Wasting time is the bane of our existence. We’re not talking about laziness or procrastination; that’s a completely different thing. What we’re talking about is Fredkin’s Paradox and the human condition that requires decisions be “informed” even in circumstances where:
- Information is difficult to acquire or analyze, and
- The marginal consequences of one decision versus another are insignificant.
In Part 1 of this series we discussed the time leading up to the moment a decision is made and how paradox of choice creates an “analysis paralysis.” In this article we take things one step further by examining how behavioral biases post-decision continue to encourage Fredkin’s Paradox in a vicious behavioral cycle.
The first thing that we have to understand is that time is an investment in exactly the same way money is. And just like any investment, the more resources you sink into it the more important the outcome is. A large financial investment demands a large financial ROI; A large time investment demands a large emotional ROI. In the case where you invest more time than you should there is an accompanying amplified sensitivity to a wide variety of after-the-fact cognitive biases.
One of these biases is “buyer’s remorse,” a condition that causes people to regret their decisions. Imagine for a moment that you are buying a house and that you are competing against several other bidders for the same property. It’s a blind bidding process, and when the dust settles, you win! While your first reaction might be excitement, that will almost immediately be replaced by a sense of regret. Why did you bid more than everyone else? Is there something about the house that you don’t know? Did you overpay? These questions don’t matter, really. Regardless of the amount of your bid, it was certainly lower than the value you placed on the property. Furthermore, for you to regret the decision prior to moving into the house and learning it’s true value is somewhat absurd. And yet, the large investment of money disproportionately elevates the importance of “getting it right.” For this reason it’s common to have buyer’s remorse, even when there’s no good reason to be remorseful.
And so it is that when you invest a large sum of time, you are also likely to feel regret upon making a decision, even before the outcome of the decision is known.
Of course, once the outcome is known, there’s an entirely different cognitive issue that must be addressed: hindsight bias. Hindsight bias describes the tendency to ascribe ourselves decision-making abilities – after the fact – that are out of line with reality. In the case where you make the right decision, the half-baked narrative conceived to justify it makes you feel as though you are especially talented and that your outcome was based on skill. Conversely, when you make the wrong decision a narrative is constructed after the fact as to why, and your failure to have been able to predict it is attributed to a failure of due diligence.
You will notice that, regardless of the outcome, hindsight bias demands that the next time a decision must be made a similar, if not greater amount of time must be wasted on the due diligence process. Getting it right encourages you to repeat the process; Getting it wrong might even encourage you to perform a more robust process.
Bottom line: cognitive Biases are essential to the ongoing existence of Fredkin’s Paradox:
Breaking a cycle so steeped in cognitive biases isn’t easy, but there is a way. As we suggested in Part 1, the best strategy is to start out by asking “How much does this choice really effect me?” If the consequences of the decision are small then make the decision quickly. Remember, when the marginal differences in possible outcomes are small, minimizing the investment of time seems to be the most promising way to short circuit this vicious cycle.