How to Optimize Your Daily Decisions, by James Clear
If you optimize the default decisions in your life, rather than accepting whatever is handed to you, then it will be easier to live a better life.
You might assume that humans buy products because of what they are, but the truth is that we often buy things because of where they are. For example, items on store shelves that are at eye level tend to be purchased more than items on less visible shelves.
Something has to go on the shelf at eye level. Something has to be placed on the rack at the end of the aisle. Something must be the default choice. Something must be the option with the most visibility and prominence. This is true not just in stores, but in nearly every area of our lives. There are default choices in your office and in your car, in your kitchen and in your living room.
Although most of us have the freedom to make a wide range of choices at any given moment, we often make decisions based on the environment we find ourselves in.
For example, if I wanted to do so, I could drink a beer as I write this article. However, I am currently sitting at my desk with a glass of water next to me. There are no beers in sight. Although I possess the capability to get up, walk to my car, drive to the store, and buy a beer, I probably won’t because I surrounded by easier alternatives—namely, drinking water. In this case, taking a sip of water is the default decision, the easy decision.
Consider how your default decisions are designed throughout your personal and professional life. For example:
- If you sleep with your phone next to your bed, then checking social media and email as soon as you wake up is likely to be the default decision.
- If you walk into your living room and your couches and chairs all face the television, then watching television is likely to be the default decision.
- If you keep alcohol in your kitchen, then drinking consistently is more likely to be the default decision.
Of course, defaults can be positive as well.
- If you keep a dumbbell next to your desk at work, then pumping out some quick curls is more likely to be the default decision.
- If you keep a water bottle with you throughout the day, then drinking water rather than soda is more likely to be the default decision.
- If you place floss in a visible location (like next to your toothbrush), then flossing is more likely to be the default decision.
Researchers have referred to the impact that environmental defaults can have on our decision making as choice architecture. It is important to realize that you can be the architect of your choices. You can design for default.
Designing for default comes down to a very simple premise: shift your environment so that the good behaviors are easier and the bad behaviors are harder.
Simplicity. It is hard to focus on the signal when you’re constantly surrounded by noise. It is more difficult to eat healthy when your kitchen is filled with junk food. It is more difficult to focus on reading a blog post when you have 10 tabs open in your browser. It is more difficult to accomplish your most important task when you fall into the myth of multitasking. When in doubt, eliminate options.
Visual Cues. In the supermarket, placing items on shelves at eye level makes them more visual and more likely to be purchased. Outside of the supermarket, you can use visual cues like the Paper Clip Method or the Seinfeld Strategy to create an environment that visually nudges your actions in the right direction.
Opt-Out vs. Opt-In. There is a famous organ donation study that revealed how multiple European countries skyrocketed their organ donation rates: they required citizens to opt-out of donating rather than opt-in to donating. You can do something similar in your life by opting your future self into better habits ahead of time. For example, you could schedule your yoga session for next week while you are feeling motivated today. When your workout rolls around, you have to justify opting-out rather than motivating yourself to opt-in.
There's a much more simple, one-word heuristic in widespread use that optimizes all your daily decisions for you and you don't have to read any books to perfect its use.
It's called wife.