Limit your choices

What skills to learn, what tools to get
Tyler9000
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Re: Limit your choices

Post by Tyler9000 » Mon Dec 10, 2018 1:45 pm

Fun fact: When RadioShack was still a thing, "The Paradox of Choice" was required reading for their executive team. They found that offering 2-3 options for any one product resulted in a sale more often than the typical big-box strategy of offering a dozen different USB cables where customers would ultimately feel overwhelmed and leave. Of course they weren't necessarily very good at curating those 2-3 choices which is why they're not still around, but in general I always thought that was a useful insight.

@Jacob -- I definitely appreciate the idea that choices are inversely proportional to commitments. I've personally really enjoyed reducing commitments in my life (salary work, lawn, mortgage, etc) and have found it hugely rewarding, but I could see how it can also cripple some people with all of the options that opens up. DW and I went through that a little with "where do we live now that work doesn't limit our options?".

Luckily, I think my personality is suited to navigating choices relatively well. I tend to look forward rather than back, and think of the wide-open opportunity space as a blessing to say "yes" when a good option opens up rather than a curse of a million potential outcomes to analyze. Life is less about knowing the perfect route up-front and more about being comfortable going off-map when unforeseen traffic blocks the way.

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jennypenny
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Re: Limit your choices

Post by jennypenny » Mon Dec 10, 2018 2:12 pm

This thread went the opposite direction of what I envisioned lol. I see freedom and satisfaction through commitment as Fiby41 mentioned, not through reducing commitments. I think people should save the mental energy they devote to decision making for entertaining novelty or examining where changes to their system are needed. Limiting choices lowers the amount of energy blown on decision making and increases what's available for other endeavors.

I need to think about what I post next to better explain my position. I'm not saying anyone is wrong, just trying to come at it from another direction.

SavingWithBabies
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Re: Limit your choices

Post by SavingWithBabies » Mon Dec 10, 2018 2:44 pm

I'm having a hard time limiting choices on where we should live geographically. It looks like we're making the decision to buy an RV (a trailer) after winter and moving into that for a while to explore our options while reducing our monthly expenses and potentially allowing me some time off having to work a day job. So we're making the choice to not make a choice? I guess this is one form of limiting and the long term goal with it is to limit our choices for when we move out of the RV.

Is there a better way we could be limiting our choices of where to live geographically? I guess I understand the idea in the abstract but I struggle with my example which boils down to, "If you don't know your choices, it's hard to limit them."
Last edited by SavingWithBabies on Mon Dec 10, 2018 3:00 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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jennypenny
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Re: Limit your choices

Post by jennypenny » Mon Dec 10, 2018 2:50 pm

Is reducing commitments what makes people feel free, or increasing optionality? Maybe I'm splitting hairs, but I think a strong web with numerous commitments -- not obligations or debts, but commitments -- increases optionality. Too few commitments (I don't like that word but it's the one that was used) might mean that a person might have too much provisionality in their web, making it more fragile than it might appear.

A person who suffers from analysis paralysis might also end up with too much provisional webbing because they are waiting to find the perfect X to solve their problem. If they could focus on what's good enough for them through focused decision-making (a process, not a buffet), they would build their web faster and with better material.

Anyway, I'm still looking for a Kevin Kelly piece that's relevant. I'll post it when I find it again. I get hung up on the minimalism thing because even though I see it as a good thing in regards to stuff, it can make people more fragile in other areas if taken too far.


add: Another way to put it is that minimalism, when done right IMO, has fewer ties but they go deep. When it's taken too far however, there are too few ties or they are too shallow to provide resilience. Valuable commitments provide a strong foundation and should reduce stress to the system. Those commitments don't need to be 'ideal' (to tie this back to the OP), only suited to the individual and strong enough to provide stability. They should also come without indebtedness to allow for change if needed/desired.

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Re: Limit your choices

Post by jacob » Mon Dec 10, 2018 3:11 pm

In the world of handplaning (flattening wooden boards), there's something called the triumvirate which comprises a #4 (smoothing plane), a #5 (jack plane), and a #7 (jointer). The numbers roughly indicate length and Stanley (the company) made 8 of them, probably to sell more planes. Typically they're used in the following order. First #5 is used to quickly remove wobbles and take out rough spots. Then #7 is used to make it almost flat. And finally #4 removes lines and other blemishes.

All these planes have steel blades and either brass or iron bodies. The blades get dull. Everything rusts.

Now, lets consider some optionality.

I could buy/commit to a #6. This would be used after #5 and before #7. It would make me spend slightly less time with #7. However, now I have less money and I have another tool to store, sharpen, and keep rust away from. Unless I just want to buy a new one (they're expensive), I'm now responsible for maintenance. Maybe later, there's some other problem that a particular tool might solve for. I buy that too. This does not mean the previous tool went away. My responsibilities essentially increase linearly until I pare down the inventory. However, my optionality did increase somewhat. I can do things with #6 ... mainly gain speed.

