I recently spent 30 days sticking to my decisions. The results of this experiment were quite interesting, sometimes unexpected, and other times enlightening.
How it began
For some time, I had been thinking about how hard it can be live with a decision in particular because it is so easy to renege on the decisions that we make. This is especially true in the world of shopping, where stores like Costco with their nearly limitless return policies allow us to shop sans stress thanks to the knowledge that we can always return it if it doesn’t work/we don’t like it/find something better/smells funny months– or even years– later.
The problem is that this freedom creates a mindset that creeps into other areas of our lives.
I didn’t like the idea that I might be making decisions with the “assurance” that I could always go back on them later if the outcome didn’t strike my fancy. With that in mind, I thought it might be interesting to see how things would be different if I simply did not have the option to undo a decision.
In other words, I wanted to know what is the worst that could happen?
Here were my assumptions regarding living with the decisions that we make:
- I may spend more money, but it probably won’t be as bad as I imagine
- Things may not go as planned, but that will likely not lead to ruin
- Decisions would be easier to make since I would have to live with any decision I ultimately made anyway
In a strange twist of irony though, I never quite reached the point of deciding to undertake this experiment.
At the Bike Shop
Things changed when I was looking for some parts at a bike shop one afternoon. I was contemplating buying a $9 part that I was pretty sure would fit my needs, but I wasn’t sure if there would be something better or cheaper somewhere else (likely online). This was not an expensive purchase, but making the decision to buy the part was proving to be difficult. It was when I considered asking about the shop’s return policy that I made my first and best decision of this experiment. I was so disenchanted by my mindset of buying something only if I could return it, that I decided that I would start the experiment immediately.
I would buy this $9 part without the ability to return it.
The feeling of liberation was abrupt and quite uplifting. No longer having the option to go back on a decision freed me from having to think about contingencies should a decision not go as planned. Now, when I make a decision, I live with the consequences, ever moving forward and adjusting as necessary.
This was going to be awesome.
And that first day was indeed awesome.
By the second day of this experiment, I realized how much of a problem not being able to return something I purchased could be, especially since I was right in the middle of buying some business equipment. If a piece of equipment did not work out and I could not return it, then I would have even less funds to get something else. The result was that I spent a couple late nights pouring over my research so that I would select the right items the first time. Still, pulling the trigger and actually buying the items was proving to be difficult.
Indecision had arrived. I was definitely not expecting this.
Interestingly, I found that I was actually more stressed out by this indecision than I was trying to keep track of return policies, etc. prior to this experiment.
After a couple days of sparring with indecision, I was relieved to have a “this is stupid” moment and simply got out of the ring.
I could not simply hold off from making “big” decisions for the next 30 days, so my only other option was to start making decisions and living with them. This was the whole point of the experiment– to find out how things would be if I made a decision and lived with the consequences.
Issues with indecision were mostly left behind at this point, though some big decisions did take longer than desired to make.
Deciding what to spend money on wasn’t the only aspect of daily life that was affected by this experiment. In fact, one of the most positive results of this experiment was increased productivity.
When I decided that I was going to finish a task on a given day, then I would work on that task until I finished it. Just as I was liberated from thinking about return policies when buying something, I was liberated from the excuses for procrastination when I decided I was going to do something.
Getting stuff done was never so easy.
In my original post on this 30 day experiment, I noted that one of the challenges would be deciding where to eat. This may not sound like a big deal for some, but I don’t eat out often, so when I drop cash for someone else to cook for me, it better be good.
Choosing where to eat was thankfully simplified during this experiment. I stopped thinking, “what if it’s not good?” and just chose a restaurant for a new experience. Not all experiences are equal, but all new experiences add to the refinement of my tastes.
Food was not always awesome, but I don’t regret going to any of the restaurants I chose because it helped me to gain a better understanding of what I like and what I don’t like. This confirmed my assumption that the world would not end if I made a decision that turned out to be less than ideal.
I also expected that I would spend more money without the ability to undo a decision, since I was possible that would spend money on the wrong thing before ultimately buying the right thing. During this experiment, this did happen couple times, with interesting results.
The first time, I actually bought the wrong model of a piece of equipment I needed. After the initial shock of my mistake subsided, I found that I didn’t really feel all that bad about it. It was my fault and I couldn’t return it to get the right model, so I would just have to make due with the model I bought. The difference in models came down to accessories included with each model, which I determined would cost me an additional $50 if I wanted to purchase the accessories included with the other model. It would have been nice to have those additional accessories, but in the end, I decided to work with what I already had, which has yet to present any major issues.
Cost of learning to proofreading things before ordering: $50
A good lesson learned at a fair price.
The second time, I bought something that I was completely sold on. I scoured reviews and gathered as much information as I could to make sure this was “the one,” so I was fairly confident that I was making a good decision.
Obviously, I this is the perfect setup for a letdown.
And let down I was. The variance between what I had hoped for and what I received was incredible. I was disillusioned to say the least. Worse yet, I was only days away from completing this experiment and had I waited, I could have returned the item without any delay.
However, I chose to buy this item during my experiment for two reasons:
- I had no major disasters as of yet during this experiment and this was a decision fraught with unknowns
- I wanted the item and did not want to wait
Buying this item provided me with a good learning experience and helped to answer the question, “what’s the worst that could happen?” In this case, the worst consequence was that I was very dissatisfied with my purchase and would have loved to return it and get my money back.
The most significant lesson though had to do with patience. I could have waited until after the experiment was over but didn’t want to because I knew the item would be awesome. It wasn’t awesome, and this decision was a good reminder of how sometimes taking a breather to get a clearer perspective on things before making a decision can be a good thing.
The cost of this item? $60.
It’s not a huge amount, but the cognitive dissonance (aka buyer’s remorse) from this purchase was immense. I didn’t really have a problem with how much I spent, but rather on what the money spent on– a bad decision.
I still would love to return this item, but I am keeping it mostly because it keeps the lessons learned at the forefront of my mind.
All in all, this experiment was a great experience.
I gained a more balanced perspective on the importance of the decisions that I make (they usually are neither life threatening nor inconsequential).
Perhaps the greatest result of this experiment is that the mindset of making a decision with an “escape plan” has been greatly diminished. It is very important to experience the consequences of a decision (whether positive or negative), as they teach invaluable lessons that will help you make better decisions in the future.