Philosophy

We associate the quantity of choice a person has available to them with the amount of freedom that person possess.

Freedom is good. Therefore, we assume that choice must also be good – and to an extent, it is. However, there’s a turning point at which our freedom to choose from a growing list of options no longer increases our level of happiness. In fact, over saturation of choice can actually diminish our happiness.

In the early 2000s, a scientist name Barry Schwartz popularised this idea with a challenge western society’s obsession with generating freedom through an ever increasing number of options.

Image result for paradox of choice schwartz

After conducting multiple studies, he wrote a book called The Paradox of Choice which argued that while abundance of choice provides some short term satisfaction in the moment (and keeps us coming back for more), the more options a person has available to them, the less likely they are to be satisfied with the result of their choice.

To demonstrate, imagine that you have to choose between two restaurants. You have no way to look at the menus, but you know that the first restaurant features a menu with four main courses, while the second has sixteen main courses on theirs.

Which restaurant are you more likely to try?

Statistically, you’d probably go with the second, and there’s a lot of sense in this; if there’s four times as many main dishes at the second restaurant, there’s a better chance that they’ll have a meal perfectly suited to your taste.

At first glance, it makes logical sense to give yourself as many options as possible. We are hardwired not to limit ourselves, even when it comes to something as basic as dinner.

But when we take a closer look, Schwartz’s paradox of choice comes into play.

He discovered that in circumstances where people had to decide between an outlet with more choice versus an outlet with less, it was true that those who opted for more choice, the ones who went to the second restaurant and scoured over the ingredients in all sixteen dishes before finally making a decision, reported being more satisfied with their choice than those who limited their options and made a quick dinner selection. But only by a tiny margin.

What’s fascinating is that while the group who went to the first restaurant didn’t think about the choice again, when asked about their decision after the fact (once the meal was over) those who went to the second restaurant started to second guess the choice they made. Their satisfaction, despite being mildy higher at the time of consumption, took a hit once they started to consider all the options they opted not to choose.

As our options increase, so do our expectations that we’ll be able find the perfect option.

The more options we have to forgo when making a choice, the higher the possibility that we’ll make the wrong one.

More choice does not equate to more happiness because choice itself is a double edged sword.

When we are constantly saturated with choice, it’s not uncommon to experience choice paralysis. A sensation which often results in no choice being made at all.

While sometimes it doesn’t feel like it, we have a lot more control over the choices we present ourselves with than we feel like we do.

Do your best to find a balance.

All effective teams have three things in common;

  • A shared goal which excites them;
  • communication strategies which enable them;
  • and accountablily methods which keep them on track.

At the end of the day, this leaves you responsible for being a part of things you care about; communicating with respect, honesty and kindness; and doing the work you say you’ll do.

If your current workplace prohibits you from doing one of these things, you’re in the wrong workplace.

If you’re unable to do these things in any workplace, the change probably needs to come from you.

People naturally gravitate towards happy and motivated people. This includes employers, friends, partners and teammates.

When people gravitate towards you, the opportunities available to you increase.

People aren’t happy and motivated because they’re successful, it’s the other way around.

The reason lottery winners wind up depressed is that our happiness depends not on what we have, but what we have in relation to what we’re accustomed to.

It’s why a getting a NutriBullet is so exciting… for about three weeks.

Once having a nice blender is something you’re accustomed to though, you’re far less likely to actually enjoy using it.

Image result for nutri bullet
Photo: Michael Hession

The shine on 20 million dollars lasts a little longer, but the novelty of driving an Mercedes wears off just like the novelty of blending spinach seamlessly into smoothies.

This isn’t the same at the bottom end of the financial scale.

Not having enough to get by is horrendously taxing on one’s happiness.

Once your basic needs are met, satisfaction lives in the process.

Setting big goals is less about achieving them than it is about the happiness we enjoy taking strides toward them.

Lean the instrument, write the book, make the ruckus, or play the sport because the pursuit itself delights you.

We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.

Epictetus

It seems a general truth that those more attuned to listening are those with the most insightful things to say.

As someone who speaks a lot, this means I need to work hard to do enough listening.

Information has never been more accessible.

Seek out the information which incites you, and listen hard.

If can’t think of anything worth listening to, start here;

The tiles in your bathroom are exactly the same temperature as your bathmat.

But it don’t feel that way.

Physics 101 taught us that when things feel hot or cold, it’s not their actual temperatures we’re meassuing. We only feel temperature of things in relation to ourselves.

When you first dive into a pool on a warm day, it feels freezing at first because your body was acclimatised to the heat outside.

But as your skin cools to an equilibrium temperature with the water, the water seems to get warmer.

In reality, you jumping in barely changes the temperature of the pool water at all.

But the variance in temperature between your skin and the water has reduced greatly as your body has cooled.

Hopping back to bathroom tiles, the second factor we need to understand when thinking about temperature exchange is the conductivity of different things.

When you walk into your bathroom in the morning, you dart over the tiles and onto the bathmat not because it’s warmer, but because it takes a lot longer to exchange it’s temperature with yours.

Before you enter the room they are exactly the same temperature, and each share the exact same variance in temperature with the sole of your foot.

The difference is that your tiles are far more conductive. They equalise temperature with your feet much quicker than the bathmat.

