How We Decide When to Settle

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Even though making some choices can feel pretty arbitrary in the moment, we've all got some kind of rubric that helps us pick an option and move on with our lives. On the extreme end of things, this process can paralyze us, but the truth is, we're all making hundreds of decisions every day. Knowing how long to wait for the best option is key to helping us live our best lives.


That's why Swiss researchers at the University of Zurich have just released a study deconstructing how we choose to choose. When we're limited by time, rather than options, we tend to compromise on something we ordinarily wouldn't otherwise, as previous research shows. The UZH team has figured out the math behind those compromises. "The price that I am prepared to pay increases every day by the same amount," said lead author Christiane Baumann. "That is, the further along I am in the process, the higher the price I will accept."

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That fits our understanding of sale prices and availability; it even applies to things like vetting news outlets or other information. How does that look in higher-stakes choices, like choosing the right job or life partner? "At the beginning, perhaps my standards are high," Baumann said. "But over time, they may lower, so that in the end, I may settle for someone I would have rejected in the beginning."


There's a name for this: the linear threshold model. It sounds abstract in the jargon, but once you're able to spot it in your own life, you may be able to step outside your own head and make the clearest decision for yourself that you can.