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The Art of Choosing


We are faced with choices almost every minute of every day. To do or not do.

In her book The Art of Choosing Sheena Iynengar talks about how we can learn to make better choices.

The first thing to understand is that we have two systems available to us to make choices. The first one is the automatic system, which operates effortlessly and subconsciously. Because it never turns off and runs off emotion, it’s always there influencing our decisions.

It’s the system that tells us that an approaching lion might be hazardous to our health, and it’s also the system that tells us that the can of soft drink on the table would taste really good now. The second system is our reflective system, which we need to consciously tap into. It’s the system that brings logic and reason into our lives.

When you are making choices, remember to tap into the reflective part of your brain to make sure you aren’t doing something that you’ll later regret. Just be careful, because it has also been proven that you (and I) are horrible judges of what will make us happy in the future. Remember to ask yourself whether or not the choice your reflective system is telling you to make will actually make you happy.

Our choices are so numerous, that it would be easy to get overwhelmed by it. In response to that, we develop shortcuts for making some decisions. There are 4 common ways in which we create these shortcuts for ourselves. Unfortunately, they can often lead us astray, so learn these and then be aware of them when you are making decisions.

Availability – The information that is stored in our brain has an enormous effect on how we make choices. And the information that gets stored in our brains the most, is the information that is filled with emotion and excites our senses. Which means that our memory is a skewed version of reality. For example, pretend that you want to remember your colleague’s favourite shirt colour so you can buy them an appropriate gift. If they wore a neon green shirt a few times, that might be the only information stored in your memory, and so that’s how you’ll make your choice.

The way information is framed – In the 1980’s the executive team of Coca-Cola were proud of the fact that they owned 45% of the soft drink market. Impressive until the CEO pointed out that while they owned 45% of the soft drink market, they only owned about 2% of the entire liquid market.

With one simple twist of language, he turned a group that was happy and complacent into a hungry team that needed to think creatively about how they could grow their measly 2% market share. Today, we drink water, fruit drinks, sport drinks and energy drinks from this company. You can use this framing device to your advantage, but also be aware of when it’s being used on you.

We make connections between things – Some of the greatest inventions of all time were created this way. Take a phone and an mp3 player and put them together – boom – you’ve got yourself an iPhone. Take the Internet and the Dewey Decimal system and put them together – boom – you’ve got Google. This shortcut works incredibly well in the creative process. But in other areas, it can be a detriment to your success.

Like when you look at rising real estate prices over a ten-year period and made the connection that those prices would continue to rise well into the future, regardless of the evidence that is wasn’t sustainable. So, check in and make sure you are not basing your most important choices on assumptions that go unchecked.

We have a point of view – Governments fall prey to this when predicting the outcome of global political events. Often, they do no better at predicting things than if they had flipped a coin. Remember, these are people who get paid for a living to make predictions! Why did they perform so poorly?

Because they were willing to accept information that confirmed the opinions that they had already formed. Also, we all do it because it literally feels better to justify decisions, we have made than to challenge them. While we can’t afford to question every single decision we’ve ever made, for the important ones you should check in and make sure you aren’t just collecting information to support your cause.

About David Lawson

Finding the Light is a locally owned and operated counselling and life coaching business based in Bundaberg. We seek to empower our clients to find their way forward to a better life by using the approaches of counselling or coaching. If this blog article has raised more questions please contact us by email or call us on 0407 585 497 to arrange a time for us to discuss the article. Mention this blog and we will give you a FREE 30 minute session to discuss.

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