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Presentism, Focalism, Decision Fatigue

Saturday, April 20, 2013

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!

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    I hate labels on people but they are good to have on things (not people) and especially if you want to find or organize things... like wheres the scissors or tape....if its labeled, its easier to locate! But i agree ...It would be nice to have a decision app..... because when there are too many choices, I have a hard time deciding and then dont make one! Or get frustrated when I make the wrong choice! Hate that!! I end up just saying No to things.... or let it go, life is more precious than giving into it or things your not sure you wnat to own or understand iike..... whats the difference if you have a DVD or a CD player? Is there a real difference? ! lol . I figure if it what I have works...like I can play DVDs and Cds on my computer, so why do I need a separate player for each of them? Thats what i do to decide in making such decisions,... if I have something similar and it works , why bother? It can save a lot of useless spending having an app to decide when buying stuff! .lol Good Blog! Well written! Susana emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon
    1825 days ago
    Interesting 'labels' - makes me wonder if anything is superficial - as opposed to just part of the ebb and flow and balance of life
    1831 days ago
    Great blog WM! Disclosure: I am WM's DH. Now we can look forward to more personal salad dressing selection times! This week's Pineapple Curry was very encouraging. Like LOL!

    Most intrigued by _Linda's comment about how she likes to listen and to be the quiet person in the room. WM has often spoken of people who are the opposite and use up all the air in the room. She will say that these people would never consider eating all available food at a party but don't hesitate to use up all the conversation space. There is an old business adage that in the course of negotiations, the person who loses is the one who breaks the silence. And of course did the Bible not say it is better to give than to receive? So praise be to _Linda whose receiving skills trump her transmitting skills.
    1831 days ago
  • NANCY-
    Yikes there is an app for that? Hopefully much better than a coin toss.
    this blog of yours speaks to me and I must come back and read it after todays party... but some of the items you mention will roll around in the recesses of my brain today.
    1831 days ago
  • _LINDA
    No need for anything to make a choice for me. Like you, I have my reliable stand by go to meals. I like them, and if there isn't anything wrong, no need to fix them :) I have my favorite brands and stick to them, but should a sample present itself that I happen to like, I will try something else (thanks Costco) But I do hate those elaborate spreads presenting a cornucopia of choices (look out cheeses) as I have experienced in bridge tournaments (especially the US ones -they know how to put a spread out). Its maybe a good thing I chose to give up going to them nine years ago. Being a painfully shy person around strangers, I always chose to stuff my face and then go hide in a corner. I never went to tournaments with partners like most people, it was all pick up and I would not see the person again unless we really got along and made arrangements for another game. It wasn't a social experience for me like most people who travel with their own partners and even teams and have fun inbetween games. Bridge was very tiring, so fatigue lead to binging on snacks to keep the artificial energy going and to hide any nervousness or discomfort if my pick up partner was unhappy with me. But when things went well, more often then not, I enjoyed the competition and enjoyed seeing the new places even if it was on my own.
    I am still the quiet one in a social setting, preferring to listen to other's conversation and quietly hoping I won't be asked an opinion. I find people's experiences interesting and don't think I have much to contribute.
    Here is trying to make the effort to focus on the people and not the food in future settings!
    1831 days ago
    Oh lordie, a decision making app? No thank you! I will make my own decisions!
    1832 days ago
    Thanks for your astute observations!

    1832 days ago
    Your blogs are a treat.

    An extra bonus is learning from watching you "walk through" these events, plus "listening" to what you tell yourself in processing the experience afterward!
    1832 days ago
    I love your blogs, Ellen. I'm so familiar with decision fatigue. At certain times I all but run away from having to make a decision. I, too, eat many of the same things because I then don't have to spend much time thinking about whether it goes well with the rest of my daily caloric intake.

    Presentism I haven't thought about previously, but I can see it has affected my shopping. Focalism is the least familiar to me. I have to think about this from several angles (lol...not focusing here).

    I appreciate your modeling of "non-panic mode" after your splurge. I always learn something from you.
    1832 days ago
    People do go crazy for 'free' food!
    I like to eat the same basic foods all the time, too.
    Makes life simpler.
    1832 days ago
    Mmmmmmm cheeses. Decision fatigue is definitely the biggy with me, too.
    1832 days ago
  • DALID414
    I don't need a decision making app either. Knowing me if they don't pick the one I intended to buy I'll just get mad, say it's wrong, and take the one I intended to anyways! emoticon
    1832 days ago
    Hmm...definitely food for thought.
    1832 days ago
    You write such interesting things that make me think, Ellen. Matter of fact, KaliGirl and I were chatting over our post-5K bagel sammiches about the conversations that most engage us on Sparkpeople... this is just what I had in mind.

    1832 days ago
    Can definitely relate to decision fatigue! Even tho I try to minimize this by limiting my choices (skipping the beverage, cereal, goodie aisles in stores, for instance) sometimes choice spring up and I stumble. Interesting way to look at it!

    1832 days ago
    Blog of the day in my opinion! Excellent job. Very informative and as you said will be useful in knowing what's going on with me. Thanks again.
    1832 days ago
    what an interesting and timely blog. Thank you.
    1832 days ago
    1832 days ago
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