The Art Of Choosing Book Summary By Sheena Iyengar

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The Art of Choosing is an eye-opening book that provides readers with a better understanding of the various factors and influences that impact how we go about making decisions.

With insights drawn from fascinating psychological experiments, this book provides us with a glimpse into our decision making process—and helps us identify any potential stumbling blocks along the way.

In it, you'll learn about the common traps we often fall into when making decisions and receive valuable advice which can help you make more informed choices in the future.

Whether you're looking to improve an existing skill or are entirely new to the concept of decision-making, The Art of Choosing is sure to provide you invaluable insight!

The Art Of Choosing Book

Book Name: The Art of Choosing (Tips for making better decisions.)

Author(s): Sheena Iyengar

Rating: 4/5

Reading Time: 19 Minutes

Categories: Personal Development

Author Bio

Sheena Iyengar is an accomplished professor of business at Columbia Business School.

She's widely well-known for her incredible research on the choices we make in our day-to-day lives, with her work being sought after by Fortune and Time magazine, just to name a few.

This has even lead to her being voted among Forbes Magazine's top 50 Most Influential Business Thinkers in 2011 - a testament to how respected she is within the field of choosing!

Why Our Decisions Aren’t As Rational As We Think: The Influence Of Irrational Emotions On Decision Making

Decision Making

The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar gives us a deep insight into the hidden reasons behind our decisions.

It teaches us how, contrary to popular belief, our decisions are not based solely on cold analysis, but rather on an array of irrational emotions and subconscious mechanisms.

This book encourages us to take a closer look at our underlying influences that shape the way we make choices.

These include social pressures, confidence levels and past experiences – all coming together to form what we decide in any given moment.

By going through the sections of this work, readers will develop the skills needed to recognize their own decision-making patterns more easily.

They’ll learn why we might not be mindful of potential red flags and how resisting our immediate gratification can lead to greater outcomes in life.

By getting in touch with these influences, readers will be able to uncover the hidden reasons behind their decisions – something that is essential for making wise choices and pursuing success in life.

How Our Automatic And Reflective Systems Help Us Make Decisions

Our decisions, actions, and ultimate choices are determined by two opposing systems: the automatic system and the reflective system.

These two systems influence how we make decisions even from a young age.

When it comes to the automatic system, this is something that happens subconsciously.

Driven by input of sensory data, a person’s automatic system will process what is happening around them and produce an immediate reaction – such as grabbing and eating a marshmallow in front of them.

This allows us to make quick decisions in order to protect ourselves or others when danger is present.

On the other hand, our reflective system acts more slowly.

This takes reason and logic into account and gives us time to consider future consequences – prompting us to act differently than our automatic system would dictate.

For example, 30% of children in a research experiment chose not to eat the marshmallow immediately – opting instead to wait for more rewards because of their ability to reflect on potential longterm effects.

Furthermore, follow-up studies found that these wise decision makers become healthier, more successful adults both academically and financially due in part to their regulated use of the reflective system!

In sum, how we make decisions depends on the combined workings of both our instinctual automatic system as well as our thoughtful reflective one.

Heuristics: A Helpful Shortcut But Also Vulnerable To Hidden Biases

We often rely on heuristics, or “rules of thumb,” to simplify our decision making process.

These rules are generated based on if-then statements – like “If you’ve had a couple of drinks, then don’t call your ex” – that help us quickly assess the decision at hand.

However, although these heuristic rules can be expedient and efficient, they can sometimes be flawed.

This is especially true when our memory is more easily excited by certain triggers – like bright colors – leading us to make a ‘safe’ but incorrect choice (for example, buying a colleague a red tie for secret Santa when grey would have been the safer but less noticeable option).

In other words, relying on heuristics can lead to bias towards what is easy to remember or perceive which can unfortunately lead to incorrect or unsatisfactory decisions.

Thus, it’s important to use with caution!

We All Crave Uniqueness, But We Don’t Want To Be Too Unique

Crave Uniqueness

We want to stand out, but not too much.

In other words, we like to make choices that are unique and special – as long as they don’t go too far outside the box.

This was proved in an experiment conducted by researchers, in which participants were asked to estimate the number of dots on a screen.

After they made their estimates, they were told that most people (75-80%) overestimated the number of dots.

When those who overestimated were told they weren’t alone in their estimations, they reported feeling unhappy with themselves.

