Moments of choice are the daily key decision points that determine the quality of our lives, happiness and overall sense of well-being. In recent years the new science of Choice Architecture has discovered how to tweak the context in which we make decisions to improve our success rate.
According to Time Magazine the thinking behind Choice Architecture is to “give people choice but also invisibly coax them away from bad ones. Putting healthful food at the front of a cafeteria line, for example, leads kids to take more of it, even with nothing to stop them from picking the chips and cookies farther down”.
One of the keys to this new science is to focus our attention on small details like for example in the men’s room in Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam where they etched the image of a black housefly into each urinal. It improved users aim and reduced spillage by 80 percent according to Thaler & Sunstein’s bestselling book NUDGE.
The implications of improving our decisions by making small adjustments to the context is exciting for self-help enthusiasts. It can empower us to change our behaviour in much the same way as it enabled the school kids above to increase their consumption of healthy food and decrease their consumption of unhealthy food.
Moments of Choice
To test the underlying theory of Choice Architecture I decided to use it to attempt cut back the three glasses of red wine I’m in the habit of drinking in the evening to two glasses. This is a change I’ve been struggling to make for a some time without very much success.
The crux proved to be the frame of mind I’m in at the moment of choice. I found that when I was rational and reflective at the moment of choice even when nice and mellow after two glasses of red I was almost certain to make the healthy decision.
However, if I was in a less logical more fun-loving mood I found I was less likely to keep my resolution. As a result the idea of denying myself a well-earned third glass no longer seemed such a good idea and I invariably succumbed to the temptation.
Tweaking the Moments of Choice
After much trial and error I found that the following three little adjustments to the context of the moment of choice greatly increased my chances of making the healthy decision.
Tweak 1: As soon as I had poured the second glass of wine I corked the bottle and removed it from the table. This simple adjustment moved the decision about putting the bottle away from after drinking the second glass to after drinking the first one thus reducing the influence of the alcohol on my judgement.
Tweak 2: Then I came across the suggestion that keeping track of your progress by recording it improved the chances of keeping your goals. So each evening at the moment of choice I ticked my calender to record my decision not to have a third glass. I was pleasantly surprised at how effective this simple form of tracking process proved to be.
Tweak 3: Finally I planned to give myself a special little treat when I succeeded in keeping my resolution for five days, ten days and so on. I put a lot of thought into selecting treats that I valued for this week I treated myself to a copy of Thaler & Sunstein’s bestseller Nudge as a reward for having reached the 50th two-glasses-of-red-a-night mark.
The effect of these adjustments was to add three more decisions to the Moment of Choice. One, cork and remove the wine bottle after pouring the second glass. Two, record my decision not to have a third glass on the calendar. Three, move a step nearer to or further away from getting my treat. The cumulative effect of this little cluster of additional decisions is to engage the rational mind and thus increase the odds of keeping the resolution. In this crucial month when many New Year Resolutions fall by the wayside this self-help approach to Choice Architecture could be said to be seasonally significant.