Post-Decision Bias

Everyday we are faced with decisions.  Once a decision has been made we live with the results. When reflecting we tend to categorize previous choices as the right decision or the wrong decision. There’s a problem with this.  With many decisions, we can never definitively say whether it was the right or wrong one.  Let me illustrate this with a personal example.

On a daily basis I’m faced with a critical decision during my morning commute.  Like many New York City residents, I take the subway to work.  The original subway I get on is a local train, which means it makes every possible stop.  What’s interesting is I have the option to step off the train at my second stop, in order to get on the express train.  The express train makes fewer stops, and therefore I can get to my desired stop faster.

Now it would seem obvious to step off the local train in order to get on the express train.  Here’s the problem though.  Let’s say I make the decision to take the express train.  Once on the platform I hear the express train has been delayed.  Even worse when the express train arrives there’s no room for new passengers.  This means I have to wait for the next express train.  At this point I’m regretting my decision of stepping off the local train.

Looking back it’s easy to assume I made the wrong decision.  But not so fast!  I’ll never know if there were delays on the local train.  As any New Yorker knows, anything can happen on your morning commute.  There easily could have been delays on the local train.  Despite that, I’m still pouting on the platform questioning my life decision.

We must remember we can’t always be certain the correct decision has been made.  Think about the all the decisions you’ve made in your life, big or small.  Anything as small as deciding what to eat for lunch or as big as deciding where to attend school.  After a decision has been made, we are left wondering whether we made the right decision.  It’s common to question our decisions when things start to go wrong.

When things start to go wrong, remember that you likely have no idea what would have happened had you chosen a different option.  The following statement I’ve decided to call Post-Decision Bias, which is the following — we overemphasize the negative in what we have and overemphasize the positive in what we passed up on.  For all we know the other choice could have been even worse!

So the next time you make a decision, remember that all choices have pros and cons.  This includes the choice you made and the alternative option you passed up on.  Once you make a decision, accept it and then figure out how to make the most out of it.

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2 thoughts on “Post-Decision Bias

  1. I loved this one ! So true . Once we decide , it is pointless to be agitated about our decision.
    This is so helpful .


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