Choosing not to sit in front of the television, as simple as it may sound (or not so simple for those hardcore telly addicts like myself), opened numerous other possibilities to choose from. I chose to write — about the choices we make.
“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
We’re constantly making choices. Most of the ‘choices’ we make are done on autopilot or through emotional/habitual thinking based on past experiences. The psychologist, Daniel Kahneman refers to this as System 1 thinking and discusses it in detail in his book, ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’. Engaging our logical, analytical, cerebral System 2 thinking requires a lot more effort and energy. Additionally, our System 1 thinking (used 95% of the time) is heavily influenced by any one of the 6 psychological principles of persuasion described by Professor Robert Cialdini in his book, ‘Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion’.
With our minds under ever-increasing cognitive load, we are not even conscious of how we are being influenced to make the choices that drive our behaviours, to become the people we are. From the mindless scrolling through apps on our phones to when we are hungry, tired or intoxicated, we make choices that are not always beneficial to us. It’s amazing to think how little in control we are of our lives. Two for one offer, last remaining seats, final discount, 12 people just booked the same room and scientifically-proven are phrases we’re all familiar with but are just terms to influence our choices.
“We are very influenced by completely automatic things that we have no control over,and we don’t know we’re doing it.” - Daniel Kahneman
Who doesn’t want to make the ‘right’ choice every time? We can’t wholly rely on our flawed decision-making and willpower isn’t the answer. Benjamin Hardy (author of Willpower Doesn’t Work) says it well, “If you’re required to exert willpower to do something, there is an obvious internal conflict.” So, what can we do to ensure we make better choices?
1. Get enough sleep - this will ensure our System 1 thinking is kept in check, preventing the instinctive urges of our emotional/habitual thinking to drive our behaviour, by allowing our brains to be rested for the more energy-demanding analytical System 2 thinking to be engaged.
2. Increase your self-awareness - being more mindful means we are more present and conscious of our thoughts. Rather than making impulsive decisions (taking that unhealthy snack from the fridge/cupboard, sending that stroppy email or snapping back at a colleague or loved one), we can be more thoughtful in what we choose to do.
3. Gain more knowledge - there are times we just don’t know what we don’t know. As System 1 thinking relies heavily on decisions made through experience, we need to change and enhance our experiences by exposing ourselves to new knowledge. To make better choices we need to continuously learn. Whether that be through articles, books, videos or from others.
4. Make the better choice the easy choice - Benjamin Hardy continues by saying, “No matter how much internal resolve you have, you will fail to change your life if you don’t change your environment.” To not only make the better choices, but to make them easier, we need to create or place ourselves in the right environment. As a person wanting to eat healthier, I ensure no fizzy
drinks, sweets or chocolates are brought into my home.
Now that we understand how we can be consciously in control of the choices we make; we have an increased chance of making better choices. We tend to mostly make safe choices, risk-averse choices, choices that keep us in our comfort zone or choices that prevent us from fulfilling our true potential. By being alert, self-aware, knowledgeable and in an optimum environment, we really can define our decision-making, in turn our behaviour & success and finally how fulfilled we feel.
“It’s our choices… that show that we truly are, far more than our abilities.” - J.K.Rowling
Was choosing to write this article instead of watching telly last night the better choice? In the grand scheme of things, who knows? But I felt better about it!!