1768: Settling

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Jump to: navigation, search
Of course, "Number of times I've gotten to make a decision twice to know for sure how it would have turned out" is still at 0.
Title text: Of course, "Number of times I've gotten to make a decision twice to know for sure how it would have turned out" is still at 0.


This is a chart showing the outcomes when Randall was confronted with situations he wasn't happy with. It counts 13 situations which he realizes, in retrospect, he should have left sooner than he did, and only 2 situations where he should have stayed. The implication is that, in his experience, it's generally better to leave a situation you don't like, rather than stick with it in the hope that it will improve.

People often stick with situations they are not happy with (a broken relationship, an unfulfilling career, a stale piece of cake) because they think sticking with the situation is better than throwing it away, and fear that they won't find something better if they leave. This is sometimes referred to as "settling", thus the title of the comic. This risk aversion can lead to people sticking with something a lot longer than they ought to if they want to be happiest. Humans' aversion to loss is common; you, being at the necessary reading level for this wiki, can surely easily recall many times when you feared to lose access to something or someone you valued.

Economists and behavioral scientists refer to this behavior as the "sunk cost fallacy", more formally known as Escalation of commitment. Colloquially, this is a situation where resistance to change is justified by the amount of effort or time already expended. A proverb recognizing the error in this thinking is "Throwing good money after bad", while a competing proverb seemingly justifying the behavior is "In for a penny, in for a pound". The popular book "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman details many "errors" in human decision-making, like our aversions to losses, the sunk cost fallacy, and others.

The title text references a common thread in human regret, which is wondering whether we should have turned the other way when making a choice ("I would have...", "I could have...", "I should have...", et al). Randall points out that it is literally impossible to know how it would have turned out, perhaps urging readers not to regret their decisions, and to live in the moment. It also points out that the previous "scorecard" cannot be regarded as certain, since a person is not given the luxury of knowing what would have happened if they had made a different choice. Thus, one can think that they made the wrong choice and would have been better off if they had left sooner, but in actuality, it may have turned out even worse. It is impossible to know, and therefore he can't be positive that he didn't actually make the right choice in the situations where he "should have left" .

Although knowing individual outcomes is impossible, and although it is difficult to separate correlation from causation when analyzing large numbers of decisions, rigorous attempts have been made. Notably, a paper titled "Heads or Tails: The Impact of a Coin Toss on Major Life Decisions and Subsequent Happiness". The paper confirmed that "For important decisions (e.g. quitting a job or ending a relationship), those who make a change (regardless of the outcome of the coin toss) report being substantially happier two months and six months later."


Life Scorecard

Times when I thought...

"I'm not really happy here, but maybe this is the best I can expect and I'll regret giving it up."

...It turned out I...

Should have stayed: 2 (in tally marks) Should have left sooner: thirteen (in tally marks)

comment.png add a comment! ⋅ comment.png add a topic (use sparingly)! ⋅ Icons-mini-action refresh blue.gif refresh comments!


I'm not sure it's just about places where you live(d). This scorecard is applicable to relationships of one person and surely other things as well. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~) well my first thought was regarding social situations like parties. i guess it refers to all situations in general. Dodos

Nobody said anything about that Jacky720 (talk) 17:36, 5 December 2016 (UTC)
And of course the title text is about time travel or that groundhog-day-thing with Bill Murray. (talk)  (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I think people also may stick with what they've got due to an inability to appreciate that the resulting unhappiness and even chaos is temporary. We are prone to thinking our present state of mind is permanent. ExternalMonolog (talk) 20:32, 5 December 2016 (UTC)

There's this recurring theme in xkcd of the possibility and choice to pursue the unknown, with other such comics including 59, 137, 267, and 706. Should we have a category for it? ~AgentMuffin

The obvious question: is Randall really happy writing XKCD? 01:37, 6 December 2016 (UTC)

Too Meta... (But a good question nonetheless heh, he has been doing it a long time though, and continues What If? As well, which it seems he enjoys doing)

-- 03:57, 6 December 2016 (UTC)

The title text plus the use of "Should've" and "shouldn't've" imply that he made a different choice. Perhaps the ratio of tallies in the comic is merely a result of the ratio of how often he is prone to staying vs prone to leaving situations. If the implication is true, we need the number of times that he's stayed when he should've stayed and left when he should've left in order to make any statistically based recommendations. NotLock (talk) 04:31, 6 December 2016 (UTC)

To my mind this is about always making the wrong decision in retrospective. He should have left sooner or he should have stayed means that in both cases he left. But there was something better to do either way.Either he made the wrong decision and should have stayed or he made the decision to late. So in either case he did something wrong. 08:32, 6 December 2016 (UTC)

Does anyone else think Randall is hinting that he wants to quit XKCD? ~~Don (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)