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May

11

2010

Making a Better Decision

I love TED videos because they make me rethink my view of the world. In the video, Harvard psychologist and happiness expert Dan Gilbert explains why we make bad decisions.

I’m going to explain how I think it applies to INFPs.

Since the video is long, here are the important parts:

  1. Expected Value of Anything = (Odds of Gain) x (Value of Gain)
  2. People make poor decisions because we make errors in estimating Odds of Gain and errors in estimating Value of Gain.
  3. Using memory makes us prone to errors in Odds.
  4. Shifting comparisons make us prone to errors in Value

In the video, Dan gives specific examples about how people commonly make mistakes estimating Odds of Gain and Value of Gain.

How an INFP Values Anything

INFPs value things ideally in order to get our ideal outcome.

The basic formula of Expected Value of Anything = (Odds of Gain) x (Value of Gain) becomes:

Ideal Expected Value of Anything = (Maximum Odds of Gain) x (Maximum Value of Gain).

In other words:

Perfection = (Being Almost Positive We’ll Get What We Want) x (What We Get Is Everything We Wanted)

What This Means In Real Life

When INFPs approach life in terms of the ideal, we expect that any endeavor we embark upon will give us the possibility of the best probable outcome.

Ideal New Friendship = (Best chances of becoming friends) x (Becoming best friends)

Ideal Career Path = (Best chance of getting that career) x (Complete career fulfillment)

If we can’t get something perfect, INFPs feel less motivated to do it. However, that Ideal isn’t a fixed point but a range. For example:

Maximum Odds of Gain – Best chances of becoming friends

  • Best Case: everything clicks and we can talk easily with this new person like we’ve known them all our lives
  • Worst Case We’ll Accept: It could be a challenge, as long as this new person doesn’t do this, this and this and we’ll be okay with it.

Maximum Value of Gain – Becoming best friends

  • Best Case: They value us as much as we value them and they’ll do as we would do for them
  • Worse Case We’ll Accept: They don’t have to drop everything every time I call just as long as I know that I’m at least in their top 5 or 10 or whatever.

The Worst Case We’ll Accept is different among INFPs. We know everything isn’t going to be absolutely Perfect and that nothing turns out as flawlessly as we imagine in our head. That range from Best Case to Worse Case We’ll Accept is our buffer zone. The closer the Odds of Gain or Value of Gain moves toward the Worse Case We’ll Accept, the less ideal that new friendship becomes.

Maybe that new person says they’ll call back but doesn’t or maybe we find it more difficult to talk to that person. Every time an incident occurs that doesn’t fit our preconceived image of the ideal, the Odds or Value starts dropping towards the Worse Case We’ll Accept. If this happens often enough, we discover that the Expected Value of Friendship was much less than we imagined. We get bored. It’s too difficult. It’s less than our range for perfect. So we stop trying to become friends with this person.

The Dunning–Kruger effect

When it comes to estimating our Odds of Gain, INFPs overestimate our ability to achieve that goal. For me, this was especially true when it came to college and career. At 20, I wanted to be a best selling author. I had wrote in high school and won a couple of contests. Since we estimate Odds of Gain from our past, I estimated that if I worked really hard in college, got enough critique to improve my writing, I was assured a spot on the Times Bestsellers List.

Also, all the comparison to past successes in my head made me extremely susceptible to a cognitive bias called the Dunning-Kruger effect. Basically, this effect occurs when people reach bad conclusions and make bad decisions but are unskilled to recognize they’ve made a bad decision. In other words, people who really don’t know what they’re doing assume that they’re doing it better than average and people who are really good at what they do think they’re worse at it than they actually are.

I estimated my writing ability to my subjective past successes and not to anything objective. I overestimated by Odds of Gain. The only way to become better at estimating your own ability and your Odds of Gain is to become better at what you’re doing. I joined small critique groups which made me a better writer and as I got better at writing, I realized that I wasn’t as good as I thought which dropped my estimate of Odds of Gain down to the point where it was below my Worse Case We’ll Accept.

