So, you’re standing in line at the grocery store. You weren’t paying attention, though, and now you see the cart ahead of you has about 1,000 groceries in it, and the person pushing it is an older woman getting out her checkbook.
You think to yourself, “Damn, did I make the right choice?” There’s still time to switch if you want. All the lines look busy, but one of them—a few aisles down—looks pretty good. But what if it slows down as soon as you get there? Should you switch?
Let’s try again. You’ve been at your job for a few years, and you haven’t gotten the raises you expect. The economy has been slow, so prospect’s don’t look great anywhere, but you have an opportunity at another company if you want to try your luck. Should you make the leap?
If you’re the type of person who thinks, “No, I’ve made my decision—I’ll trust my gut and stick it out,” you’ll be not so pleased to know you probably made the wrong choice.
Keep reading to learn why changing your mind is statistically proven to be a better option.
The Science Of Answering Multiple Choice Questions
Whether you’re in school, at work, or traveling, you regularly come across situations where you must choose the right answer from a number of options. You have to pick the right answer to a multiple choice question, choose the business deal that will make you the most money, or maybe select the flights that will result in the least layover time.
In every case, there’s at least one right answer and several (or many!) wrong ones.
How do you choose if you don’t already know the answer? You narrow your options to a few good candidates, pick one, and trust your gut.
But, according to decades of research studying thousands of college students and how they perform on tests, the science says that’s not the right way to do it.
Instead, what you should do when you don’t know the answer to a multiple choice question is to first use your gut to pick an answer… then change your mind and pick another.
So, if you’re not certain you’re in the right job or you’ve picked the right career—but you have a few options that seem like good choices—you should switch.
“But how can this be?” you ask yourself. “I’ve always been told following my gut won’t lead me astray.”
Why We Follow Our Gut Even When It’s Wrong
When you’re standing in the checkout line at the grocery store, but you’re moving slowly, you might choose to ride it out. You stand around longer than you wanted to—maybe you miss a meeting—but you quickly forget about it.
On the other hand, if you switch lanes only to see your old line speed up, you’ll probably grumble about it all day. It might even come up at the dinner table that night, “I goofed at the store today; I shouldn’t have switched lanes when I saw Granny take out her checkbook. Turns out, she was faster than the guy paying with pennies.”
You know it already, but it helps when science confirms it: It hurts a lot more when you change your mind and get it wrong than it does when you stick to your guns and get it wrong.
Why? Changing your mind and getting it wrong leads to more of a funny thing called “counterfactual thinking.” That’s a big, fancy word to describe what happens when you beat yourself up for getting something wrong. Maybe it should be called “If Only I Hadn’t…” Syndrome.
You’re thinking about leaving your job. Your gut tells you to stick it out, but you don’t listen. You switch anyway. A month later, you learn one of your co-workers got the promotion you were gunning for. Instant depression! “If only I hadn’t left my job, that would have been me.”
The statistics say you’re more likely to find success at a new job, but you hesitate to change because you remember all the times you picked wrong at the grocery store (while simultaneously forgetting about the many more times you picked right).
The Caveat: You Must Know What Success Looks Like
So, you’re now aware of this weird psychological trick you play on yourself that keeps you from changing your mind, leaving your job, and finding greater success.
But you tell yourself, “Um, life is a lot more complicated than a multiple choice test.” You’re right! How can you compare a simple test question—where one answer is right and the rest are wrong—to something so complicated as a career change with so many variables to consider?
Well, you can’t. Unless… you define what success in your career would actually look like. What do you actually want from the work you do? More money? More prestige? Better benefits? Bigger impact?
List it out. Prioritize them. Beat it into your head what it is you actually want rather than just lazily dream about “something better.”
When you visualize what a successful career looks like, you can objectively look at the options in front of you. All of a sudden, some choices look a lot more right and others more wrong. Maybe there are still many options—and plenty of doubt—but only a few are easily available to you.
Once you’ve defined what success actually looks like, you might still not know what the right answer is, but science is on your side if you decide to make a change.
Oh, and if you only want more money… plenty of research suggests you should be changing jobs frequently!
Struggling to make a change in your career? What would success look like if you did?