The tiles have a higher capacity for receiving and exchanging heat. The tiles are more sensitive to the incoming heat transferred through your foot. They experience your heat more intensely, and you experience a more intebse feeling of cold.

In a similar way, some people are more sensitive to certain inputs that others.

This conductivity is not necessarily a weakness. Even if at times it’s inconvenient.

Tiles and bathmats each serve their purpose.

Don’t judge a book by it’s conductivity.

Hobbies are things we regularly do for pleasure.

They tend to be fun, nieche activities involving some form of social element. Our hobbies recharge us – in part because it doesn’t matter if we’re bad at them.

Pursuits are like hobbies, except for the fact that gradual improvement is at the core of our enjoyment of them.

Going bowling with your friends for a laugh once a fortnight is a hobby. After a few months, perhaps you’re a better bowler than average. Some nights you might even get lucky and put together an impressive score. But the vast majority of your time bowling would still be considered leisure time.

If you were treating bowling as a pursuit, while you might still have the same fun fortnightly game with your friends, the majority of the time you spent thinking about bowling would revolve around the question;

How can I be better?

You’d find time to practice on your technique, you’d probably invest in your own ball and shoes and you’d study footage of professional bowlers with awe.

You’d be obsessed with progressing and improving, because becoming a better bowler is the fun part of pursuing bowling.

All pursuits require the processing of feedback in order to innovate our approach to the activity.

In bowling, the feedback is clear; you either knocked the pins over or you didn’t.

Until you can score five perfect games in a row, there’s technique to work on.

When you find a pursuit you’re passionate about, there is an intense gratification which sprouts from putting in the work to improve. You bowl to get better at the bowling.

The fortnightly hobbyist has no interest in the intensity or focus required to pursue bowling.

When bowling is a hobby, the fun is showing up. The fun is the bowling.

When it’s a pursuit, the fun is the result of consistently showing up. The fun is the bowling because it’s making you better at the bowling.

Idenfying these patterns in the things you love to do and making clear decisions about what you’re willing to suck at is can liberating and quite valuable.

Pursuits demand tenacity and a refusal to fail. They’re high stakes and hard work, but far more gratifying tham hobbies long term. Pursuits are a commitment to growth.

Hobbies provide a special kind of short term satisfaction which we all crave. They’re low stakes and relaxing. Hobbies are the time where we can give ourselves permission to fail. The results don’t matter because taking part in the activity is it’s own result.

We should all have both hobbies and pursuits, but we should also know the difference.

As a general rule, I try to avoid consuming much news from traditional sources.

I prefer news which is actionable.

When I finish reading a story I like learning something which enables me to go, “Oh. In that case, I should ______.”

Good news fills in that blank with informed action which is productive, important and surprising.

But most news fills that gap with, I should be afraid.

While the targets they take aim at are different, news outlets on both sides of politics are constantly reverberating the same message;

People who are different from you are doing awful things, and you ought to be worried about it.

This message rings true whether you’re watching a bigot on Sky News dribble on about how maniacal the ‘climate cult’ is, or whether you’re watching a journalist on the ABC report a horrific case of domestic violence.

It used to be that this news happened twice each day; every morning when the paper was delivered and every evening when everyone got home from work.

Now we have a news cycle which doesn’t sleep, and our overexposure to it is cancerous.

Which is why I value journalists like Lisa Ling.

“It requires time and energy to get invested in other people’s stories, but I do in my heart of hearts believe that you emerge a better and smarter human as a result of taking that time.”
— Lisa Ling

Journalists who lean into the darkest complexities of society with empathy.

Instead of telling you who the good guy is, who the bad guy is, and why your should be upset, this type of journalism instead says;

Here are some people. This is what they’re going through. I’m going to try and help you understand.

Instead of preying on your emotional negativity bias by regurgitating oversimplified black-and-white narratives, these journalists find non-judgemental ways to understand people – usually in formats which take the necessary time to portray people as they really are; complex, illogical individuals.

It’s impossible to tell anyone’s full story in a news snippet.

We have nothing to gain through reinforcing polarising stereotypes, and everything to gain through compassionate conversation which fosters understanding.

If you haven’t encountered her work before, she’s well worth a google search.

Our own perspective is the most reliable one we have access to.

Yet, we are fallible.

Anyone with a scrap of humility will admit they have biases.

And most honest folk will tell you that their biases are often self serving.

Why then do we act as though our perception of reality is objective?

All the while assuming that those who disagree with us are uninformed, misaligned or simply too blinded by their own incessant biases to see the objective truth that we see so clearly.

This phenomenon is called naïve realism.

In some way or another, we’re all guilty of this naivety because we are unable to consider the perspectives of others without first filtering them through our own ‘objective’ lens of truth.

What a responsibility it is to impose our own judgement onto the rest of the world.

Perhaps we should do so with care.

The act of being you is something you’ll never quite perfect. But you’ll continue needing to do it until you die.

It’s the invisible item at the top of all of our to-do lists.

Doing the work of being yourself is a unique task in that there is no risk of failure. The only risk is that the quality of your work, and the life it produces, can vary greatly.

“No man is free who is not the master of himself.”

Epictetus

Master yourself and you’ll become a master of curating your own experience.

You’ve got all the time in the world to practice.