I see that happening when INFPs changing careers in college. They attend university thinking that they’ll be really in good in one career until long hours and grades sub par to their ideal make them realize that getting to their chosen career is taking much more effort than they thought. More effort means that they might never be as good as someone who’s in the same class and whizzing by with little effort. So to the INFP, their Odds of Gain diminishes with every mediocre outcome and their Ideal Expected Value of the career diminishes to the point where they switch majors to something more ideally suited for them.

For me, I dropped out of school instead of switching majors.

Why INFPs Drop Projects

INFPs drop projects because the Expected Value falls out of our ideal range. We discovered that our estimates were off so why do something if we know it’s not going to turn out within our range of perfect?

I think this is the biggest reason why INFPs get good at things but not great at things. We start a hobby, a sport, an activity. We work at it and improve our skills over the years until we get good enough to estimate that we’ll probably never be great (Value of Gain). Sometimes knowing that more time and effort won’t make us great at something drops our Value of Gain to below our Worse Case We’ll Accept. It’s at this point, we find a new interest and go to the next thing.

Estimating Better

It’s not as if as INFPs, we are blindly deluding ourselves when it comes to estimating Odds of Gain. However, we estimate our odds of getting something as if we were our Ideal Self and not as our current Becoming Self. If we were already our ideal, getting what we want (Odds of Gain) would be as we imagined it would be.

To become better, we need to estimate Odds of Gain based on the person we are now. This drops the Expected Value from that absolute Ideal to a more subjective “ideal for who we are”. Also, finding more about our Value of Gain by asking and researching those who have gotten what we wanted gives a us a more accurate estimate of Value of Gain instead of using our imagination to gives us our imagined Best Scenario. Doing these two things, gives an INFP a more realistic Expected Value in order to base our decision on whether to take on an endeavor.

Yes, we are lowering our expectations. However, doing this gives us something more valuable in return–the possibility of more. If we base our decisions on Ideal Expected Value then in the best possible scenario, we will only get what we expect. If we base our decisions on a more realistic Expected Value, we open the possibility of doing better than we expected.

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38 Responses to “Making a Better Decision”

  1. Kim

    May 11, 2010

    3:46 pm

    Interesting. When I read this, I thought about something that might be related. When I pursue things that I consider central to my identity (my “ideal self” identity), I tend to have higher expectations and am more likely to give up when I find I can’t reach them easily. For example, if I imagined myself as a great writer, and this was a big part of my ideal, then I would not be satisfied with realizing I was just pretty good. However, when pursuing something that just seems fun to me, something I don’t associate with my ideal identity (photography, for example), I tend to learn more and pursue it for longer because I don’t feel threatened if I’m not great at it. I guess that means my expected value is less–but I actually end up learning more. Does that ring true with anyone else?

    [Reply]

    Corin Reply:

    I do that too because when I feel that if that activity is central to my identity, if I can’t do it as well I idealize than I won’t become my ideal by being mediocre at it.

    [Reply]

  2. Beniy

    May 11, 2010

    11:53 pm

    Great post! I just found your blog about a week ago, but just reading a couple of posts has really helped me. Thanks for putting the time into sharing your insights.

    [Reply]

    Corin Reply:

    Thank you so much for reading. Hopefully, you’ll feel comfortable to share your thoughts and experiences. It’s always great to hear if INFPs go through the same experiences and how it differs.

    [Reply]

  3. Amanda

    May 14, 2010

    7:21 pm

    I went back for a Masters in a field that interested me– about 10 years ago. Even though it was much more work than I felt prepared to deal with, I had young kids..and setting a positive example for them was a HUGE motivator. Also..during those 2 lonnng years in school (while working full time and being a mom –can you imagine the DRUDGERY anyone?), I maintained my interest in the field while continually refocusing on the most exciting possibilities that awaited me. I’ve been working in it for the past 8 years now. And naturally, there’s plenty of crap to deal with every day, and many requirements that aren’t within my ideal vision. Luckily, I have a lot of autonomy within the beauracracy (part of why I was drawn to the field, of course..) and what REALLY keeps me going is the freedom I have (or take) to REFOCUS on the possibilities of my idealized vision. I never quite get there, though. But actually, that works for me, because it keeps me striving and reinventing new ways to get there. It keeps my job interesting since I regularly reinvent my goals when I feel that I’m falling short. There’s disappointment at disgarding the old ideas, but excitement at the possibility inherent in the new, “tweaked” vision. So far, so good. Not ready to quit yet.

