A few years back, I fired an employee whose performance was average. He did a decent job on half his tasks but ignored the other half altogether.
My solution to the problem was finding another employee who could do it right. Soon after I realized that my expectations were too high for one person to deliver. I was under the false impression that hiring another employee would solve my problem.
How do you react when you encounter a problem in your path? Does a thought flash in your head saying, “I can choose an alternative instead of dealing with this trouble right now.”
You might have heard the famous saying, “a known devil is better than an unknown angel”. It implies you feel comfortable with a situation or a person with flaws even if you have an alternative you do not know much about.
For example, employees prefer staying at a job they hate because they fear that the next job could end up worse.
But often, we tend to do the exact opposite of what the saying suggests.
I have noticed myself and others around me choose an alternative which we know little about instead of dealing with the problem at hand.
I call this flaw of the mind Another Choice Myth or Alternative Option Paradox. I coined these terms myself. It is the gut feeling that the other option might lead to a better outcome.
I knew nothing about the next employee I would hire, yet I believed that he could do a better job than the current employee.
- Examples of Another choice Myth
- Why do you fall victim to another choice syndrome?
- What are the consequences of the alternative option syndrome?
- How to avoid alternative option syndrome?
Examples of Another choice Myth
1. Waiting in a traffic jam
I encounter such behavior quite often when I am sitting on the passenger seat with my friends or with an Uber driver. When the map shows a dark red ahead indicating a traffic jam, the driver feels the urge to take an alternative route. Sometimes I am that driver myself.
When you encounter jam-packed traffic, you feel optimistic about an alternative route having less traffic. Quite often you take the chance too, even when you do not know how much traffic you might encounter on that path.
In most cases, the alternative route leads to further delay. Though you know Google measures the time taken through all the routes and shows you the best one, you feel your gut feel would beat the algorithm.
Sometimes maps are incorrect and your gut feel turns right, but how often? Usually, this quest of avoiding the current traffic ends with you taking a longer route with even more traffic.
2. Investing money
You hear about people making tons of money by investing in the stock market. You try understanding the tactics of investing the Warren Buffet way. As time passes by you pull your hair trying to understand the techniques of smart investing.
When you hit such a roadblock, you find an alternative investment more lucrative. For example, you believe you could make money with ease in real estate instead. Even if you have never purchased a property before, you find yourself confident about buying a property that would appreciate over the years.
3. A new potential partner
If you’re dealing with some trouble with your relationship, you might find yourself attracted to a new person you just met.
The situation works in two ways. Some people prefer putting up with a bad relationship even if the new partner seems like a better choice. Some others prefer a new partner even if their present relationship has only a few hiccups.
You fail to consider that the new partner might have different flaws which you have no clue about.
4. Alternative business venture
I have found myself choosing an alternative business to avoid solving problems with a current business. I once entered a business with multiple business partners to cover the initial capital. From that experience, I realized that starting a business with many cofounders creates a lot of confusion.
Soon after, I found an interesting opportunity in another domain where I could run the business as a sole owner with a small investment. Compared to the previous option, the new opportunity seemed like a goldmine. I grabbed onto it like an eagle holding its prey. I had little knowledge in the new domain and the business went down the path of failure too.
Both businesses failed, but at that moment, the second opportunity seemed like an obvious success.
5. A new job
People tend to find faults with the job they work at. You believe the manager is not appreciative enough, the work hours are long or the pay isn’t great. Moving to another organization seems like a magic pill to your current problems.
If you have switched jobs before, you know that sooner or later you start cursing the new job too. Sometimes you complain about the new job having the exact same problems you had earlier.
Though every job has some issue or the other, you believe the next job will be better than the current one.
6. Firing Leaders/Managers
Have you read the news of companies firing their executives often and hiring new ones? The management gives the executive a deadline to perform and even if he just fell short of the target, he is fired.
The board believes that the next hire can do a better job. Sometimes that works but sometimes the next hire turns no different or even worse. What follows is another span of 3-6 months of no results.
Such a practice does not apply to executives alone. Sometimes team members meet the same fate.
I am not saying that you must retain poor performers. I am referring to the mindset where people blindly believe that the next candidate will turn into a stellar employee.
7. Taking up a new hobby
Have you tried learning a musical instrument? Go to a music class and observe. You will find a few students question their choice of the instrument. For example, a student who signed up for guitar classes starts thinking if Piano was a better choice.