A smarter way might be to buy a power planer + jointer. This costs about the same. More things can break (will the motor still run 60 years from now because the handplanes will). Same issue, different flavor. (Way more speed, but also the cost of dust filtering, ... )

Or I could forego the added optionality by limiting what kinds of tools I have available. This sometimes means taking the long way around.

Or maybe a much shorter example:

I rip (saw lengthwise) all my boards by hand. I can go through a 2x4 in about 10 minutes. A table saw can do the same thing in about 30 seconds. Not owning a table saw means I don't have to worry about maintenance and lost digits, etc.

Maybe this is irrelevant to this thread ... but I'm talking about where web-of-goals (a complex thing) meets maintenance costs (simple living). The issue is a bit like trying to solve for the carbon tax by finding the intersection between opportunity loss and damage (economic loss).

Same calculation determines the relative sizing between the human brain, the gut, and the rest. They're all taking 20%+ of the energy. If the gut was bigger/less efficient/took more, we wouldn't have the energy to think. And so on ...

ThisDinosaur
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Re: Limit your choices

Post by ThisDinosaur » Mon Dec 10, 2018 3:42 pm

jennypenny wrote:
Mon Dec 10, 2018 2:12 pm
This thread went the opposite direction of what I envisioned lol. I see freedom and satisfaction through commitment as Fiby41 mentioned, not through reducing commitments.
That's because different people have different concerns, values, and priorities. Some people seek to minimize commitment so as to increase optionality. Others prefer to reduce optionality in order to better allocate cognitive load. You, Fiby41, and I are apparently in the second group. But the first group could arguably be "right" because more options typically means better options in the available set.

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jennypenny
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Re: Limit your choices

Post by jennypenny » Mon Dec 10, 2018 3:43 pm

@jacob -- I think you've internalized a couple of steps that I'm trying to shed light on. First, you chose woodworking as a hobby. I'm not sure why but it was probably a combination of aptitude, interest, and practicality. Then, you decided (I thought?) to stick with hand-powered tools, again because of multiple reasons (no power needed, lower risk of catastrophic injury, some mild exertion required, etc). Now you get to the part where you decide what tools to own. The choices are already narrowed considerably, and you might add other considerations that limit the choice further ... resale value, available storage space, etc, but this part of the decision making is the fun part. You've already made the bigger commitments to the hobby (through learning and perseverance) and limited your choices by limiting the type of tools used and the storage space you'll allot to them. You've already done what I'm suggesting.

What I think would be a problem (using this example) is if you decided not to pursue woodworking at all because you weren't sure whether you wanted to spend the time learning or acquire the necessary tools. You might not be sure how long you wanted to stay in a house or whether you wanted to live somewhere without the room for it. You might not commit because you think maybe you should find a more active hobby that provides more exercise. That's where considering too many possibilities can lead to a life without enough commitment or depth. Also, someone who is too extreme with minimalism or extremely low spending might forego the hobby altogether, which again I would consider a mistake.

The point is to limit choices, not avoid making them. Narrow the scope to make it easier to make the big decisions, then tinker all you want with the smaller choices. (general 'you' not jacob specifically)

It's ok to make the web as big as you want, right? ... as long as you consider where/how components work together? (this is prob OT)

classical_Liberal
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Re: Limit your choices

Post by classical_Liberal » Mon Dec 10, 2018 4:33 pm

fiby41 wrote:
Mon Dec 10, 2018 8:48 am
there is a freedom and liberation in commitment.
I used to read Mason's website. I liked his writing style, but felt like it was too much of a commercialized product, so dumped him from my reading list. However, I'm extremely interested in the above concept. It's almost like a pareto priciple for diversifying commitment vs deep commitment. Have you had experience with this yourself? Any sources other than Mason and/or anything where he goes into more depth on this specific topic?.
jennypenny wrote:
Mon Dec 10, 2018 2:50 pm
Is reducing commitments what makes people feel free, or increasing optionality? Maybe I'm splitting hairs, but I think a strong web with numerous commitments -- not obligations or debts, but commitments -- increases optionality. Too few commitments (I don't like that word but it's the one that was used) might mean that a person might have too much provisionality in their web, making it more fragile than it might appear.
This may get to the heart of the matter and require some definitions. How is optionality different that choice? If too many choices lead to analysis paralysis and/or eventual dissatisfaction with choices made, then isn't optionality a huge contributor to the problem? If that is the case, then how does one reduce optionality, but maintain reduced fragility?