    [Reply]

    Corin Reply:

    For the longest time, I thought I was wishy-washy because it seem my goals kept changing. As I got older and started getting more goals accomplished, I realized that I was becoming a different person, closer to my ideal, as I completed my goals and that this new person I’d become had different views of what my goals really should be.

    It’s not as if I didn’t want what I wanted. I just realized that getting to any particular goal wasn’t all there is to being my Ideal Self. However, I don’t know that until I reach my destinations. It’s like my life is this treasure hunt for my Ideal Self and that each goals reveals the next clue.

    [Reply]

    Amanda Reply:

    Well put! I agree totally.

    [Reply]

    Amanda Reply:

    I just reread the post and wanted to comment on the idea of satisfying/becoming the ideal self. Back to getting the Masters degree 10 years ago.. whenever I would get an A+ on a paper (which I felt I’d stumbled through even though I put a lot of myself into it..) I always felt as if I’d duped the professor, or he wasn’t as smart as I’d thought (A+ is supposed to mean perfect, right?) My point is…even when I reach my goals, I’m never totally satisfied. I always feel like there’s more to strive for, the ideal me always somewhat out of reach. But, with my desire to focus on potential and possibility, this seems to work for me, most of the time. This seems like an INFP thing to me. Does this ring true for anyone else?

    [Reply]

    Beniy Reply:

    Amanda,
    Totally true. I’m a teacher. A few years ago, I got my school’s Teacher of the Year award. Not a big deal, but nice. From a realistic perspective, it means that the other teacher’s like and respect you, and think you are doing a good job. But, at the time, I couldn’t shake the feeling and conviction that they were just being nice, and looking past all my faults. I felt like a complete con. And my cocky nasty side just devalued the award in general….”It must not mean very much if I got it.” Wow. If anyone else told me they were thinking these things about themselves, I would think they were nuts. It’s really therapeutic to read other people having the same exact thoughts and feelings I have. Or, to be infp persnickity….at least somewhat “similar” thoughts. : )

  4. Debby

    May 18, 2010

    7:23 pm

    This article explains my life! I am an extreme INFP living with consequences of repeated bad decision making. One big mistake was getting a Master’s Degree and becoming a Professional Counselor . For years I was sure I would be an effective counselor because I am empathetic, compassionate, caring, and well… INFP. But I also have an extreme dislike for paperwork (which I can do, but s-l-o-w-l-y) and inconsistent listening skills. I had this “Pollyanna” picture of myself as the female version of the Counselor who changed my life many years ago. I got through the hard times and reached my goal by imagining how perfect everything would be when I got there. I ignored the warnings and red flags along the way because they did not fit with my estimated Odds of Gain. Bottom line I have credentials but no job and no desire to get another job as a Counselor (if I even could). Somehow it helps to understand why every time I see that I can’t do something Really Well, I lose all motivation to do it at all (also why I give up on most friendships). Hopefully, I will remember this information and incorporate it. “Better late than never.” (Actually, I knew this already, on some level, that’s why it rang so true!)

    [Reply]

    Corin Reply:

    I started imagining the less than perfect. If everything went right with something I wanted it would be a 10, ie getting there was easy and what I wanted turned out to be everything I imagined. However, I imagine what I want as 5 of 10, and decide whether I still want it.

    For example, adopting my 2nd daughter turned out to be as “not perfect” as I had imagined. Instead of taking 11 months like our first adoption, it took three and half years. We had to do all our official paperwork twice because the paperwork expired. Our child was a bit older and had more developmental and psychological issues.

    However, I decided before I started that if that “not perfect” experience turned to be a 5 instead of a 9-10 that I could still be very happy. Yes, it turned out to be every bit as not perfect as I had imagined. My 2nd daughter wouldn’t let me hold her for the first 6 weeks. She would cry when I entered the room and really cry if I tried to pick her up. I would do it again in a heartbeat. Two years later, she’s a daddy’s girl to my surprise.

