Cognitive effort

I bought a bed last weekend, and it was delivered two days ago. Yes, I finally decided that I should stop sleeping on the futon that I had bought used in grad school nine years ago. And two nights of sleeping on the nice new bed has made me go “Wow! Why did it take me so long to decide to do this?” A good question. One I actually thought about for a bit, and here’s my answer.

It’s a matter of energy and attention. We all have certain things that we don’t question in our lives, whether it’s our religion, our devotion to a given sports team (Go Cubs!), our affiliation with certain groups, etc. We can’t question everything. While I love the idea of always being able to pry open the black box to see why something is the way it is, I can’t always do that because it takes time and energy. Most of the time, I have to just accept the black box as is, and use it.

So I make a decision, and I move on, and I don’t question the decision any more. Whether it’s buying a car or a new laptop or what software to run my blog on, I find something that works well enough for the moment and forget about it, leaving more of my time and attention for things I find interesting, like reading or thinking about what I’m going to write on here. It’s a matter of conserving cognitive effort for things I care about.

To give credit where it’s due, this idea is mostly stolen from Paul Graham’s essay on nerds, where he points out that most nerds are unpopular in school because being popular is a full time job (between choosing clothes, going to the right parties, etc.), and nerds don’t care enough to bother.

So, in this specific case, every year or so I’d think about getting a new bed, and decide against it because I was sleeping fine on the futon, and a new bed is expensive. Each year the futon was getting worse and worse and my disposable income was rising, and this year the lines finally crossed, I got the new bed, and it was so easy that it prompted this post of wondering why it took so long. And that’s often the way it is. My post about productivity laments this aspect of myself, but I think it’s understandable in light of a theory of cognitive effort. Or maybe I’m just making elaborate justifications.

Oh well. Given that this is the fourth post of the evening, I think I’m going to shut up now, turn off my brain, and watch my tape of the O.C. recorded earlier.

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