Contrarily, when those who underestimated were informed of their error and told that it wasn’t that strange, their self-esteem actually increased!

The lack of joy over unique estimations wasn’t only seen in this experiment though; it was also shown in a modified version involving similar procedures.

For those participants whose results were deemed “unclassifiable,” or too strange to measure, there was still an overall decrease in self-esteem rather than an increase.

So no matter how unique you want to be with your choices, keep them within reasonable levels – because going too far off the beaten path doesn’t necessarily equate in feelings of satisfaction!

Our Cultural Heritage Impacts Our Decision Making Processes, Even From A Young Age

Our culture has a tremendous influence on our choices.

This can be seen clearly when you look at the cultural preferences of people from different parts of the world.

For example, people in more individualistic cultures tend to like making their own decisions, while those from collectivistic cultures are more likely to defer that responsibility to others.

Even children show this preference for decision-making styles.

To demonstrate, two experiments were conducted—one with Asian-American and Anglo-American children and another with Asian American and Anglo-American preteens.

In both experiments, the children who were from individualistic cultures played longer with toys they chose themselves or showed greater improvement on math tests when given a choice, in contrast to their counterparts from collectivist cultures who preferred choices made for them by their mothers or classmates.

It’s clear then that if you want to reach your full potential in any area of life, it is paramount that you understand your cultural preference when it comes to decision-making so that your needs are met accordingly.

The Power Of Priming: How Even The Smallest Things Can Have A Subconscious Effect On Our Choices

We’re often so absorbed in what we’re doing that we may miss most of the things that are going on around us, yet they still can have a subconscious effect on our behavior and choices.

This is highlighted by the “Invisible Gorilla” experiment, which showed participants a video of two teams passing around a basketball.

Participants were asked to count how many times the white team passed the ball while another person wearing an ape costume slowly wandered on and off the set.

Half of them completely missed this ‘gorilla in the room.’

John Bargh also conducted an experiment demonstrating priming behavior, which revealed that even subtle cues can affect our choices.

He gave 30 college students lists of five words in random order and asked them to use these words to build sentences.

One group was given words typically associated with elderly people, such as “old,” “retired,” and “wise,” while the other group didn’t have any related words to elderly people.

He then observed how quickly each group walked to the elevator after the experiment was over, finding that those with related elderly keywords had been primed to move more slowly than those without – taking an average of 15 percent longer.

These studies show that although we usually miss most of what goes on around us, these subtle things can still have an influence over our decisions – whether consciously or unconsciously.

The Power Of Choice: How Giving Us Options Can Transform Our Lives

Transform Our Lives

It’s clear that having choices – or even just the perception of choice – can have a significant impact on our well-being and health.

This was seen in studies like Whitehall, in which higher-paid employees were seen to be healthier than those in the lowest pay grade, largely because they had more freedom of choice when structuring their tasks.

Further proof of this fact comes from an experiment done with elderly nursing home residents.

The two groups, who both essentially had the same freedom of activity, reported very different levels of health and happiness.

Those who thought they had been given a choice felt much better afterwards, while those under the impression that their activities has been predetermined by someone else did not fare as well.

This all goes to show that we don’t just need actual choices – sometimes just feeling like we’ve been able to make our own decisions is enough to provide us with physical and mental benefits.

So next time you’re tempted to take someone else’s word for it and do something blindly, remember these findings – having choices makes us healthier!

Our Feelings Can Lead Us Astray: How Our Environment And Beliefs Influence Our Intuition

When we’re confronted with tough decisions, a lot of us rely on our gut feelings.

We trust that our intuition can help lead us to the right decision.

Unfortunately, though, this isn’t always true.

Our feelings are influenced by many things around us, like the environment we’re in; and they may not actually be reliable indicators of the best course of action.

Take for example the “Love on a Suspension Bridge” study; male subjects were asked questions while standing either on a stable bridge or a dangerous-looking suspension bridge.

The figures showed that 50 percent of those who stood on the suspension bridge called back to “talk about the study,” compared to only 12.5 percent of people in the other group – showing that some confused their anxiety about being on a unsafe bridge with romantic feelings for the researcher.

So it’s important to bear in mind, when considering how best to make decisions, that relying solely on our gut feeling is often unreliable and unhelpful – and might even lead us astray from making wise choices.

