On saying yes (and Sesame Street)

One of the most enjoyable sections to write in last week’s A to Z of Behaviour Change was the letter Y.

I was up to my elbows in Yoga and Yodelling and really not getting very far at all when I stumbled across the “Yes….Damn!” Effect. 

I’d never heard of it before but when I read this passage on ‘dynamic inconsistency’ in Wikipedia I recognised it immediately:

People display a consistent bias to believe that they will have more time in the future than they have today. Specifically, there is a persistent belief among people that they are “unusually busy in the immediate future, but will become less busy shortly”. However, the amount of time you have this week is generally representative of the time you have in future weeks. When people are estimating their time and when deciding if they will make a commitment, they anticipate more “time slack” in future weeks than the present week. Experiments by Zauberman & Lynch (2005) on this topic showed that people tend to discount investments of time more than money. They nicknamed this the “Yes…Damn!” effect…

In combination with the ‘planning fallacy’ – our tendency to underestimate how long tasks will actually take to complete – this can cause us problems. 

So if, like me, you often find yourself doing both of these things, here are some ideas that might help:

  • Imagine that the thing you are committing to will actually take twice as long as you imagine. Would you still say yes?
  • Imagine that it is taking place later this week, instead of further in the future. Would you still say yes?
  • Give yourself a day to consider before responding. Do you still say yes?

Of course, if you decide to say no – particularly if you find saying no uncomfortable – that can bring challenges of its own. I’ll write a little about that next week.

p.s. As someone who received much of their early education from Sesame Street, I couldn’t help but wonder how they introduced the letter Y. Turns out ‘Y’ was having time management problems of his own. A classic.