Deciding Factors

Living day to day is a term we often apply to changing or controlling our behavior. In many ways it’s very comfortable to imagine starting over each and every day, forgetting troubles from days before, and living oblivious of imminent troubles surely to come in the future.

It feels much more manageable to keep our behavior in line for one particular day than to imagine going without for, say, a year or a lifetime. This may contribute to the failure of New Year’s resolutions.

On the other hand, living moment to moment seems agonizing. Unlike deciding we will go without a cigarette or avoid drinking for a particular day, then reassess our choices tomorrow, making that decision over and over every few minutes feels like a doomed strategy. We know we are bound to let our cravings get the better of us or just simply grow too fatigued to battle anymore.

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I know if donuts are left on the kitchen table I will eat them eventually. It will happen. In fact, it may be sooner rather than later just because I will choose not to put up a fight I know I will eventually lose.

In his book The Paradox of Choice, psychologist Barry Schwartz explains that options increase our happiness and the potential for a better lifestyle. This isn’t breaking news. We know revolutionary innovation is less likely to come from a poor village in a third world country due to the lack of options and the primary focus being survival day to day. Or worse, moment to moment.

The real lesson Schwartz reveals is that beyond a few options we begin to see diminishing returns. We begin to agonize over choices and selections on things that are ultimately inconsequential. Time and brainpower we could have put to better use.

After reading about this I realized just how much research and care I put into selecting a phone case. I spent days researching a goddamn phone case. Why? Because, as Schwartz explained, having too many options to give equal consideration to can leave you with the feeling that any decision may not be the best.

If I’d had only three phone case choices in front of me I would have been able to make a much quicker, and a much more confident choice. The choice would have also sit better after the fact knowing that if I was unsatisfied with my choice down the road, I could choose another when the time come and eventually try them all.

Becoming aware of this doesn’t make me wish for less options available to me. However, it does make me question the time and effort I’m putting into insignificant things while automatically limiting myself (for the purpose of simplicity and comfort) on much more important things.

Employment is a fine example. It feels comfortable and safe for many to acquire a job and hold on. And keep holding on. And keep holding on. If you’d been looking for better employment the last eight years you were at the job you have, would you have found something better? Probably. But that’s exhausting and feels risky to consider jumping to another job all the time. What if you make the wrong choice?

It’s probably more healthy for us to consider putting more thought into something as important as our livelihood instead of spending it all agonizing over the color of a phone case no one, including ourselves, will really give a shit about a day later.

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