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The Status Quo Bias

Human brains (and from what we can tell, animal brains in general) prefer the familiar to the unknown, even when the familiar isn’t good. Our brains are much better wired for survival than for success, and once we’ve scoped out a situation and found a comfort zone, our brains will tell us, repeatedly, that we’re fine where we are. We’re safe.

The upshot of all this is that we have a strong aversion to risking “a bird in the hand” for the chance of having “two in the bush.”

Because hanging on to what you have is pretty much the opposite of making a life change, you need to fight the urge to hang on to the status quo, even while your brain whispers that your life is fine, really, and maybe you should just count your blessings.

But being safe means not changing, not having more, not doing better. So a good way to deal with status quo bias is to stop letting this impulse beat you over the head.

In other words, use all your plans, timelines, and support systems to remind yourself of the decisions you have already made. When the time for the next step comes, don’t stop and reconsider. Don’t make yourself make the same decisions over and over again.

Remember the action plan from this blog post?

Fri:      Study manual. Take two practice tests.

Sat:      Take rented limousine to driving track and practice smooth starting and stopping.

Sun:     Take scheduled lesson with pro; practice reversing and parking.

Mon:   Take two practice tests. Study manual as needed.

Tues:   Practice visualizations of perfect limo service. Take friends for a test run.

Wed:    Take three practice tests. Study manual as needed. Drive three hours.

Thurs: Take test.

Don’t start to follow this, and then on Sunday second-guess whether you really want to pay for a professional lesson. You’ve already decided you need to from your research and your discussions with others. In fact, if this is a really good action plan with lots of detail, you’ll already have the school picked out, budgeted for the cost of the lesson, and even made the appointment.

Don’t hem and haw and wonder if your plan couldn’t be “improved” (i.e., made to suit the status quo). Follow the choices you have already made

Quality Check

If, however, you are following the plans you made and are still facing a lot of choices when you go to implement those plans, then you need to spend more time with the action plans still ahead of you.

Did you not realize before implementation that you should budget for classes? Do you now have another class scheduled for next month? Well, put the need to budget for that and other expenses in you future action plans so that you’re not making money decisions on the same day you’re going to your next class or having to buy your next piece of equipment.

Making good, well-informed decisions in all your action plans means not being faced with making a choice when you’re most vulnerable to the status quo bias. Instead, just put your head down and stick with the plan.