The region beta paradox

Imagine you have a rule: you always walk whenever you’re traveling a mile or less, and you always drive whenever you’re going more than a mile. If you follow that rule, you will, paradoxically, travel two miles faster than you travel one mile. That’s the region beta paradox.

This effect has largely been forgotten, and that’s a shame because the region beta paradox points out something important: if you only take action when things cross a certain threshold of badness, sometimes better things can feel worse than worse things. If you feel miserable for a month, you might go to therapy. But if you feel a little bleh for a month, you might never do anything about it—“I mean, I’m not depressed”—and a month of bleh can stretch into years.

Look around and you’ll found lots of people stuck in region beta: the guy who sticks around his just-okay job instead of ditching it for the chance of something better, the couple who should break up but can’t bring themselves to do it, the friend who refuses to get a new apartment because their current one only has some black mold. All of these people would actually be better off if their situations were worse, because they’d leave their jobs, partners, and apartments, and be glad they did. Their only regret would be not leaving sooner.

from “Underrated ideas in psychology