the bad yellow. When your head is in and your heart is out, a couple of reasons. 1) Sorry to break it to you. Your heart’s not going to change. You’re not going to wake up tomorrow with a different heart. Your heart’s not going to change week to week, month to month, year to year. Your heart knows the truth. Whether we want to admit it is a different story. If this isn’t the person, your heart knows. If this isn’t the job, your heart knows. We’re lying to ourselves if we think our heart is going to change.

Classic example, I used to run sales teams. I had so many top producers. You know the challenge with a lot of top salespeople, not all of them, but many, sometimes they’re a little tough to deal with. Sometimes they could be a little toxic in the locker room. That’s the bad yellow where you keep them because they sell a lot of widgets. Your head is in and your heart says, “Keep them,” but your heart knows they’re not a keeper. You hold onto them. Now, they hurt the people to their left and right and you wonder why you have a toxic culture. It’s because you held onto the wrong yellows.

For head reasons, that yellow is more deadly than red. Here’s why. A red, snap your fingers, you can make the decision, and cut out. This yellow, you bleed slowly because you lose the time that it took to eventually be like, “I knew I wasn’t supposed to be here. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be with this person.” That’s the bad yellow. The good yellow, the opposite, heart is in, and head, “There’s a way to work through it.” Do you need to overcome a self-limiting belief? Do you need to hire a coach or maybe a therapist? Do you need to have a courageous and challenging conversation to get it out of your own head? Put it out to a trusted partner, a friend, or your spouse.

The worst yellows in my life, when I say worst, the deepest yellows, when I felt like I hit rock bottom, my heart knew what it wanted, but my head just kept getting in the way. I was typically 1 or 2 conversations away from getting that pollution out of my mind. In summary, the bad yellow is when only your head is on board because your heart’s not going to change and join the party. The good yellow is when your heart is in. My recommendation there is you stay in the fight. You try to figure out what the hurdle is from the neck up because your heart being onboard is so rare. You don’t want to waste those opportunities.

Your heart being on board is so rare. You don't want to waste those opportunities. Share on X

Just a couple of other questions that I ask a lot of different people who are on the show. It’s very interesting, the variety of different answers. Coming from the place that you come from, how do you define productivity and why?

Productivity is doing more of what matters with excellence.

Thank you for the conciseness. You’re like, “Drop the mic.” Most people are rattling on and on. It’s awesome.

I can expand, but that is my thought on productivity. It’s focusing on the essentials as well. I’m a quality-over-quantity guy. I know that that’s true because I used to do the opposite. I used to chase too many shiny things and squirrel. I used to do that, say yes to everything, and always have bandwidth issues. There’s been a big transformation on my side to focus on what truly matters. Anyways, to me, that’s true production.

Tell us how that shifted briefly, and then we’ll let people know where they can buy your book.

Speaking of books, it was thanks to a book called Essentialism by Greg McKeown. Now, he’s been one of the endorsers of my book. It’s a great relationship. I read his book. It hit me at the right time, right message, right time, right place. I was ready to act on it. I just cut out. It’s not that it wasn’t serving me. It’s just that I’m a very values-based decision maker and my strongest value is impact. When I consistently asked myself, “Am I maximizing my impact?”

TBT | Better Decisions Faster

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

My honest answer is no. I then asked myself why. It’s because I was trying to do too much. I said, “Where can I make my impact count?” My definition of impact is, “Am I making a difference?” My metric of, “Am I making a difference?” is, “Am I leaving people in places better than I found them? If so, how deep and at what scale?” When I went through that process, I realized I am doing a whole lot of things that are taking up a lot of time and there’s minimal impact. It’s not moving the needle. It’s helping, but it’s not moving the needle. Now, I just focus on the needle-moving activities.

[00:19:03] Also, let’s push back a little bit there as well. Is it possible to only focus on the needle-moving activities? Life has some other things that need to be done.

Here’s where I come from. Earlier, when we were riffing back and forth, you said we’re going to focus on your zone of genius. Let me use what you said as a response to what you said. My zone of genius is not only what I do, it’s when I do it because I realize that I’m an energy machine. I realize at certain times of the day, my cup feels full and I can thrive at almost anything that I do. At other times of the day, my work is not optimal and it is what it is. Where I’m going with this is, for me, this is going to sound crazy. I do wake up at 4:00 AM and my family gets up at 7:00. From 4:00 to 7:00 AM, I am at my peak state.

