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The Art of Choosing

Tips for making better decisions.

By Sheena Iyengar
19-minute read
The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar

The Art of Choosing draws on the results of fascinating psychological experiments in order to offer you insight into how we make decisions. In this book, you’ll discover the common pitfalls that prevent us from making the right choices, and you’ll receive practical tips for making better decisions in the future.

  • Anyone who has ever become overwhelmed by the options on the supermarket shelf
  • Anyone who wants to make better choices in life
  • Anyone who sometimes feels mysteriously compelled to buy a product

Sheena Iyengar is S. T. Lee Professor of Business at Columbia Business School. Her extensive research on how and why we choose has been cited by popular magazines such as Time and Fortune, and she was voted among the top 50 Most Influential Business Thinkers by Forbes in 2011.

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The Art of Choosing

By Sheena Iyengar
  • Read in 19 minutes
  • Contains 12 key ideas
The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar
Synopsis

The Art of Choosing draws on the results of fascinating psychological experiments in order to offer you insight into how we make decisions. In this book, you’ll discover the common pitfalls that prevent us from making the right choices, and you’ll receive practical tips for making better decisions in the future.

Key idea 1 of 12

Our choices are determined by two opposing systems: the automatic and the reflective.

How exactly do we make decisions? Most of us would like to think that we weigh alternatives and arrive at rational, well-thought-out conclusions. However, the reality is far more complicated.

To study choice, researchers had children sit at a table with a tasty marshmallow positioned in front of them. They told the kids: “You can have one marshmallow right now. But if you wait until I come back, you can have two.”

For the kids who decided to eat the marshmallow immediately, their automatic system, which subconsciously and continuously analyzes sensory data to produce automatic reactions, was predominant.

When these kids smelled the marshmallow – i.e., experienced sensory stimulus – they responded with an automatic reaction, grabbing the marshmallow and greedily eating it.

Choices dictated by the automatic system happen so fast that people find themselves acting even before they have an opportunity to consciously consider them. While it won’t help you abstain from eating marshmallows, we should thank the automatic system for enabling us to make quick decisions in the face of danger, e.g., jumping away from a moving car.

Some kids in the experiment, however, elected not to eat the marshmallow immediately. For them, the reflective system, driven by reason and logic, was predominant.

The reflective system allows us to consider the future consequences of our choices and factor them into our decision making.

In the marshmallow experiment, 30 percent of the children chose to resist the marshmallow temptation for an entire 15 minutes, at which point they were rewarded with the second marshmallow.

Interestingly, when the researchers did follow-up studies on these kids as adults, they discovered that those who had chosen to wait for their second marshmallow as children developed stronger friendships and were healthier and more successful, both academically and financially.

So, while the reflective system is linked to greater longterm success, we still need both systems to make the right choice at the right time.

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