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Do you ever wonder whether choosing the path on the right or the path on the left might change who you become?

Right now, there's a clutter of choices facing you. A circus of choices; flocks, crowds, yards, swarms, and knots of choices. {Not choosing, in fact, is one choice that just never seems to be on our table.}
     Having to choose cascades onto our everyday lives with such increasing frequency that it seems tyrannical. Profound choices tumble onto the trivial: whether to marry, which pair of jeans; choosing a doctor, choosing a radio station; whether to speak up, which salad to order; choosing an investment, choosing a short-cut; paper-or-plastic, now-or-in-a-minute.
     We realize, of course, that having more choices necessarily increases our chances of choosing wrong. Which we do not want. Avoiding the unwanted outcomes of our decisions is, in fact, a source of anxiety in our lives. In their book, Nudge, Richard Thaler (a theorist of behavioral finance) and Cass Sunstein (a scholar of behavioral economics) write about choices—how we make them and how we might steer ourselves towards making better ones. 
               nudge, verb: to prod [someone] gently, typically with one's elbow, in order to draw their attention to something.
What these authors nudge us towards, draw our attention to, is startling, straightforward, and surprisingly entertaining. Ill-advised investments, unhealthy foods, neglected relationships, unrewarding jobs, toxic environments, wasted time, ill-chosen words, lost opportunities, deteriorating natural resources—there are countless unwanted outcomes our daily choices produce.
     Nudge explores the human biases and blunders that are naturally embedded in our decision-making. Research reveals that as choices become more numerous, or vary on more dimensions, people are more likely to adopt simplifying strategies. Usefully, Thaler and Sunstein describe choice architecture, defaults, expected errors, the structure of complex choices, paths of least resistance, and incentives. The book is embedded with user-friendly nudges. Ones we all need.
     Just as you've probably suspected, when it comes to choice, more is often less. In a beautifully reasoned book, The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz argues that there is vastly too much choice in our worlds today. This promiscuous crowd of choices in our lives, in fact, often leaves us unsatisfied and feeling abandoned.
     Schwartz explains why we suffer in our choosing—both before, during, and in the aftermath. We learn about the problem of regret (woulda/coulda/shoulda mental minefields) and missed opportunities, why our decisions disappoint, the problem of fault-seeking, and why everything will always suffer from comparison to something else. In short, we start thinking more usefully about choosing. He takes us shopping: to the supermarket, shopping for gadgets, shopping online, shopping for knowledge, shopping for entertainment, medical care, retirement plans, and even beauty. He explores how we choose to work, to love, to pray, and who to become. The Paradox of Choice is full of practical advise, grounded in the science of human choosing, to help us become—well—less choosy.
     Even now, we're choosing. Whether or not to take out a loan, rearrange our investments, cancel a vacation, make a phone call, change a habit, join a group, scold a child, rescue a shelter animal, stop complaining, pick a restaurant, downsize our homes, opt out, make a promise, take a gamble, buy one or two, simplify or supersize, generic or brand, declutter our offices, volunteer, ask a question, answer the phone, send flowers, compete, go to the gym, take a walk, show up, get a clue, buy a lottery ticket (but which numbers to choose?).
     As we each tackle the current circus of choices on our doorstep, a reminder. We still have the inalienable right to make a mess of things, if we want to.

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Comments

11/26/2011 4:30pm

As we grow older and become more aware that we have choices. We push ourselfs to always do are very best in what ever path we have chosen.

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03/22/2012 6:40am

a most helpful post and we share similar interests in books and behavior it seems. I have also discussed Nudge & Paradox of Choice in my blog, Moving From Me to We. You may already be familiar with the books, FilterBubble, Going to Extremes, Split Second Persuasion, The Wisdom of Psychopaths, The Big Sort....I look forward to reading more of your posts

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    SunWolf

    Continues to play with words, crayons, and odd possibilities.

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