If someone told you to decide on one of your life’s biggest decisions by flipping a coin, would you? I’m talking one of those decisions that’s literally life changing – quitting your job, getting a divorce or quitting study to embark on a year of travel. Those decisions that have you laying awake at night going over and over the potential outcomes, then deciding it’s just not worth the risk (and then repeating the process again the next night).
Would you toss a coin to determine the decision you should take?
That’s exactly what happened when Professor Steven Levitt (economist and co-author of Freakonomics) created a social experiment called ‘Heads or Tails: The Impact of a Coin Toss on Major Life Decisions and Subsequent Happiness’. The experiment asked Freakonomics fans and Reddit users to participate in a study that literally documented the impact of a coin toss. This large-scale experiment used people who were having difficulty making a decision and asked them to flip a coin to determine their choice. One choice (e.g get a divorce) was assigned to heads and the other choice (in this example, stay married) was assigned to tails. What happened next is fascinating.
The study found that those who made a change were substantially happier than those that did not make a change. It determined that it’s far more worthwhile to take a leap into the unknown than to remain idle. The experiment found that although people are excessively cautious when facing life-changing choices, they’re actually a lot happier when they make a change.
What if? Those two little words that can haunt us for the rest of our lives. They’re the precursor to feelings of regret and life-long disappointment. But what if it’s time to let go of that soul-destroying job or meaningless relationship and surrender to all of the possibilities out there? What if we stopped reacting to pressure from society and took that leap of faith? What if, we tossed a coin?
If Professor Levitt’s study can teach us anything, it’s that getting rid of uncertainty can sometimes be the best decision you’ll ever make.
So what’s it going to be? Heads or tails?