My initial reaction to all of this would be that deep commitments make for a difference in the kind of optionality available. If @jacob invests more into woodworking he increases the depth of the options of his creation, but limits himself in other potential hobbies due to decreased time, maintenance, and capital. We could look at it the same with interpersonal relationships. So commitment doesn't really limit choices, it just changes which future choices are available. That may be good, IDK?

This is the rabbit hole I wonder into. Is it better to have a bunch of potential energy or kinetic? Once decision "A" is made, option "B" and "C" are now gone, but D and E are available. Go to far down the hole and sunk costs (capital, social, time) become a problem to reverse course, even if it becomes evident it was the wrong choice. Or do I just think it was the wrong choice because there were so many other options to begin with?

I also would also love some feed back on this:
classical_Liberal wrote:
Mon Dec 10, 2018 1:34 am
I think a far more productive habit is removing things we know are making us unhappy in the present.
Given the above, it would seem at least this concept is a win. Stopping something that we know is making us inherently unhappy both reduces commitment and decreases choices available. Since it wasn't really working, there really isn't any optionality lost and resources are freed up for better commitments (I guess then we need to make choices on those).

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Re: Limit your choices

Post by ThisDinosaur » Mon Dec 10, 2018 5:03 pm

classical_Liberal wrote:
Mon Dec 10, 2018 4:33 pm
If too many choices lead to analysis paralysis and/or eventual dissatisfaction with choices made, then isn't optionality a huge contributor to the problem? If that is the case, then how does one reduce optionality, but maintain reduced fragility?
More options is Objectively better, but Subjectively worse.

Give a computer a list of ranked preferences, and all available information. It will execute a choice and move on. If new information is introduced, it will choose among all available options at that time. MORE options results in quantitatively better outcomes than FEWER options.

But humans are not computers. Too many options results in analysis paralysis, equivocation and regret, because we do not quantify our preferences. We suffer more negative emotions in the context of too many choices.

"Limit your choices" is advice to humans so they can avoid the negative emotions. Because we frequently do not accept "I made the best decision I could with the available information."

classical_Liberal
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Re: Limit your choices

Post by classical_Liberal » Mon Dec 10, 2018 5:21 pm

@TD
So maybe we should limit the amount of new information to reduce choices, like the secretary problem?

daylen
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Re: Limit your choices

Post by daylen » Mon Dec 10, 2018 5:50 pm

Limiting choices is equivalent to prioritizing the available information. As the complexity of this prioritization increases (more constraints/rules/reasons) an agent becomes more subjective. Subjectivity is not necessarily "bad" or "good", but it does reflect the agents ability to target specific information that will alter their decisions. Confident decision making ultimately requires some form of delusion (or misinterpretation of all the available information).

Sensory information -> triggers amygdala -> store conditions in hippocampus -> compare different sets of conditions in cerebral cortex -> reduce all this comparing/simulation into a web of goals or a web of avoidance -> use the frontal lobe to rationalize this structure (generate reasons/frameworks that give lone motor neurons a fighting chance against the ancient and highly connective limbic system)

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Re: Limit your choices

Post by ThisDinosaur » Mon Dec 10, 2018 10:43 pm

@cL
Its concievable that the reason too many choices stresses us out, is because we are subconsciously aware of the secretary problem.

@daylen
I mostly agree with that. Particularly the part about confidence requiring a delusion. Or at least a [willfull] ignorance of all the things you dont know.

FBeyer
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Re: Limit your choices

Post by FBeyer » Tue Dec 11, 2018 3:55 am

@Fiby41.
Too Badly Formatted; Didn't Read

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Re: Limit your choices

Post by 7Wannabe5 » Tue Dec 11, 2018 5:52 am

This conversation is veering towards the extreme abstract. I was wondering if maybe what jp is considering is something like how it is easier to get to the point in any given day where you are making relaxed choice about what knitting project you might work on, when you are 10 years settled in a good-enough (or even tolerable at the moment) marriage, employment and housing situation. When you are constantly juggling the major pieces of your puzzle or web, it becomes difficult to get around to creatively filling the small gaps. I have often had this thought.

OTOH, as I believe Jacob was implying, the older, or more dug into anything, you become, the more simple maintenance costs vs. fresh learning curves or profits or benefits you will accrue. This isn't just a matter of psychological perspective. For instance, when a community invests in a major long-term commitment, such as a power plant, everybody experiences the benefits of improved efficiency in the form of lower costs, but only up to a point. When this point is reached is obvious to the individual who looks at her electricity bill and realizes that she is paying more each month for her share of minimum charges, surcharges, and taxes than for the service she is actually pulling from the system.

As usual, I am likely not going to do a very good job connecting the dots here, but the moment when you schedule a date night with your spouse of 19 years, and you realize that he isn't even willing to engage in civil conversation over dinner with you, is much like the moment when you look at your surcharge bloated electrical grid bill, and think "Maybe it is time to pull the plug and start shopping for new alternative."

