Routines and Decision Making

One thing that we tend to hold on to every single day is our routine. No matter where we go or what we do, we tend to try and organize it in some way based off of our routines. One example that is given in this article is that Barack Obama had a closet full of identical suits. His reasoning was to minimize the complexity of his small decisions that way he could focus on the big decisions. Everyone values routines differently, but the main reason we have routines is because decision making can be extremely difficult. Routines help us try to deal with this continuous flow of decision making. Most of us are bad decision makers, partly because we aren’t even sure what we want. The psychologists in this study decided to strip down these problems that we face to try and better understand why we are unable to make decisions. A decision can range from what you’re going to eat for dinner to what you decide to major in.

“Based on such studies, how consistent are we? It turns out we are shockingly inconsistent. In fact, on 20-30% of these problems people tend to give the opposite answer on the two versions of the same question. It’s also incredibly hard work to make the decisions – people typically leave the lab feeling drained.” So, not only are our decisions constantly changing, but it is also very exhausting to make these decisions. We saw this same data in our decision making ZAPS that we did. We saw that depending on the wins, losses, or how the question is worded, we may make a different decision about the same type of situation.

Psychologists have found that routines give us a way to have a natural solution. If we already have a set plan, then we are able to choose to do the things the same way that we were doing them before. Therefore, we don’t have any decisions to make and have a set strategy for how we are going to handle tough situations.

Unfortunately, even though routines are usually a good thing, there are still some downsides to them. By having strong routines, we could potentially get locked into these patterns of thinking and behaving, and ultimately have no escape. Having too much routine could be boring, but for people who have disorders such as OCD, these behaviors can consume their lives. Routines can also be dangerous for someone who is having trouble balancing, and therefore just sticks with their everyday habits which narrows their exploration.

The study also states that “if we feel in control of our lives, routine will be less oppressive.” This relates back to socioeconomic status as well. Since they have very little economic control, people who are of low socioeconomic status tend to search for a broader variety in their routines in order to gain back some of that lost control.

These are just some examples, routine differs between different cultures, behaviors, and other types of people. No matter who you are, it is important for us to be able to focus our attention on the more important things that we really care about and try to allow routine to take over the rest.