Not Making a Decision is Making a Decision

It is easy to become overwhelmed with choices.

We live in a world of options, and decision fatigue is a real problem to which many people succumb.

Sometimes we just don’t have the willpower at the end of a long day to make good decisions

Often we defer making decisions entirely. Sometimes it feels like the easiest option is just not to make a decision. Or, a variation on this, we make a decision that we will decide at some other point in the future.

The thing that we often forget is that when we fail to make a decision, we are implicitly making a decision to stick with the status quo.

Sticking with the Default

In Originals, Adam Grant discusses an economist who discovered that he could predict your work performance based on your Internet browser.

Michael Housman, the economist in question, discovered that people who use Chrome and Firefox were more successful and more dedicated than people who used Internet Explorer and Safari.

This is not necessarily because Chrome and Firefox are better.

Internet Explorer and Safari come with your operating system. To use Chrome or Firefox, then, you need to actively make a decision to change the status quo. You need to abandon the default.

People who are able to change the status quo and avoid the default with their web browsers are more likely to do that in other aspects of their life and work.

Giving up that decision suggests that you are skipping out on decisions elsewhere in your life.

Justifying the Default

Of course, sometimes the default is the best option. But be careful before you convince yourself of that.

We humans have a tendency to convince ourselves that the status quo is better than it actually is.

Grant’s book discusses a theory of “system justification.” Basically, we all rationalize the status quo, even when doing so goes against our interests.

As one example, he points to a study finding that during the 2000 U.S. presidential campaign, voters found each candidate more attractive as they gained in the polls. People of both parties were preemptively saying “Yeah, I guess he’s pretty good” about whoever seemed more likely to win.

This matches up with what we have previously learned about the status quo bias. We have a tendency to overvalue things as they are and undervalue change.

By justifying the way things currently stand, we make it emotionally easier to accept our situation. “That’s just the way it goes” takes a lot of the sting out of negative situations.

On the other hand, it also makes us less likely to make changes that will improve those negative situations.

Take Charge

If our ability to stray from the default has such a large impact on our job performance, think about how important it could be to other areas of life.

How much happier could you be if you challenged the default life path?

How much more money could you make if you challenged the default career path?

How wealthy could you become if you challenged the default savings advice?

Take a step back and truly question whether the default is really the best option.

Take control.

Make decisions.


7 thoughts on “Not Making a Decision is Making a Decision”

  1. I love your thoughts on the points Grant makes in Originals. It was the first book I read in 2017, and I think it was one of the best!

    To your point, questioning the default is one of the key things that I try to do in my daily life. Whenever I think something is obvious to me, I try to take a step back and say, wait a second, is it obvious or am I missing something?

    I was listening to someone talk (don’t remember if it was a video, podcast, radio show 🙁 ) and they were saying that people sometimes will not make a decision or take action because it makes them feel like they are in control of the situation. For example, you could change the light bulb but not today because you are busy. You feel like you are in control of the situation and can affect change, but just don’t. It’s interesting because I’ve found that we are in control of a lot and we can do a lot.

    I’m focusing most days on de-cluttering my schedule and things to do. I make a list of important things each week and then try to get it all done. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t – still it allows me to see my progress.

    Thanks for sharing – I love Originals and am glad you have some similar and good takeaways
    Erik @ The Mastermind Within recently posted…The Mastermind Within Goals Check-in – July 2017My Profile

  2. I reading and commenting via Chrome. 🙂 I made a decision!

    I have certainly delayed decisions to make sure I’ve considered all options. Also when in a relationship, often a decision is a joint venture and can delay the time it takes to make it final. My wife and I have run into this many times over the years, making sure we are on the same page for things.
    Brian recently posted…Net Worth Update: July 2017My Profile

    1. Congrats! And I do the same thing. I think there is a difference between delaying decisions because you need to do more research or you need to consult with a spouse and delaying decisions because you just don’t have the willpower to make a call.

      Thanks, Brian!
      Matt recently posted…The Three Fuels of ProductivityMy Profile

  3. This is a huge issue for me. Decision fatigue goes hand in hand with too many choices and I am very often paralyzed by it. Making a decision is mentally exhausting. Making hundreds is debilitating. By the time my kids are in bed and I have about 30 minutes of waking life left in me, and my husband asks “do you want to watch something on TV?” all I can say is yes, whatever you want. Don’t ask me!

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