Is there an app for making decisions? Yes there is and more than one. Quite a number of them, in fact, as a recent article in the Globe and Mail pointed out to me:
Too many choices of toothpaste and laundry detergent and breakfast cereal -- and so many other consumer goods -- can be a huge time-waster.
That's probably because we over-value individual choice. Many "choices" are superficial. Many "choices" are influenced by marketing. We're not as different from each other as we think we are. Many different options would be equally acceptable.
And why do we do this? The article doesn't speculate, but possibly it's because there's a strong existentialist bias in Western culture traceable right back to Sartre . . . . that is, the notion that we come into existence and then define our essence through our actions.
Existentialism is superficially appealing (I get to decide who I am). And then of course in reality so burdensome (I have to decide? And people will judge me based upon the evident effect of my choices?)
Yeah. They do. And: we judge ourselves too. Even though in reality we aren't as free to choose as we might think we are.
What I found most interesting about this article comes very close to the end in the discussion of "cognitive blind spots" which affect apparent freedom of choice: presentism, focalism, decision fatigue.
When we're making decisions, we're overinfluenced by our present emotional state and the belief that the present emotions will continue into the future. Hungry? I buy too many groceries, and make too many high-calorie choices. Yup. Done that many times: and now make sure I've had a meal before I shop. Last night before the golf club season opener I DID have a small snack at home . . . but I was still hungry when I walked in the door. And I "bought" too many hors d'oeuvres.
We're also overinfluenced by focalism: focusing in on one aspect of the decision . . . and not all of the other factors that come into play. For example, focusing on the fact that "it's a celebration of the golf club opening" so "I should eat lots of (free) food" . . . rather than "it's a celebration of the golf club opening" so "I should focus on all the people I haven't seen since last fall and the beauty of the course right outside the windows". Yup. Everybody else was eating like crazy, not so interested in conversation frankly. Social pressure works that way. Focalism is hard for me to resist unless I consciously anticipate it and plan for it.
Decision fatigue, so familiar to me: I've made good decisions all day, and now my will power (or "won't power") is exhausted. Like at that golf club opener last night, when I definitely had made good food and good work decisions all day but was exhausted after a very very busy day.
Yup. I was excessively tempted by the array of amazing foods on offer . . . and I estimate that I clocked in over 2000 calories for the day. Most unusual for me.
No biggy, of course. I did enjoy what I ate. It was worth the calories. But I'm eating lightly today, for sure. Gonna offset that 600 surplus over the next couple days.
Most of the time I do avoid superficial choices with respect to food . . . by keeping on eating the same thing day after day. Just changing up the "mix" -- mushrooms, asparagus and a light sprinkle of Parmesan in my omelette yesterday instead of the more usual spinach and light feta. Pineapple and kiwi in the lunch chopped fruit . . . no pear, no banana, no cherries.
So: the Globe article didn't tell me anything new really. And I don't want a decision-making app thank you.
But those labels of presentism, focalism and decision fatigue are useful tools to help me realize what's going on . . . when I overvalue superficial choices (you should have seen the cheeses! and the seafood!! and the desserts!!) and make poor ones.
Like I sure did yesterday!