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Mathematicians suggest the “37% rule” for life’s biggest decisions

How many options should you try before you commit? This is known as the optimal stopping problem

By | Jonny Thomson |

It’s time for Macy to move home. She’s scored a promotion and she’s tired of hearing the man in the apartment above play his French horn. So, she books a few viewings with her real estate agent and starts looking at houses. After looking at three places, she falls in love: It’s a house with a huge backyard and a nice open-plan kitchen. What’s more, the school down the road has a great reputation. She’s all set to put in an offer.

But that night a question pops into her head: What if the next house is better? She can’t shake the thought. What if the next house has a bigger backyard, or maybe a double garage? What if it’s cheaper?!

We’ve all found ourselves in this situation, whether we’re considering job offers, buying a new car, or dating new people. When it comes to love, how many people should you date before settling down? It’s a problem that bridges mathematics and psychology, and it’s got a name: the optimal stopping problem.

The 37% rule

The mathematical question for Macy (or our would-be dater looking for love) concerns maximizing probabilities. It’s asking how long do you spend sampling options to give the optimum chances of a successful final decision? How many frogs must you kiss to secure your chances of getting a prince?

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