Monday, 5 May 2014

Boring is not all bad

Barack Obama has a well reported practice of never wearing anything other than blue and gray suits. According to the president, “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make too many decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” This ties in with the idea ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’.

A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology has another take on this. The authors tested the idea that making many choices impairs subsequent self-control. The study used a limited-resource model of self-regulation and executive function to determine if decision making depletes the same resource used for self-control and active responding. In 4 laboratory studies, some participants made choices among consumer goods or college course options, whereas others thought about the same options without making choices.

Making choices led to reduced self-control (i.e., less physical stamina, reduced persistence in the face of failure, more procrastination, and less quality and quantity of arithmetic calculations). A field study then found that reduced self-control was predicted by shoppers' self-reported degree of previous active decision making. Further studies suggested that choosing takes a greater toll than just deliberating.

There are a few lessons in this. Like Barak Obama, try to focus your limited patience and executive function on the stuff that matters. Spending time at the deli counter figuring out what sandwich to have is not a great idea if you have to go back to the office and make some complex or important decisions on how to manage scarce company resources.

If you are a retailer, you could provide a variety of choices and have customers making decisions just for the sake of it. This may lower their self control and get them to spend a little more freely.

 If you are a consumer and have just made a load of decisions e.g. where to park, whether to buy on credit or pay cash or whether to take out an after sales contract or not, be wary of your self control. It could be on the slide and you may be about to buy something you don’t really need.

If you see some guy in work wearing the same suits everyday and eating the same boring lunch, he could be the go to guy for some of those big decisions or someone to trust with that big marketing budget where self control could be tested. 

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