37%. That is the optimal amount of time/options to spend getting a feel for the quality of potential options before making the leap and choosing one of them.
It is an area of maths called 'Optimal Stopping Theory'. A well-known illustration of this problem is the secretary problem (probably not the illustration we would use if making this up today), where an employer has a list of candidates to choose from, whom they interview one at a time in random order.
The rules of the illustration are that as soon as you say no to a candidate, you cannot go back and interview them. The question becomes, how can I give myself the best chance of choosing the best candidate?
To give yourself the best chance, interview 37% of the candidates and say no to all of them. This is the looking phase and is about understanding the quality of candidates. Then once you are through this stage you are into the leap stage, and you select the first candidate that is better than any of the candidates you interviewed during the look stage.
If you follow this strategy, the good news is that in 37% of cases you will select the best candidate. The bad news is that in 37% of cases the best candidate will have been interviewed during the look phase. When this happens you will have to interview all the candidates and be forced to select the final candidate regardless of their ability.
In the other 26% of cases, you will not find the best candidate, but you will uncover a candidate that is better than anyone in the looking pool.
There are derivatives of this theory that take into account different elements, like if there is a 50% chance that a once rejected candidate will say yes. Or if you have an idea of the upper and lower bounds or some idea of the quality of a candidate.
I have been thinking about how this applies to my everyday life. Finding a partner. Finding a house. Finding a car park. Deciding upon a new work opportunity.
My general rule is going to be to set aside a period of time where I am purely looking. During this phase I do not say a definitive yes to anything. This is about me understand what is likely to work well for me, or not work well for me. I will come up with a criteria based on what is available.
Once this time is up, then I will pick the next candidate that matches this criteria.
The time period I will use will be determined by the maximum time I am prepared to wait for the next opportunity. For example, I want to be living in my perfect house in 5 years time. I want to be work on the next big work opportunity in 2019.
Not sure how this will go in reality, but I'm going to give it a go. In the short time I have been thinking this way, it has already allowed me to remain detached from the first few opportunities that come my way. Rather than thinking that I am going to miss the best opportunity, I see it as a way to grow in my understanding before using this understanding down the track to make a good decision.