How to Use the 37% Rule to Make Big Decisions

Let’s say you’re looking for a new home. How many places do you look at before deciding on the one to rent or buy? Is there a point at which you’ve looked enough to make your decision?

When do you reach the point that looking at more places is counterproductive and a waste of time?

As it turns out, mathematicians have asked the same questions and come up with an answer. Their solution to the problem of too many solutions is known as the 37% rule.

Whether you’re making a significant business decision, buying a new pair of hiking boots, or choosing a streaming service, learning to apply the 37% rule can help you make better decisions faster and easier. It can also save you loads of anxiety and help you make better use of your time and energy.

What Is the 37% Rule?

Let’s say you’re deciding between 100 options. According to the 37% rule, you should review the first 37 of those options without choosing any of them.

Instead, use them to establish a baseline for the type and range of options available, then discard them as legitimate possibilities. This helps you hone in on what does and doesn’t work for you and what factors weigh most heavily in your decision.

Armed with that information, you can then proceed to examine the 38th option, the 39th, 40th, and so on until you find one that outstrips your chosen benchmark from the first thirty-seven.

If none of the other options surpasses that standard, then go with the standard itself.

How Did Mathematicians Come Up With This Rule?

In decision-making, there’s a concept known as the “optimal stopping problem”. It goes something like this:

For every decision, there are innumerable options and potential outcomes. You obviously can’t consider all of these before committing to a decision, so how many should you consider? How much information should you gather to ensure you have enough data to make a proper choice?

Mathematicians came up with the 37% rule to answer that question by examining how to maximize probability.

How to Use the 37% Rule to Make Your Biggest Decisions

You can apply the 37% rule to make decisions big and small in any area of life.

For example:

Let’s say you’re looking for a new home — the question with which we started this article — and you have 30 possible homes to choose from.

Here’s what you do:

  1. Look at the first 11 homes without picking any of them.
  2. Pick out several features or factors that matter to you when you review these 11 homes.
  3. Of these first 11, pick the one you like best.
  4. Then, continue looking at each of the remaining homes in succession until you find one better than the one you picked in step 3.
  5. Once you find one, that’s the home you should move into.

Risks of the 37% Rule: Human Nature

A sound mathematical calculation based on maximizing probability is all fine and good, but human beings are not computers. We have a host of other influences impacting our ability to make sound decisions.

Primarily, according to psychologists, human nature falls prey to an imbalance in “exploiting” versus “exploring” options and this can impede making good decisions.

  • Exploitation involves making a decision that will guarantee you success based on all available data.
  • Exploration risks pursuing an as-yet-unknown outcome.

An excess of exploitation could lead to hasty decision-making based on what feels safe, forever curtailing the possibility of something better.

An excess of exploration, by the reverse token, could lead to indecision.

The 37% rule is a formula that prevents you from relying too much on exploration with endless choices or investigating the wrong things.


The 37% rule prevents you from becoming paralyzed by indecision or stricken with regret.

It can’t replace your powers of judgment and discernment, but, when used properly, can help you make better decisions faster and easier.