Friday 26th February 2016

It's always fascinated me that most people take as long to buy a pair of jeans as a house. Is there a fixed amount of time that we're willing to consider making a choice, or is it just easier to buy a home?


How do you make decisions?

I have friends who agonise over the smallest decision, buying What Hi-Fi for six months before choosing a new set of speakers, and others who buy the first car they see because they like the colour.

Others have never had a successful relationship because they're always looking for the perfect partner, and those who settled down for life with the first person they met.

There are loads of articles on the web to help you make decisions, and even software to do it for you.

I seem to make the right decisions a lot of the time without really knowing how to go about it. 

Decision paralysis goes back centuries, even appearing in Aesop's fables. The most common way to resolve it is to artificially limit your choices.

I've always joked that Kat is vegetarian because she doesn't like too much choice on a menu, but she genuinely seems overwhelmed when we go to veggie restaurants.


Don't overthink the question

This is the mantra for our pub quiz team. If the question is "Which is the only gem stone that isn't mined from the ground" don't argue about whether the answer might be Moldavite, just write down pearls and move on.

This is the Centipede's Dilemma a lovely poem by Katherine Craster from 1871:

A centipede was happy – quite!
Until a toad in fun
Said, "Pray, which leg moves after which?"
This raised her doubts to such a pitch,
She fell exhausted in the ditch
Not knowing how to run.

Quick decisions

Here's a quick test to see how you do at making decisions quickly. You'll be shown several stacks of coins, and you need to click on the stack which is the most valuable.

The test involves your ability to make the right decision quickly, so you haven't got time to add them up - take your best guess.


Question 1/5

Click the stack of coins which is the highest value.

Question 2/5

Click the stack of coins which is the highest value.

Question 3/5

Click the stack of coins which is the highest value.

Question 4/5

Click the stack of coins which is the highest value.

Question 5/5

This is the last one.


Thanks for taking part!

You got 0 out of 5 right in 0 seconds.


More complex decisions

As an example, we're currently looking to move to Spain for a year or two, for a new adventure. But Spain's a big place, and so we artifically narrowed it down to the east coast because I want to be near the sea.

We flew into Malaga and drove up to Barcelona. We made notes about every town and city we passed through, and gave each one a score out of ten. The icons on the map below go from red (<4 points) through orange (5 points), yellow (6 points) and into green (7+ points). The map is interactive if you want to see where we went and what we thought about it.

But as it turned out, we didn't need to do this. As soon as we arrived in Valencia, we both decided that this was the place. We were just over half-way through the trip, but it just felt right.


Go with your gut

The more I read about decision making, the more I understood that the basic rules are to evaluate the options and then go with the one that feels right to you. Obviously this doesn't apply to some decisions, like air strikes against Daesh, which need a bit more debate. But most of your day-to-day decisions, and a number of the larger ones, can be done just going with your gut.

I've started applying this philosophy to my life and it's really working out well! I was in the Co-op trying to work out whether I wanted sausages, chicken or prawns for dinner. I realised that I kept glancing back at the prawns, and they were delicious.



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