WDYT 7/2020: Will Cultivating Patience Improve Our Decision Making?

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We all make the occasional bad decision. For some of us, like me, that poor choice is often related to a lack of patience. Our lack of capacity to tolerate delay can lead to poor decision making and often causes us to fall into common decision making traps. Let’s try to reflect more on our (im)patience.

Some research relate patience and risk aversion to intelligence and overall cognitive ability. In the most basic terms, higher-IQ individuals seem to be more patience and are more risk-averse than those with a lower IQ. But if you are impatient, you are obviously not automatically stupid and the research doesn’t go as far as saying that intelligent people are always patient or always make risk-appropriate choices. However, I think we all should pay more attention to the correlation between the two.

Good things come to those who wait. But Patience isn’t always easy, no matter how smart we are. The researchers believe that intelligent people have more patience because they have longer time horizons. In other words, the ability to think more about the future gives them a greater ability to tolerate delay. But all of us find ourselves, in some moments, lacking patience. In those moments, it is vital to recognize the correlation between patience and risk aversion. When we sense impatience driving our decision making, it may be worth pausing to check our thinking. Likewise, when we find that we have made a poor decision, it may be worth looking back to reflect on whether or not it was driven by impatience.

Even for highly intelligent people, a lack of patience in decision making can lead to the type of faulty logic that leads to traps like “loss aversion“ (Thanks for the hint, Tim!). Loss aversion is different from risk aversion. With loss aversion, individuals strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains of equal or greater value. This can often lead to poor decision making and is related to quick thinking as opposed to slower, systematic decision making. When making decisions that matter, the smart move is almost always to be patient. That gives our risk-averse self the time to be sure that we are thinking about the right things and making decisions that lead to the best possible outcomes.

Many things in life require time, as the outcomes will occur later in time. This holds for both good outcomes, but also for bad outcomes. Especially in this uncertain, fast paced and impatient world, patience has become one of the most difficult skills to develop. So we might want to work on this and reflect more about the intertemporal trade-offs when making decisions. Next time you are making a (risk-related) decision please stop, take 3 deep breaths, and ask yourself: Have I been patient enough (or do have I been f.e. hijacked by my emotions)?

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Christian is a manager, activist, author, lecturer and curator. https://christianhei.se

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