Obama’s Suits and Small Decisions

Photo retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/04/the-obama-doctrine/471525/

Former president Barack Obama apparently kept a wardrobe of identical suits. Being a U.S. president comes with a multitude of tough decisions every day, and according to the article I chose, Obama believes it’s worthwhile to reduce the difficulty of making small decisions (Chater, 2018). Obama’s rationale for identical suits gives us a better understanding of decision making. The article I chose discusses how routines assist us with everyday decision making but also presents the drawbacks of constantly sticking to routines.

The author discusses how psychologists and behavioral economists conduct experiments that focus on money and risk, aka gambles (Chater, 2018). We’ve discussed extensively in class how we make decisions depending on the greatest expected value based on expected utility theory (expected utility = probability of outcome x the use or benefits, utility, of the outcome), however, many decisions do not follow this. A lot of our decisions are clouded by emotions and past experiences. The article goes on to explain a study where one hundred problems were presented, the same fifty problems placed two times in a random order, and 20-30% of people give the opposite answer on the same question presented twice (Chater, 2018). It shows how people can be inconsistent in their decision making despite the repetitiveness of the problem. Establishing routines may help assist us with making decisions by already making a decision to do something before having to do it (Chater, 2018).

The drawbacks to routines mentioned include us forming fixed thinking patterns and behaviors. These patterns of behavior and intrusive thoughts are seen in people with obsessive compulsive disorder. For many people, routine gets boring (Chater, 2018). I especially get burnt out from the same routines day after day since I have a strict schedule. I am constantly going from weightlifting, to class, doing homework, going to practice, attending RA meetings and other meetings of organizations I’m a part of, etc. Especially this semester, I’ve found myself getting burnt out from my busy routine. We, including myself, should find a balance between routines and variety to conserve our cognitive resources. The balance between routine and variety varies depending on each person. According to another experiment mentioned in the article, we often overexaggerate how much variety we want in our lives. People chose a strategy for selecting a different flavor of yogurt each day, however, when they made the actual decision each day, they picked the same flavor. The same researchers in this study looked at participants’ socioeconomics factors. The results showed that people who felt “economically stuck” and felt as if they had a lack of control in their lives tended to choose variety in yogurt. The researchers hypothesized that choosing different yogurts may be a way to counteract the lack of control and choice they feel is present in their lives (Chater, 2018). To me, this seems plausible because variety means there’s more resources available to a person, and people who may not have access to many resources take advantage of having more available to them.

The article concludes that Obama teaches us to focus our cognitive resources on things we really care about and rely on routine for the other aspects of our lives. Unlike Obama, I don’t have a bunch of identical suits in my closet, but maybe picking out my outfit the night before may help me make those day-to-day decisions a little less stressful. Ultimately, this article helped me reflect that I need to reserve some routines for handling simple tasks but add some variety into my life to avoid being more burnt out than I already am.

Chater. (2018). Most people stick to their routines, even if they have no idea what they want and are really bad decision makers. Here’s why. Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/follow-routine-daily-habits-uk-behavioural-science-explainer-a8497136.html

1 thought on “Obama’s Suits and Small Decisions

  1. blogmatt21

    I definitely agree that routine is an important factor in reducing stress. Variety on occasion is definitely nice to mix in as well. I am burnt out from the schedule I have been on this semester and this blog post has given me ideas on how to improve my schedule for next semester.

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