Not only are our emotions fickle creatures but also, as demonstrated by “The Art of Choosing” study which followed George W Bush and Al Gore’s presidential election race in 2000, we often overestimate our past emotions too.

This also means not seeing objectively and could thus prove disastrous should you decide to rely on them alone!

It’S Human Nature To Change Our Minds: Understanding Cognitive Dissonance And How We Make Choices

When making choices, we often shift our views without even noticing.

For instance, when asked to prioritize different job attributes when starting a new job, college seniors generally favored freedom of choice and opportunity for creativity.

But as they got closer to the real world and found out what ‘job security’ actually means, they placed more emphasis on the more realistic merits such as job security and income.

Research showed that in spite of this clear evolution in priorities, the students were convinced that they had always held the same attitude towards their newly established priority – demonstrating just how unaware we can be about our own thought processes!

We all have a desire to maintain an internally consistent view of ourselves and this is why changing one’s mind is so common – it’s easier to slightly modify our stance in order to stay true to our beliefs rather than completely readjusting them after we’ve already made a decision.

Therefore, when making decisions it’s important to look at them from different angles and truly consider the pros and cons that come with each option hitting pause before taking action.

Less Is More: How Limiting Choices Can Lead To Increased Sales

Limiting Choices

We can only handle so many options when it comes to making decisions, and our attention span is limited.

Studies have found that most of us can’t accurately make arrangements for more than seven choices; when there’s more than seven choices, we tend to make errors.

This same concept applies in sales too – limiting consumer choices is actually a great way to increase the chances of them purchasing something.

This was seen in a study involving jelly, where shoppers were given 24 varieties of jams or just six.

Out of those exposed to the 24 jams, only 3% ended up buying one.

However, with the limited 6 variety option, 30% of shoppers ended up making a purchase!

So as you may have guessed by now – less is sometimes indeed more!

Our attention span can only handle so much information at any moment of time, so limiting our options can help us make better decisions without feeling overwhelmed.

Creating Categories And Defining Preferences To Make The Right Decision Easier

Having an abundance of choices can become overwhelming, but fortunately you don’t have to stay in that state.

By placing smart limits on your choices, you can be a better decision maker.

Take the example of buying a car.

If you are looking for just “a car”, your choices may seem limitless; however, by refining your search and focusing on what features you want or need (such as type, color, cost and so on), you can essentially limit your options.

This makes it much easier for you to make the right choice.

You should also strive to use categorization when making decisions; this will help you distinguish between similar items.

Take the example of this study whereby participants were able to distinguish up to 150 different audio tones when they categorized them with reference to dimensions like intensity, spatial location, and duration.

The same applies when shopping around for a new car- if you’re able to categorize your various options based on size, type, cost and so on- then it’s much easier recognize the differences between individual cars and make a more informed decision.

Letting Other People Make Difficult Choices Can Bring Us Closure But Only If We Are Well-Informed

Difficult Choices

We might think that it’s better for us to make decisions on our own, but sometimes allowing others to choose for us is the better option – especially if we’re properly informed about it.

This is supported by interviews conducted with American and French parents who had lost an infant and also a study called The Julie Dilemma.

The French parents in this interview interview had had their decisions made for them by doctors, whereas the American parents had chosen to terminate treatment on their own.

It was found that despite still grieving their losses, the French parents were more convinced of the inevitability of the outcome than the American parents.

On the other hand, even when others make our choices for us, only if we have been informed can we feel more assured about it – something evidenced in The Julie Dilemma study in which participants were asked to imagine they were Julia’s parent.

Those who were properly informed about her chances (60 percent) of survival but with severe neurological impairment tended to experience fewer negative emotions than those who had to make a choice themselves without knowledge of these facts.

In conclusion, although we think we know best and sometimes prefer having control over our fate, there are situations where it can be beneficial to allow someone else take charge – as long as we are provided with proper information first!

Wrap Up

The Art of Choosing is a useful book for anyone looking to become more conscious and confident decision makers.

The key message of the book is that our decisions are influenced by more than just rationality–so it’s important to stay mindful of all the external factors that can impact our choices.

Additionally, readers can benefit from keeping a choice diary to accurately assess their past decisions and make smarter decisions in the future.

By following these tips, readers can learn the art of choosing and be on their way to making better life-altering choices.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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