So you reach a subway platform only to find it’s mobbed.
Do you wait, figuring that with so many people, the train must be imminent, or do you assume there might be a problem and go find other transportation?
Unfortunately, we often see a decision to leave as an inability to exercise self-control and delay gratification.
Neuroscientists Joseph Kable and Joseph McGuire at the University of Pennsylvania point out that a decision to leave does not necessarily come from lack of patience but a reasonable response to the uncertainty of time.
If you don’t know when the train is coming, why waste your time waiting for it?
In this case, “giving up” and leaving may be a rational response to delay. That’s because the less predictable the schedule, the less patient most people become.
“There are lots of situations, probably the majority of situations in the real world,” Kable says, “where waiting longer is actually a valid cue that the reward is getting further and further away.”
Bottom line: In organizations that follow a schedule, guesswork disappears. When you no longer have to decide if you have time to wait, you save decision-making for more important things.
— Adapted from “You’re So Self-Controlling,’ Maria Konnikova, The New York Times.