4 min read
The Reactive Problem
Part of the series, “Admission Failure”
The Reaction Dilemma
I made a $400 mistake. I arrived at JFK 6:30 in the morning ready to go home. I punched in my confirmation code in the kiosk, but my ticket wouldn’t print. I pulled up the itinerary email. The flight was marked with tomorrow’s date. I made the mistake of buying the wrong ticket.
I asked the ticketing agent if I could grab an earlier flight. She told me it would cost an extra $400 with charges and fees for a flight that left in a few hours. To add salt to the wound, only middle seats were available.
My body said to stay put, but my mind said to go home. I bit the bullet and paid the extra amount. A few moments later, I regretted my decision. But I went through with it, and I cursed myself because it was the worst decision I made all year.
That was four years ago. Today, I wonder what prompted me to make such a mistake. Everything that ticket agent said was rational, yet my thoughts were caught in a sea of emotions. I was afraid I wasn’t going to make it to work the next day. In reality, I would have made it to work on time given there were no flight delays.
I was reacting to my situation without thinking about the long-term consequences. This feeling goes by many names, like fire-fighting, and if you are surrounded by this behavior, you are likely to adopt this frantic role. The behavior is anchored by the perception of time. “There’s not enough time to think” could be the slogan. And in this slip of time, I’m out of control.
Growing up, I remember watching “The Price is Right”. Each contestant on the game show must make decisions within a short time frame.
Many can’t think straight with the flashing lights, the potential prizes they could have, and the emotional burst of being on television. They look out to the crowd and try to take the advice of other audience members, likely the ones they came with, in hopes their shouting could be the right answer.
This environment promotes a chaotic mind. How can you think straight with the noise? The show’s producers know this and tell the game developers to use common price biases to throw the contestant off.
For example, there’s a game where the contestant has four items to determine if the item is higher or lower than the tagged price. You can bet the game developers take advantage of anchoring, a bias where the contestant will be affected by the first price they see. When the contestant plays this game, the short decision window clouds their judgment, and that’s susceptible to anchoring.
Online shopping is a similar experience. I have many temptations to buy things I don’t need because of the convenient factor. For this reason, I’ve turned off one-click shopping on Amazon as a safe guard.
My weakness is making decisions around limited time deals, like flash sales, items at the checkout line, and Black Friday. If you’ve read my newsletter on catalogs, my seeds catalog was an instant buy.
The recurring solution I’ve found to all of these decisions is to bench the decision for a certain amount of time. For instant shopping, it’s 24 hours. For the flight change, it’s ten minutes. This time period is reserved for calming time — to get rid of extra baggage and emotion when making my decision.
We’ll explore more next week on anger and the calming down effect.