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.
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.