A researcher at Duke University in 2008 discovered that 40 percent of the decisions we make everyday are not actually decisions at all, but habits. A shocking statistic indeed, but I’ll admit my source is slightly less-than-academic; I saw it scribbled in sharpie on a toilet stall at a gas station in Ohio, which is even more shocking because Ohio’s rest stops are kept cleaner than your dorm room before an RA check.
I suppose I could google the statistic to verify it, but I’m too lazy for that. I could also “Bing it,” but I respect myself too much for that. Like all good citizens, let’s just take it to be truth and not question it – even though 63.579 percent of all statistics are made up on the spot.
So are 40 percent of my daily decisions really habitual? I mean, I don’t really “decide” anymore to instantly delete every email I get from ITS Media. I also don’t really “decide” to take coffee thermoses out of the library. Or cut across the train tracks illegally. Or steal bagels from the Rott. These are just the things I do unconsciously.
Still, it’s a bit unnerving to think of my behavior as predetermined. Programmed. Predictable to a fault. I don’t deny that I opt for chive-and-onion cream cheese over strawberry every morning, or that I brush my teeth with Toms Simply White™ Toothpaste every night to get that “bright, healthy smile that shows my natural confidence,” but these are just preferences, right?
I still choose to do these things. My decisions matter…right? (In case you’re wondering, I will get paid for that product placement. I’ve already written up a fake invoice and sent it to Toms CEO, and cc’d Angela Merkel as well.)
My little brother Isaac came home last summer having just read a book about the unpredictable nature of the stock market and tried to sell my family his newfangled philosophy – that from then on, he would make all major life decisions by simply flipping a coin. It worked with picking stocks, so why not life decisions?
Pretty stupid, I know! Us seniors in college wish it were that easy. To the question of “What are you doing with your life?” I would love to just be able to say “tails.”
Now fellow seniors, undeclared freshmen and Interdis majors, I don’t recommend you use the coin method for decision making, but the concept might have some merit. Maybe we do worry too much about our decisions. Sure it sucks to think that we are creatures of habit devoid of real agency, free will or, conscious thought, but at least habits free us from the pressures of decision making.
It’s true that you can’t go through life without thoughtful deliberation and making hard choices. But maybe some life decisions – say 40 percent of them – aren’t worth pouring over too intensely because statistically speaking, we’ll end up going with our gut anyway.
So the next time you think you’re stressing over making a life decision, remember that there’s a chance you are really just making a “choice” governed by the unknowable forces of habit, and so there’s really less pressure than you think. But hey, don’t take my word for it – I read it off a toilet stall on an interstate highway.