    When I expect to get a 5, there’s always room to get better and I’m motivated to take actions to make things better. When I expect a 10, it can only get worse and every action I take is all about fear and prevention.

    [Reply]

    Debby Reply:

    I have used this approach in some aspects of my life; those in which I have been the most successful and satisfied. But I felt guilty about it because I was “being pessimistic and thinking negatively.” Now that I realize the intuitive genius of “imagining less than perfect”, (when you are an INFP), I believe I will start doing it in the areas that still give me problems. (Like friendships and career.)

    [Reply]

    Corin Reply:

    I use to think that I just lowering my expectations. But that’s like saying, if my kid doesn’t get straight A’s and is the perfect Stepford child than I’m lowering my expectations. I don’t think anyone imagines their child with perfect behavior. However, that doesn’t make their child any less perfect for them.

    Imagining things less than perfect for me is just letting go of expectation. I don’t expect my children to behave perfectly. It just makes me all the more happier when they are eerily capitulating.

    [Reply]

    Linds Reply:

    I went through this too. Well, almost. I had idealized my future with a beautiful vision of me as a veterinarian in the country, saving animals and feeling secure in my job. After seriously struggling in my basic college science courses, I finally “took a break,” never to return. Those pictures of what I think will be a good fit are sometimes so inaccurate!

    I know this post is old, but has anyone found a better way to monitor those decisions? I suppose I am working on having a realistic view of myself and my strengths (not as incredible as I sometimes think) and weaknesses (not as horrible as I often think), and trying to make wise decisions with both gut and logic, because I can’t seem to totally override the “gut!”

    On another note, I was brought here by Corin’s other post on decisions: http://www.infpblog.com/favorites/happiness-means-burning-bridges/
    Debby’s post here seems to be related to that post-decision angst INFP’s so often get when things previously idealized turn out to have major problems: we feel we made the wrong choice only because we can imagine so many endless options! This keeps our morale low, so we don’t utilize courage and resiliency and try to overcome challenges. It also keeps us looking for the next ideal situation as though our biggest goal is finding that instead of shaping the situation we find ourselves in. Debby, I bet you had GREAT strengths as a counselor and wonder if you ever gave it another try.

    I think this choice-inundated society is poison for my brain.

    [Reply]

  5. Beniy

    May 19, 2010

    5:45 pm

    That seems like an excellent pragmatic tool. The more I realize that I am an idealistic perfectionist by preference, the more I realize that I need to be more realistic if I want to accomplish my goals. Because, as an idealistic perfectionist in planning ahead, I never get anywhere. I think making an effort to envision imperfect outcomes will help me make a better long term decision, as well as feeling more comfortable with the opportunity cost.

    [Reply]

    Corin Reply:

    I think envisioning imperfect outcomes helps in deciding if we want to take the good with bad. Perfect means all good and outcomes have no downside. There’s always a downside which INFPs tend ignore until we get to our goal hoping that the good parts outweigh the bad parts. If that plus vs minuses evaluation happens at the beginning, it saves us time and heartache.

    [Reply]

  6. Hwin

    Jun 2, 2010

    1:08 pm

    Whew. Thanks for the equation. That will help.

    [Reply]

  7. entj personality

    Jul 6, 2010

    3:16 pm

    I just wanted to say I love the quote on your homepage. “Thinking is easy. Acting is difficult and to put one’s thoughts into action, the most difficult thing in the world.” So true.

    [Reply]

  8. Melissa

    Jul 10, 2010

    9:22 pm

    I found this post to be incredibly enlightening, as well as all the comments above. Thank you for your beautiful insight.

    [Reply]

    Corin Reply:

    Thank you for reading. It’s nice to know that other people find what I say useful. It makes me feel less trapped in my head with thoughts that I think only make sense to me.

