Nudging: How to Effortlessly Make Better Decisions

In their book, Nudge, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein explain that small and seemingly insignificant details in the environment can have a big impact on people’s choices and behaviors:

A wonderful example of this principle comes from, of all places, the men’s rooms at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. There the authorities have etched the image of a black housefly into each urinal. It seems that men usually do not pay much attention to where they aim, which can create a bit of a mess, but if they see a target, attention and therefore accuracy is much increased.

The result? According to economist Aad Kieboom, who came up with the urinal fly idea, these simple etchings reduce spillage by 80 percent!

That’s a remarkable result, and a great illustration of the power of “nudging”: small, simple, and inexpensive changes to the environment which increase the likelihood that people will make certain choices or behave in particular ways.

Researchers have found several effective nudging techniques, including:

  • Default option — People are more likely to choose whatever is presented as the default option. For example, one study found that more consumers chose renewable energy for electricity when it was offered as the default choice.
  • Social proof — People tend to look to the behavior of other people to help guide their own. Studies have found that leveraging that tendency can be a helpful way to, for instance, nudge people into making healthier food choices.
  • Salience — People are more likely to choose options that are more noticeable than others. For example, one study found that snack shop consumers buy more fruit and healthy snacks when those options are placed right next to the cash register.

The beauty of nudging is that it allows you to make smarter decisions and take better actions without even thinking about them.

You simply shape your environment, and then let your environment shape your decisions.

Here are some examples of how you can use this strategy in your life:

  • If you want to start flossing, put pre-made flossers in a cup next to your toothbrush.
  • If you want to practice the guitar more often, place your guitar stand next to your living room couch.
  • If you want to lose weight, store away your big plates, and serve yourself on salad plates instead.
  • If you want to read more, put a great book right on top of your favorite pillow.
  • If you want to be more productive, use an app like Freedom to block distracting websites.

We tend to assume that good decisions require conscious effort, and that healthy behaviors requires strong willpower.

But a lot of the time, all you need is a slight nudge in the right direction, and the rest will take care of itself.

So, take a look at your environment, and ask yourself: “How can I make good choices easy, and bad choices difficult?”

This article is an excerpt from my book The Decision-Making Blueprint.

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