Posts by Psychology Today Editors

The Beauty of Trade-Offs

When Two Roads Diverge Everywhere You Look

Psychology Today October 2013
This week I negotiated a few trade-offs with myself. Among them: The loss of several hundred dollars from a purse is both acceptable and understandable given that I accidentally left said purse unattended in a NYC venue.

I’m lucky to walk away with anything at all.

I’ll celebrate my toddler’s birthday early so as to attend a dinner on her actual birth date.

When she’s an adult, she’ll understand.

Such semiconscious dialogues are the lingua franca of adult decision making,  right down to the specious rationale (every questionable choice I’ve made and then endlessly justified in order to let go of the road not taken).

Trade-offs are evolution’s building blocks—all organisms arise from a series of cellular negotiations, and our brains are no exception.

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Human personality is subject to balancing selection, meaning that you find hawks and doves, philanderers and monks  in any population. Within an individual,  personality reflects more subtle trade-offs. In “When Virtue Becomes Vice,” PT examines how traits and behaviors that are culturally valorized—the pursuit of excellence,  the quest for justice—can misfire with just the slightest shift in temperament or circumstance.

While most of nature’s push-pull escapes our conscious awareness,  the fact that behavior itself is an endless exercise in trade-offs is fair warning not to become overly reliant on a single strategy or way of being. There’s usually an upside to today’s choice. Just ask my daughter, who, thanks to my competing calendar, gets to celebrate her birthday twice this year.


Kaja Perina is the Editor in Chief of Psychology Today.


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