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Re: Limit your choices

Post by Seppia » Tue Dec 11, 2018 9:09 am

Tyler9000 wrote:
Mon Dec 10, 2018 1:45 pm
Life is less about knowing the perfect route up-front and more about being comfortable going off-map when unforeseen traffic blocks the way.
I always suspected this, but I'm slowly getting more and more certain we were separated at birth

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Re: Limit your choices

Post by FBeyer » Tue Dec 11, 2018 9:14 am

jennypenny wrote:
Mon Dec 10, 2018 2:50 pm
...A person who suffers from analysis paralysis might also end up with too much provisional webbing because they are waiting to find the perfect X to solve their problem...
See that's the trap. The idea that perfect solutions exist at all.

Design thinking has a mindset solution to this: If you're trying to 'solve' a wicked problem -like how to live your life- whenever you are in a situation where you have several options that all have the same pull on you, and you're trying to figure out which has the marginal benefit, you should celebrate rather than agonize!

First and foremost because there is no single solution that is best. It doesn't exist. The idea of optimal solutions are fed to us via the school system, and carefully crafted mathematical modeling. There is value in AP in a board game, it's a finite game, but life is not a finite game, and there does not exist such a thing as 'optimal' solutions.

When you're trying to solve a wicked problem, the inaccuracies going forward will almost certainly fluctuate more than what you can control by better decision making. Humans can't really process a whole lot of different options so as a rule of thumb: reduce your list of options to 5 options at the most. Whatever it takes, ruthlessly strike off any option from your list in order to narrow it down to 5 options only. When you've mulled over those remaining 5, and you can't reduce the number any further: choose at random[1].

This is why it's more important to make faster decisions, and act on them, rather than spending the time thinking in order to squeeze out marginal gains[2].

So reduce your options to something your brain can actually manage. When you can't figure out how to get smarter or get credible info: choose at random. :shock:




[1] As soon as you've chosen, you will feel bad because you secretly hoped for something else. Now go with that instead. Your gut feeling in that exact moment where you do make a choice is telling! :lol:
[2] Here comes the INTJ-OMG-YOURE-WRONG tirade.[3]
[3] Sigmoids and opportunity cost mo'fos, do you consider them?

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Re: Limit your choices

Post by Seppia » Tue Dec 11, 2018 9:45 am

I'm with you.
If the thought process is solid, usually the different choices left are different shades of "good".
Long term outcome on those will depend on multiple factors, most of whom are exhogenous and related to randomness/luck.
I've always found its much better to go all in on a gut feeling rather than stand still and make no choice. Making a choice usually means moving forward/gaining new experience/progressing.
So assuming one is able to narrow down to good or better choices, being decisive is certainly the smartest attitude

suomalainen
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Re: Limit your choices

Post by suomalainen » Tue Dec 11, 2018 10:59 am

FBeyer wrote:
Tue Dec 11, 2018 9:14 am
[1] As soon as you've chosen, you will feel bad because you secretly hoped for something else. Now go with that instead. Your gut feeling in that exact moment where you do make a choice is telling! :lol:
But what does it tell? Some recent reading on evolutionary psychology would suggest that your feelings tell about your sub- or unconscious judgments, which may relate to very primitive (reptile brain) preferences. In this sense, "choosing" is somewhat of a delusion at base - you are merely responding at a "gut level" and the story you tell yourself about your choice is a mythical story layered on top of it ex post facto. Rather than "limit your choices", perhaps the better life advice is "don't buy your own bullshit about your choices."

Putting that aside, perhaps this whole thread boils down to first-world problems if you accept that we are more sophisticated than animals. You can't really limit your choices (as in the options made available to you by the external world). You can limit the number of choices (as in the verb to choose) you make by arbitrarily limiting your information gathering and/or field of vision so that your perceived choices/options are smaller than the available ones. That one choice - to limit your information, could save you from having to weigh many options, so you choose 1 and reject 4 rather than choose 1 and reject 40. But this too is another type of delusion.

Putting aside delusions, the only way to "limit your choices" would be to be forced into a third-world situation (or Nazi death camp a la Viktor Frankl). Since that is likely not appealing to anyone, I would argue that how you view your options and/or frame your choice-making is more actionable.

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Re: Limit your choices

Post by jacob » Tue Dec 11, 2018 12:11 pm


enigmaT120
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Re: Limit your choices

Post by enigmaT120 » Tue Dec 11, 2018 12:52 pm

BRUTE wrote:
Sun Dec 09, 2018 6:13 pm
isn't that a choice in and of itself? so meta.
It's nearly a quote from a Rush song.

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