Probabilistic decision-making as an anxiety-reduction technique

One prob­lem I run into when mak­ing de­ci­sions that im­pact my life sub­stan­tially (say, mak­ing a big pur­chase) is that I spend a lot of time star­ing at de­ci­sion be­com­ing in­creas­ingly anx­ious. Usu­ally, this is ac­com­panied by only very minor amounts of in­for­ma­tion be­ing ac­quired.

There is a well-known solu­tion to this: flip a coin.

Flip­ping a coin is nice in that it al­lows you to sub­stan­tially com­press the amount of time dur­ing which you are anx­ious. How­ever, it is not with­out its flaws.

1. Flip­ping a coin does not al­low you choose among more than two op­tions. That’s of­ten enough, but more of­ten than not, it’s not enough.

2. Flip­ping a coin does not al­low you to in­clude any of the in­for­ma­tion that is per­ti­nent to the de­ci­sion you are mak­ing.

So while flip­ping a coin is nice be­cause it al­lows you to skip lengthy pointless fret­ting, it also does not re­ally lead to an op­ti­mal out­come. Now of course, if you’re at that point, you don’t already know the op­ti­mal out­come. Other­wise you’d just do that. Right? If you know what you’re go­ing to do at the end of the fret­ting, just do it. The prob­lem is that you don’t know.

So I’m propos­ing the fol­low­ing ap­proach:

1. Es­ti­mate the prob­a­bil­ity that you will end up se­lect­ing each of the op­tions.

2. Pick one of the out­comes ran­domly in ac­cor­dance with the prob­a­bil­ity you as­signed to it.

e.g. I’m try­ing to pur­chase pants. Either black or navy. They cost a few hun­dreds of dol­lars so it is an anx­iety-gen­er­at­ing pur­chase. I’ve an­a­lyzed the pros-and-cons of the two pairs of pants and at this point, I’m just wor­ry­ing about whether or not I’m mak­ing the best choice.

Step 1. I as­sign a 0.4 prob­a­bil­ity to get­ting the black pants. A 0.3 prob­a­bil­ity that I will get the navy pants. And a 0.3 prob­a­bil­ity that I will aban­don the pur­chase.

Step 2. I com­pute the in­ter­vals: 0-0.4 is black, 0.4-0.7 is navy, 0.7-1.0 is no pur­chase.

Step 3. I gen­er­ate a ran­dom num­ber. I just search Google for “ran­dom num­ber be­tween 1 and 100” and di­vide the re­sult by 100.

Step 4. Com­pare the re­sult to the in­ter­vals to figure out what I just de­cided.

Step 5. Im­ple­ment the de­ci­sion.

I figure I can’t be the first per­son to have thought of this. If you know of prior art on this, let me know.

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