I’m focused, I’m disciplined, I’m optimized, and I journal the night before. Let me focus on three needle-moving activities that are going to genuinely move the needle. I’m going to do them before 7:00 AM. To your point, do I have other stuff to do in the afternoon? Sure. Admin, email, calls, meetings, and all the stuff. I know that the only way that I’m going to live with purpose and maximize my impact is if I crush it before 7:00 AM because that’s how I’m wired. I agree with you that there are non-needle-moving activities, but it matters when, where, and how you do those things. If it’s in your sweet spot, then we’re wasting an opportunity there.

I’m really glad that you shared that because there is this myth. People say, “Do the one thing.” I’m a parent. I’m a child of an aging parent that you need to take care of. I got my business. There’s a lot of things. That’s important. You identify before the day starts, “What are the needle-moving things?” and do those first at the time when you have the best energy. That’s important for people to learn that there are other things. It’s about how you organize yourself and how prepared you are also to be clear on what those things are so that you can focus on the execution and not waste a lot of time trying to figure out what those are.

You said not to waste time. Starting the night before or planning the day ahead, 100 people told me that. I never did it. I never listened. When I finally started doing it, it genuinely transformed me. Also, in closing, because I know we’ll talk about where can folks find and follow, and I want to share a free gift of a confidence quiz, but all of this comes back to something I just said. Confidence to me is nothing more than the consistency that you’re acting on your values.

Confidence equals values times action. The multiplication is how consistently you apply it. How this ties into everything we’ve talked about is if you could pick one core value, google a set of values. Ask your five best friends to describe you in a word. Come up with a process to find one word that describes you to a T. You take daily actions from cooking your favorite dinner to having a challenging conversation. It could be small, it could be big. The people who are more consistently swinging the bat and taking action on a core value that is deeply meaningful to them, it’s going to fill their cups. When you do it consistently, your confidence rises like a dimmer switch. Plus 1, plus 2 every day. You’re just on this track to try to keep your confidence as high as possible.

Tell us where people can reach you, the book, and the quiz.

Anything and everything is at There, you’ll find the confidence quiz. You’ll get a score of 1 to 100, and then my 12 keys on how you build and sustai

TBT | Better Decisions Faster

Better Decisions Faster: Unshakable Confidence When You Need It Most by Paul Epstein

n unshakeable confidence. That’s a gift for me to your entire audience. The book is on a little website called Amazon. You might’ve heard of it. If you go to Amazon and check out Better Decisions Faster, that is going to be the best place. On my website, you’ll find all the bonuses. This was such a fun time.

Thank you so much for being here and giving us some fantastic and important tips that are going to help us make better decisions, be better people, and feel more fulfilled.

I love it. Thank you so much for having me, Penny.

Thank you all for being here because this is important. Like what Paul said in the beginning, look at the quality of your decisions and that’s going to determine the quality of your life. It’s one decision after the next. Start now. You know I talk about my new book that’s coming out, Reset Moments. Make this a reset moment to step back and look at your decision-making process, get clear on it, get some perspective, and then realign with your practice. Those are the three steps of a reset moment. Step back, get perspective, and realign. This is a perfect thing to realign around your decision-making practice so that you can start creating the life that you want to live and the relationships that you want to have. I’ll see you in the next episode.


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About Paul Epstein

TBT | Better Decisions FasterPAUL EPSTEIN has spent nearly 15 years as a professional sports executive for multiple NFL and NBA teams, a global sports agency, and the NFL league office, where he has broken every premium revenue metric in Super Bowl history, opened a billion-dollar stadium, and founded the San Francisco 49ers Talent Academy, where he became known as the “Why Coach”.
As an award-winning keynote speaker named one of SUCCESS Magazine’s top thought leaders that get results, Paul’s impact continues off stage providing leadership development and culture transformation programs for companies and teams including Amazon, Disney, Johnson & Johnson, NASA, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Dallas Cowboys—and his work has been featured on ESPN, NBC, Fox Business, and in USA Today. He is also the best-selling author of “The Power of Playing Offense” and is slated to launch his second book in 2023, “Better Decisions Faster”.


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