How to make persistence pay off more effectively

August 17, 2011 by Joshua
in Choosing/Decision-Making, Tips

A couple people emailed me today’s long New York Times article Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?. One pointed out that it echoed my post that English and romantic languages reflect the difficulty in deciding in the root -cide.

On choosing

The article reports research in choosing. This blog emphasizes not mere research but applying it to improve your life. I love reading research, but enjoying learning pales in comparison to applying it to improve your life.

The article points out people choose less effectively after a while. Great. So what?

It didn’t mention my first thought. This finding reinforces that persistence pays off — but the article implies persistence pays off better if you persist for a while in the moment. It gives examples of car salespeople who, in ordering car options, made more money by influencing people to take expensive default options after fatiguing them with many less expensive options.

So lesson one:

if you think persistence will pay off, persist in the moment until you fatigue the other person

Persisting not in the moment or not long enough won’t fatigue the other person into giving in, at least not through the mechanism in the article. If you consider this tactic manipulative, see below.

The next lesson the article clarified more. Research implied the brain running out of sugar led to poor choosing.

Lesson two:

if you expect to have to choose enough to fatigue you, bring food. As always, eat and exercise to maintain your body’s effectiveness.

On evaluating choices

I like to view things from another perspective than the main one. This article raised one big question for me. The article, especially toward the end, commented on the problems of choosing when fatigued from having to choosing too much.

What’s so bad about not spending time choosing? Say the car salesperson influenced you to buy the high-end stereo. So you have a stereo more expensive and higher quality than you would have chosen otherwise.

Why judge the choice as bad? Why should we avoid such outcomes? You didn’t die. You may find you like this thing you otherwise would have avoided.

An alternative perspective to seeing choices made when fatigued as bad is to recognize your body doesn’t meet your abstract model of perfection and enjoy it for itself. If you get mad at water flowing downhill, you’ll create a miserable life for yourself. Your brain choosing the way it chooses is like water flowing downhill. Not a great reason to make yourself miserable.

This alternative perspective leads you to ask not how to avoid unavoidable outcomes — a losing battle — but how to learn to enjoy life as you experience it.

I’ve considered sales techniques from many sides. I’ve bought things that salespeople influenced me to buy I never would have bought if not for their persuasion. You know what? Some of those things I loved. I tend to avoid salespeople, but I don’t consider it bad if they persuade me to buy something I wouldn’t have wanted otherwise. I consider it a different outcome than I expected — one I can use to make my life just as awesome.

By the way, one of the authors the article cites, Jonathan Levav, taught at Columbia Business School, which I liked to read. I think he worked with Jacob Goldenberg, whom I’ve mentioned many times in relation to creativity.

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