Even though he has never played the piano before, the difficulty of learning the guitar due to the finger placement, chords and strumming lead to the belief that another instrument would be a cakewalk. Every instrument needs efforts to get past the initial learning curve.
But the ignorance of the effort required for another instrument might cause you to believe that the alternative is the easier choice.
Why do you fall victim to another choice syndrome?
1. Your brain thinks that the other option doesn’t have any problems. Since you hardly know about the other path, you aren’t aware of the problems you might encounter. Your lack of knowledge confirms your belief making you more optimistic.
2. You compare the problems of your current situation with the benefits of the alternative. Now that isn’t a fair comparison. To make the right choice you have to compare the pros and cons of each side. However, your mind chooses a simpler alternative of looking at the current bad vs the possible good.
The bias sways you into believing the other option to be the better choice.
What are the consequences of the alternative option syndrome?
1. You encounter new problems
As you tread on the new path, you either face new problems altogether or similar ones like you always did. To make the situation worse, you may not know enough to deal with such problems. This leads to additional time spent on dealing with new problems.
I have had the experience of switching to a different business idea assuming a path of roses. Only when I had my feet in the water did I realize that the new business had problems of its own. I had no clue on how to solve these problems.
I had a better chance of solving the problems in the previous business if I applied some thought because I knew the field longer.
2. Worser outcome
Sometimes the alternative leads to an outcome worse than the current scenario.
I have taken a route different from the Google map in the hope of lesser traffic only to reach home 10 minutes after the initial schedule. Worser outcomes often happen when we make a quick decision under stress or pressure of time.
Think about it. If you face a traffic jam, you are more likely to take an alternative route when you are in a hurry. If you only had to get home, you would grumble a little and drive on the usual route.
I am sure you have had a similar experience. Yet, you and I remain in denial that we should have stuck to the original plan.
You start the alternative path full of confidence. Soon after, you hit a roadblock, follow by another obstacle. In no time, you hit a wall. At that point, you deny the truth that you’re in trouble. After a while, reality sinks in and you accept your mistake.
You end with the regret of making a misinformed decision. You tell yourself you won’t repeat it, but we both know that ain’t the truth.
How to avoid alternative option syndrome?
This flaw of the mind is not as difficult to overcome like the other cognitive biases. Here are a few tips to avoid the alternative option syndrome.
1. Know your triggers
Not everyone chooses the same alternative in every situation. A person who thinks another job is better might always stick to the route Google maps suggests. A person who invests in various investment avenues in the hunt for profits could stick to the same job without complaining.
You, I and everyone else have our triggers. Identify the little details of your life where you quickly decide to switch between options. Knowing your triggers is the key to conquer the syndrome.
2. Pause for 2 seconds for simple decisions
Spending 2 seconds helps you make a logical choice. For example, when you walk into a supermarket, if you notice a delicious looking chocolate frosted donut, you give in and pick it up.
If you spend 2 seconds asking yourself, “Should I indulge in such sinful calories when I am already overweight?” chances are, you will place the donut back in silence.
If you want to pick the donut even after asking yourself, go ahead. But on some days, you will change your mind.
Similarly, when you notice a promising alternative, pause for 2 seconds and ask yourself, “Am I making the right call?” More often than not, your brain is powerful enough to make the right choice.
3. Compare the pros and cons of each
The sneakiest trick of the another choice syndrome is that it brainwashes you into comparing the cons of your current situation with the pros of the alternative. Comparing the possibilities on both sides might cause you to realize, “oh, I am such an impatient idiot.”
You can use the 2-second rule to compare the pros and cons. That’s too fast, you think? Try it out. You’ll know 2 seconds is plenty.
4. Delay your decision during stress/anger
Your body switches itself into a flight or fight mode when you are angry or stressed. You can read about the science behind why you make bad decisions when you’re high on emotions. This is the most common trigger to make the wrong choice.
In simple words, when you’re emotionally charged, your brain makes a quick decision without using the part which makes logical decisions. To avoid such outcomes, do not make any decision until you calm down.
The grass always seems greener on the other side. And sometimes it is. But you won’t get there by simply jumping over a fence. You will have to jump a fence, walk on the rocks and cross waters to get there.
Even after all the effort, you might end up with no results. Or maybe if you had put the same effort in your original situation, you might have found green grass along with blooming flowers.
Stop trying to hunt for the perfect option and learn to love a good choice. The shiny alternative is not always the best choice.
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.