You’re looking for a boyfriend. You find one! He makes you happy. Maybe a different one would make you happier. You haven’t dated around enough to know.

You’re trying to be vegetarian. The grocery store has aisles of artificial meats that stretch beyond the vanishing point. You don’t know anything about any of them. The store looked smaller from the outside.

You’re a Roomba. You want to clean up as much dirt as you can before your battery dies. Some surfaces are easy to clean. Some are hard. You don’t know the layout of the house.

You’re a human. God hands you a deck of 52 cards. “There is a number on the face of each card,” It explains. “Turn them over one by one until you want to stop.” It promises you a reward proportional to the number on the face of the last card you reveal. You turn over a card. “Ten,” it says. “Is that a lot? What’s the distribution?” you ask God. It doesn’t answer. You turn over a card. “-(3↑↑↑↑3),” it says.

You have some limited resource. Time, money, energy, whatever. You have many options for how to spend it, and the options have different payoffs, but you don’t know much about the payoffs, and the only way to learn is to spend resources. What do you do?

Once you’re consciously aware of this pattern, it appears everywhere, and it always has the same solution. The details will vary, but the general scheme is always: start by spending some resources on a broad range of options to learn about the distribution of payoffs; then, after you’ve accumulated enough information, start dumping lots of resources into high-payoff options. Start in “exploration mode,” and then, either gradually or abruptly, transition into “exploitation mode.”

I’m pretty sure I have a character flaw that makes me transition into exploitation mode too early, so I’ve taken to muttering “explore-exploit” to myself as I wander around the grocery store, wondering which cereal/beans/jam to buy. It wouldn’t surprise me if you had this flaw too.