Decision-making: Can people voluntarily limit their choices?

Following up on yesterday’s post “Making Difficult Product Development Choices”, I ran across this article in the New York Times that reviews experiments done by Dr. Dan Ariely. Dan is a professor of behavioral economics at MIT. He has found, unsurprisingly, that people can’t bear to limit their options.

The Times article talks about some funny experiments to get subjects to give up options and in return get actual cash, hard dollars — but it’s SOOO hard for them, even when they should be able to predict the output and thus get more money. You can play the (non-cash) simulation yourself here.

“Closing a door on an option is experienced as a loss, and people are willing to pay a price to avoid the emotion of loss,” Dr. Ariely says. In the experiment, the price was easy to measure in lost cash. In life, the costs are less obvious — wasted time, missed opportunities.

David Allen, the creator of GTD, has a favorite phrase: “Know what you’re NOT doing.” The idea is that the more conscious and intentional you are about not exploring every option for the use of your time, the less psychic stress you’ll feel. Makes sense, and it works!


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