    [Reply]

  9. jd-

    Oct 13, 2010

    9:04 am

    Good post… I initially thought I wanted to be a philosopher/writer… Then figured I would do something practical and go in to IT… did that for about 5 years, could not take the corporate environment. Needed to re-evaluate. I had been working on NFP and volunteer stuff on the side. Decided I liked the value I got out of helping people that way… Decided to do another degree in Political Science to help credential myself and figured I can use that to a career that is flexible in the political/grassroots/nfp world. I am also burdened with moving from one thing to another, I’ve even moved around the country following this stuff on whims.
    Thought I could be a teacher at one point, way too rigid for me in actuality.
    So now I am just a freelance web developer with a small income stream from that, and working on a career in politics, almost about to finish my degree. I would honestly just stay doing web development and stuff on the side, but I am turning 30 soon, and do not believe this “skill” will be as valuable or even existent 30 years from now when I am closing in on retirement. A career leader in politics, helping people (not the douchebag politics) I believe will help me be flexible long term in that arena, despite the extra money I paid to get the other degree from a reputable school in the area that I decided would be good long term to me. (Bay Area… both tech/progressive politics)

    [Reply]

  10. Sinan

    Dec 29, 2010

    7:28 pm

    Wow! Thank you so much for writing this! I just saw the link to your page on another website…

    As a recent college grad and a proud INFP, I really have no idea what to do with my life. I had some careers in mind that I thought were ideal, such as film production, media, event planning etc. but when I got actual internships in those fields, I learned the hard way that the reality was way different than what I’ve imagined or ‘idealized’ in my mind. Soo INFP, right ? :)

    Long story short, now, after reading your suggestions I really am going to keep my expectations lower and keep in mind that I can always change path if I really have to!

    [Reply]

  11. Nick

    Feb 23, 2011

    11:20 am

    Interesting post. I enjoyed the way you presented the theory. It helps me to understand that we need to change our decision making process slightly. We make wrong decisions about careers etc, but I ask the question are we(INFPs) ever wrong about our decisions on people?

    [Reply]

  12. Jeanne

    May 24, 2011

    2:10 pm

    At long last, I have found a club I’d like to belong to, because I already do! Thank you for your research, your wisdom, and your camaraderie.

    [Reply]

  13. Virginia

    Jul 28, 2011

    2:24 pm

    It’s fun to reflect on the abstract motivations that run our lives as INFPs. Thanks for posting this; it is helpful to me during a particularly hard time: just got off several medications for depression and restarted a career I very much dislike and am doing only for the pay in the middle of our Great Recession. Good to reflect on pragmatic reasons for changing careers in life. Most days I feel like a burned-out professional dilletante. LOL

    [Reply]

  14. Luke

    Sep 22, 2011

    12:14 am

    I appreciate this post. There are some good points.

    The point that stuck in my mind the most was “I started imagining the less than perfect”. It’s so concrete! This technique reminds me of Dale Carnegies book “How to stop worrying and start living.” He states something along the lines of “imagine the absolute worse case scenario and go from there.”

    I started reading “Smart Choices” because I spent the last 7 years doing something that I didn’t like, and it all started with a decision. Life is what we make it. If only I wasn’t lost.

    [Reply]

  15. Deb Joffe

    Oct 27, 2011

    12:29 pm

    Such a relief to finally discover that I am INFP and there are other people like me out there. I’m full of guilt at being a dreamer rather than a doer and this adds further confusion to decision-making (I want perfection, but that seems to mean being something which I am not). I even feel guilty ‘wasting’ time on doing a personality test, thinking a lot about myself and reading about it all on the internet. I could instead take a view that this has been a really good use of the last couple of hours…

    I’ve got lots of decisions to make now (job, buying a house etc) and I have to make them alone so this blog has really helped me factor in some new aspects to thinking and deciding these things. I can now take into account my core personality traits as well as opting for imperfect outcomes. Thank you!

    [Reply]

  16. celebration

    Nov 28, 2011

    10:33 pm

    this is a great blog

    [Reply]

  17. leia

    May 11, 2012

    10:21 pm

    I am the embodiment of this personality type, not that I fully believe that personality characterisations do not consist of variance within populations with the INFP type. However, since I was about 14 i’ve always wanted to be an architect, there was something about that profession, or the image of it, that attracted me as felt as though it avoids the mainstream and can engage in counter culture, or resistance through its style. However, I am unable to figure why i am so attracted to visual culture in all its forms, but not able to bring myself to study it. I’d rather torture myself into studying law and working within a legal firm as opposed to following my dream, perhaps as a fear from shattering my reality. I sort of this thought how one day I many have an emotional outburst within society, which will ruin my reputation as lawyer – to which I can change into a “romantic” profession as a way of saying f*&**&* you society!

