|Make a decision ... even if it's wrong.|
Q: Why do you always find what you're looking for in the last place you look?
A: Because after you find it, you stop looking!
This class of joke, humorously reframing the obvious, was my brother's favorite when we were kids. But it also is an insight into the way some of us -- like me! -- make decisions. There are people who do diligent research and consider all possible options to discover the objective "best" action/purchase/anchorage/whatever; and there are the people like me, less patient, maybe lazier in some ways, who list the characteristics that the ideal action/purchase/anchorage/whatever needs to have, and the first one they encounter that meets those criteria is considered good enough and is chosen. Bang, thanx, done, no looking back. Nobel laureate Herbert Simon first described these two approaches in 1956, and much work since has indicated that too many options can lead to decision paralysis, and that people who try to make the best possible decision ("maximizers") may end up less happy than people who make the good-enough decision ("satisficers"). Here are links to some relevant articles about these concepts, ranging from very simplistic, to more scholarly, and one woman's personal takeoff.
I knew there was something weird about my decision style when I realized that I had literally spent more time choosing a bottle of wine, than I spent choosing my new car. But looked at with the maximizer/satisficer framework, it makes total sense. I don't have enough information to make a completely informed selection from among thousands of bottles of wine. I might narrow it down -- dry red wine from South America in the $10-$15 price range, for example -- but that could still leave dozens of choices. And, it's a difference that doesn't really change anything in the long run, what I call a micro-decision -- a choice between things that are so similar that in the long run it doesn't really matter which you chose because the impacts are identical. Micro-decisions are exhausting precisely because there's no objective way to decide with the available information and tomorrow you probably won't even remember, either way. Buying a car was easier: I wanted a reliable car, a convertible, under $25K, that got at least 30 mpg highway. The criteria were clear and the choices were somewhat more limited, and like the children's joke, the first one I found that met those criteria, I bought, and stopped looking.
Besides, decisions take time and energy, and I'd rather spend my energy doing different, more fun, things. Among my friends I have a reputation for decisiveness, I think it's really that I'm too lazy to agonize over details that don't really matter in the long run, a "difference that makes no difference."
Last summer as crew on the Galeon, we lived a life where many of the decisions of everyday life were made for us. What to wear today? That decision was made for you by the watch captain or other officer; blue logo shirt if we were docking or leaving port; white if we were talking with visitors. What to have for dinner? That was the cook's problem to figure out. Much of the other infrastructure of adult life was someone else's job as well: engines or carpentry were someone's full time job, as were navigation, route planning, paperwork, arrangements with marinas (and paying dockage, oh my).
We worked, and worked hard, but at the end of the day it was strangely refreshing to be truly done. There's an almost unnoticeable chatter going on the back of your mind at all times, all the little 'stuff' related to running your everyday life. How often, during the last hour of the work day, are you distracted with thoughts of the errands you need to run on the way home? "Need to stop by the grocery store to get lettuce for the salad tonight, and stop by the dry cleaners to pick up my suit, and oh yeah, swing past the hardware store to get another gallon of paint for that project we've got to paint the guest room on Saturday, and hit the ATM..." All that clutter was stilled; cooking and uniforms and maintenance were someone else's full time job, not what you did in addition to your main job. It was wonderfully liberating, and a reminder of how much energy those background decisions and micro-decisions take.
Living on a boat in general cuts through a lot of those decisions, two ways. Maintenance takes on a different urgency -- you don't get to decide to defer fixing that leak, or the boat may sink in the meantime! And some of the other micro-decisions become moot points as well; there's simply no room for twenty pairs of shoes or a dozen different coffee mugs to choose among. If you've only got one of each thing, you don't have to decide.
(N.B., this of course is very familiar to anyone who's been in the military, or even to some extent lived in a college dorm, and it's not what I'd want forever because ultimately the price you pay in return for not having to deal with all that stuff is that you give up a lot of control over your life, but darn, it's a great break!)