When one door closes, close another one!

images2.jpgJohn Tierney’s story in yesterday’s NY Times science page so fascinated me that I read it again today. I thought the message important enough to craft this post to tell you all about it.

I’m sorta hoping that a conversation might ensue, but I doubt you’ll have time to read the story and give it much thought. You have way too many choices before you. We all do. And that’s the point of the story — limiting our choices.

Tierney’s piece focuses on the research of MIT Professor Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist and author of “Predictably Irrational.” In the book, Ariely talks of a human failing that I always considered a strength: keeping one’s options open.

books_us1.gifTurns out this penchant to avoid decision by maintaining our options is counterproductive. Ariely reports on the research he’s done to support his premise, and Tierney’s article summarizes those experiments.

Turns out that closing doors and reducing choices generally enhances our happiness and improves our productivity. In short, we need to limit our options, not expand them. When we focus, our lives improve and our stress is reduced. Seems obvious, but it’s not as easy as it looks.

Like most people, I have time for just a fraction of the information that comes at me each day. And I usually feel guilty about it. But today Dr. Ariely has empowered me. Today I read not a single word about last night’s presidential debate in Cleveland, though I did scan the story about Chelsea dropping in at Kent State last night despite the snow day.

On the social media scene, I haven’t looked at my feeder in almost a week. Tonight I checked “mark all as read” for nearly 400 posts, and they disappeared. My choices for tonight became simpler. Let’s see, red or white?

Other choices for Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2008: I completed the New York Times crossword puzzle in about 15 minutes, no big deal since it’s only Wednesday. But it was my first puzzle in weeks, and I savored it. I watched an hour of American Idol — something I never do, and it was great. I love the girl with the tattoos, don’t you?

Oh yeah, I also read the local comic pages (since the Times is too sophisticated to offer this option) and was delighted to learn that Nikki and Rex are OK. I was worried about them.

Point is, we all have choices, but sometimes we keep way, way too many doors open. And too many options can distract us from the important things. Tonight I closed a few doors, and it feels good. Thank you Dan Ariely.

5 Responses to When one door closes, close another one!

  1. mediatide says:

    DOH! That’s another book I could have written!

    One of the traps we academics and communications/media professionals fall into is that we feel we have to be aware of everything that’s going on in the blogosphere and on the web. That’s not possible unless you are unemployed or you want a divorce. And if you publish your own content, you have even less time to consume media. I decided a long time ago that if I miss a few things here and there, I’ll be OK.

    You watch American Idol? I’m going to church tomorrow to repent for all my sins because the world will surely end soon! You get a free pass on this. A while back I admitted that I hosted a disco show on the radio.

  2. Bill Sledzik says:

    I’ve not read the book, but Ariely seems to be dealing more with how and why we make the choices we do, and he has some solid experimentation to back it up. That’s a book neither of us could have written, much less get a NYT science writer to pay attention He’s on to something.

    And I wish you luck as you meet your maker today to repent. I’d join you, but I haven’t sinned since 1976, and I still don’t regret that one.

  3. Just how prescient does Akron, Ohio’s DEVO seem now?

    In ancient Rome, there was a poem
    About a dog who had two bones.
    He sniffed at one, he licked the other;
    He ran in circles, he dropped dead.

    Freedom of Choice! Is what you’ve got.
    Freedom from Choice! Is what you want…

  4. Bill Sledzik says:

    All I can say to that is, “Whip it, whip it good!”

    I, too, am excited to have so many options — so many that it inspires high-level academic research on how to limit them — or not. Problem is, I want it all, and I can’t have it. So I’m gonna root for the chick with the tattoos, and I’m gonna ski a few more times around the lake before the snow melts. I’m gonna close a few doors — at least for today.

  5. Kami Huyse says:

    Whew, the guilt is melting away as we speak. I think we all find it difficult from time to time in this media-saturated world.

    Sometimes you have to choose.

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