    I am such a dreamer, or do our dreams do become “realities,” of who we really are under the INFP label?

    [Reply]

  18. leia

    May 11, 2012

    10:27 pm

    Ops, for my spelling errors
    I am French, english not a first language for me. I constantly create spelling mistakes if I am writing something with personal & emotional meaning, otherwise it is in cold, articulate professional grammar.

    [Reply]

  19. Heather

    Oct 13, 2012

    6:12 pm

    I really need this site. It is helping me to understand and accept the way I am instead of trying to be something I’m not. I’ve been at my wits end trying to figure out why I’m so obsessed with my purpose and my trepidation in making decisions about my life. Many thanks ~

    [Reply]

  20. Tanya

    Feb 23, 2013

    8:59 pm

    Well. That was true. Caused me to reflect on why I switched majors from Graphic Design to teaching- spot on- it was because I perceived it would take an incredible amount of effort (and perhaps was beyond effort) to be as good as those who would be competitors in that market. I think since, I’ve trained myself to be too realistic… I’ll research something to death and then never try it since I think I will not succeed.

    [Reply]

  21. Vivid

    Apr 14, 2013

    8:46 pm

    I do that–altering expectations –but I find it frustrates my husband if I do that with HIS ideas (-=. I wonder how I can get myself to DO something and stop dreaming

    [Reply]

  22. Suyash

    May 16, 2013

    7:15 am

    Hi Corin,

    This is a good article.

    I have a question. You said you dropped out of school. But also, from your other posts, I read that you are doing good at a job which you currently have

    Did you finally go to college at some point? If no, are you ok with the fact that you didnt attend?

    I’m asking because I have to make a decision whether to pursue a Masters degree in a subject which I know I can do, but I am not very interested in. I am just planning to do it for getting more salary, better prospects in future etc.

    [Reply]

    Corin Reply:

    No, I didn’t go back to school. I’m currently a C# programmer. However, these days most programming jobs require a degree and experience.

    If I do, it won’t be to further my career. There’s two reasons to go to college: career advancement and life experience. If you consider college for career advancement then you have to consider ROI. How long before you get the return on investment? If your masters will cost you $50K, how long before you make that $50K. If you have to take out a loan for it, the initial investment goes up significantly over the length of the loan.

    I decided to take the get-rich-slow path. There’s a book by called Cash Flow Quadrant by Robert Kiyosaki that I recommend. It’s never about how much you make. It’s about how much you spend. It’s about money management, debt management and investment strategy. I’ve been working my plan for 18 years. My goal is to retire by age 55.

    As for going to college for life experience, it really depends on the value you perceive. However, with the economy as it is, avoid student loans at all costs. What I got from not going to college is no student loans. That allowed me the freedom to not be stuck in a job in my early 20s because I had no debt hanging over me. Freedom is high in my values so that was important to me.

    [Reply]

    Suyash Reply:

    Thanks for your prompt reply!

    [Reply]

    Suyash Reply:

    I’m actually concerned that my degree will stop making sense to me midway and I will reach a point where having done half of it, I wont be able to go back. (I stay in another country and I am planning to study US)

    I am not sure what can I do if it stops feeling good because I am already going to invest so much of my parents’ money and also taking a loan here in my country. I guess I will have to carry on and finish it and then look for a decent job until I am able to break even again.

    The real “value” of the degree for me is this: I will be staying away from my parents for the first time in my life and I will need to make my own decisions unlike here where they are just being made by default. And no, I can’t do this in my home country.

    [Reply]

  23. Doan Hong Trang

    Mar 26, 2014

    10:21 pm

    I am really appreciate your post. I am a college students looking for career after graduation and I wanted to know more about my personality. After discovering myself as INFP, I was sad because my decision making is not great as I think, which is a typical way of thinking of an INFP when things are not perfect. However, I really want to improve myself and the relationship that I have with other people. Your post really changes my life.Thanks a lot!

    [Reply]

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