Cater to Your Inner-Completionist

Today while making lunch I realized that when I cut my sandwich into two halves it tastes better overall than when I eat it in one piece.

Why?

When I eat two halves of one sandwich, it feels like I am “completing” two things, not one.

It’s the same reason why we’d prefer to read two short books instead of one long book. Total number of pages read might be the same, but we feel more accomplished having completed two whole books.

It’s the same reason why breaking tasks into bits (and then checking off each bit on our to-do list) makes us feel more accomplished and energized than leaving one, big task on the to-do list, ever unchecked.

We are completionists by nature.

Sometimes this is a bad thing. Rational decision makers must ignore sunk costs. Abandon that book that stopped being interesting at page 50!

Other times the completionist instinct lets us hack our way to more pleasure with no cost, such as the halved sandwich technique.

Of course, now that you’ve read this post, upon eating your newly-halved sandwich it will be hard to separate pleasure caused by heightened completionist success versus pleasure caused by a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Either way, you’ll feel more pleasure, and have something to think about as you eat.

9 Responses to Cater to Your Inner-Completionist

  1. Damn, it’s going to be one of those things I’ll never stop thinking about.

    This simple psychology is one of the reasons the video-game industry has been so successful, and has shaped the type of games produced (the vast majority being based on a huge number of relatively easy tasks that build on one another).

  2. …and possibly also the proliferation of short-n-sweet online media: blog posts, youtube clips, twitter, etc. It’s weird how simply checking my Facebook news feed can feel like an “accomplishment” sometimes!

    It’s also why I like books with short chapters.

    (Though the trend has not historically always been from long-to-short. I remember reading Augustine’s “Confessions” and loving his uber-short chapters and how I could read an entire “book” in one sitting. E.g. see link to ccel.org )

  3. asdf says:

    what if i’m eating a hot dog?

  4. This is wise. The shortest possible term seems to be the best place to put the bulk of one’s focus, as well.

  5. Krishna says:

    I think we’ve become more *short-termists* than `completionists’ because of the times we live in. The uncertainty over future outcomes have never been stronger and it’s too risky to trust anyone including our own instincts for so long into the future. The unsinkable have sunk (earlier the Titanic and now Lehman Bros and their ilk) so why risk when lifeboats are anyway fewer.

    Take the stock market. Earlier “long term” meant incremental value accretion owing to compounding effect. Now it could even mean loss of capital :-)))))

  6. Ash says:

    somehow the idea of breaking goals into small tasks never struck me as vividly as after reading this post. Yes, i agree it would give me more satisfaction when i strike tasks off as ‘complete’, rather than waiting for the long term goal to materialize in some distant future.

  7. Sameer says:

    Do you know how much more satisfied we’d have been if you had posted each paragraph separately?

    Seriously, though, interesting insight! Hope everything’s going well.

  8. Brice Stacey says:

    I think eating halved sandwiches is more appetizing because the smaller halves require that you either a) take smaller bites or b) consume the half in only 3 bites. Most people don’t like the idea of eating an entire half sandwich in 3 bites so they take their time, take smaller bites, and enjoy it more.

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