Starbucks Stoppers & Decision Fatigue

Yesterday, in a state of need for something that could warm the cockles of my heart, I grabbed a cup of coffee from Starbucks for me and my wife. Today, in a state of need for something that could make my dead-tired heart beat, I pre-ordered a cup, stumbled in to the store, and grabbed it off the coffee-shelf.

Presumably, the cup I took was my own.

The difference between the drive-through and the walk-in, other than the effort involved, is that Starbucks employees ask the drive-in customers whether they want a stopper and the walk-in customers get a stopper.

I assume this policy is due to Starbuck’s commitment to reduce waste, the same kind of commitment that led them to do away with straws (mostly). Why hand out stoppers to people who don’t need or want them?

Persevering the environment and reducing waste are admirable goals, so this is not a critique of Starbucks. But in the fatigue-addled state I was in, I was struck by why some people might resist such changes. — or other small or large changes, good or bad.

We’re experiencing change-fatigue in the most rapidly changing culture in history, in a COVID era that’s produced even more rapid change, though justified. (Masks! Social distancing! The end of the handshake! The very air you breathe is an evil miasma!)

We’re exhausted.

We’re only equipped to make so many decisions in a day and decisions that impact the automatic portions of our mind add to stress and general weariness. Thus, we’re only capable of dealing with so much change on an annual basis.

We’re also disinclined to like change that we did not initiate ourselves, especially when the change impacts our daily routines in small, obvious ways.

As a society — and industries — we frequently fail to think about the negative impact that positive changes can bring and how even good changes, when piled upon other changes, can produce misery and exhaustion. We tend to assume that all good changes are good, ignoring negative externalities.

Perhaps we should count the cost.

We’re an exhausted society and an exhausted people.

I don’t mean that our culture has exhausted its inheritance and is nearing its end; if it is, this is because we are exhausted by change. I do mean that we need, as a culture, to find ways of helping each other with change; to find and embrace things that do not change, or change in the way of the tortoise. I mean that we need to marry love of our (and our neighbor’s) virtue, productivity, safety, and the like with love of our (and our neighbors’) hearts and souls and strength.

For now, I’ll take the stopper. My kids like to topple my lattes.