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Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Revision as of 03:25, 31 December 2013

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Of course, "Number of times I've gotten to make a decision twice to know for sure how it would have turned out" is still at 0.
Title text: Of course, "Number of times I've gotten to make a decision twice to know for sure how it would have turned out" is still at 0.


This is a chart showing when Randall made the wrong decision in leaving a place. It shows that he almost always was wrong in staying, and not in leaving to find something else to do. This kind of behavior, often tied to a need to fit in, is very common in teens, although some books and movies suggest that people do the opposite, and are wrong to do it. (An example, in The Hitchhiker's Guide To the Galaxy, is that a woman meets an alien, who offers to take her off planet, but she goes back for her bag and never sees him again.)

People often stick with situations they are not happy with (a broken relationship, an unfulfilling career, a stale piece of cake) because they think sticking with the situation is better than throwing it away. This risk aversion can lead to people sticking with something a lot longer than they ought to if they want to be happiest. Humans' aversion to loss is common; you, being at the necessary reading level for this wiki, surely can easily recall many times when you feared to lose access to something or someone you valued.

Economists and behavioral scientists refer to this behavior as the "sunk cost fallacy", more formally known as Escalation of commitment. Colloquially, this is a situation where resistance to change is justified by the amount of effort or time already expended. A proverb recognizing the error in this thinking is "Throwing good money after bad", while a competing proverb seemingly justifying the behavior is "In for a penny, in for a pound". The popular book "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman details many "errors" in human decision-making, like our aversions to losses, the sunk cost fallacy and others.

The title text references a common thread in human regret, which is wondering whether we should have turned the other way when making a choice ("I would have...", "I could have...", "I should have...", et al). Randall points out that it is literally impossible to know how it would have turned out, perhaps urging readers to not regret their decisions and live in the moment.

Although knowing individual outcomes is impossible, and although it is difficult to separate correlation from causation when analyzing large numbers of decisions, rigorous attempts have been made. Notably, a paper titled "Heads or Tails: The Impact of a Coin Toss on Major Life Decisions and Subsequent Happiness". The paper confirmed that "For important decisions (e.g. quitting a job or ending a relationship), those who make a change (regardless of the outcome of the coin toss) report being substantially happier two months and six months later."


Life Scorecard

Times when I thought...

"I'm not really happy here, but maybe this is the best I can expect and I'll regret giving it up."

...It turned out I...

Should have stayed Should have left sooner
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