Book Summary: Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar

 

Title: The Art of Choosing
Author: Sheena Iyengar
Publisher: Twelve
ISBN-10: 0446504114
ISBN-13: 978-0446504119
Buy on: Amazon.in | Amazon.com

It doesn’t what we are born with. One may be born in a mansion or in a slum. One may be born with perfectly working body parts or with disabilities. One may be born with supportive parents or with ones who judge and discourage you every day in your life. In the end, you get to choose how you live and you get to choose how your life should be in the future. You also get to choose how to feel about the circumstances you are in. Your choices are perhaps the most important things you do in your life. They have put you where you are today.

In the book ‘Art of choosing’, Sheena Iyengar, an Indian-origin psychology major with impaired vision, walks us through the several aspects of recognising your choices and how different situations make you choose in different ways.

Geography affects choices

Sheena highlights an important influence of geography on your choices. Being a member of the Indian community in the United States, she is able to look at how both Anglo-Americans and Asian-Americans choose different things. People of western origin are more individualistic. They like their choices to be autonomous, while not necessarily complying with the choices of others in their community. They see themselves as independent units in the society.

Asians make choices that are seen as good and acceptable within their community. For them, feeling of belongingness while looking good and being accepted within their community matters more. They see themselves as parts of a closely knit group who look out for each other.

Sheena goes on to remind us that choice is a complex matter and can mean different things to different communities. Rather than question people’s choices and judge them for it, it is important to recognise that the motivation behind different choices is different for everyone based on nationality, religion, culture, gender and age.

What is perceived as freedom?

While getting to choose for ourselves is a type of freedom, it is not the only thing referred to as freedom by everyone. For example, in capitalistic countries, freedom starts where the authorities step back and allow the markets to play out. Availability of products and their prices are completely determined by the market. Market chooses what it likes and what should be removed. Market determines the price based on supply and demand. While individuals have the freedom to choose from a wide range of products and services, his/her choices increase with the amount of wealth he/she possesses. But that also means that as the demand for something goes up substantially, the rich will pay more to acquire them, thus leaving the poor in the lurch. Ultimately, the poor cannot afford much and will have few choices to make or none at all.

In contrast, socialistic countries have the government taking part in every economic decision, even owning products and services. They make sure that prices are affordable for everyone. They offer heavy subsidies and make up for the losses through heavy taxation. While this stifles rapid growth, innovation, individual brilliance and effort, it also makes sure that the basic needs are available to everyone.

Are you unique or just like everyone else?

People like more choices and love to exert control over what they get to choose just for the illusion that they are different from everyone else. But in reality, most people choose exactly what others have chosen. This is evident from industries such as fashion, where more popular designs are chosen more often. The more viral a design becomes, the more it is chosen by new buyers at the expense of  the obscurely chosen ones.

E.g. if you are given a choice between black, brown and flourescent green jackets, you may discard the last one completely since it will usually be perceived as not combining well with your other clothes. While you believe that you have a choice and that you have picked one that suits your style, you have actually picked what many others already picked, i.e. ‘safe’ options like black or brown, while rejecting flourescent green, which would have made you truly unique.  It’s just that one doesn’t usually wear jackets that are too differently coloured and you are afraid to stand out.

Priya, my wife, sums this up in a nice phrase called ‘odd, but not unique’. 3 and 5 are numbers that are odd, but not unique, whereas 1 is a number that is both odd and unique. You don’t want to be that ONE who is odd and unique. You’d rather be part of a group of 3 to 5 people that the majority sees as odd, but you still fit in with a group who are just like you and have common interests to share.

Choices may be impulsive

Making a conscious choice requires a lot of reflection and deliberate thought. But the brain likes to conserve energy. When possible, it uses a set of guidelines that look like rules of thumb, but are actually shortcuts applied by the brain based on available data, so that it can avoid the hard work of deliberate thought. These shortcuts are called heuristics. Despite meaning well, heuristics often get in your way of making informed or optimal choices.

E.g. we often flock to a restaurant that has more people than to one that has fewer. The heuristic behind this choice says that if there are more people in one restaurant, it must be better. It is a mental shortcut to avoid making a decision while you are already hungry. However it’s possible that you may enjoy the food better at the emptier restaurant.

Choice overwhelm

It is easier to choose from three choices than from ten. Our mind can process the evaluation of lesser choices, but can get overwhelmed by abundance. But people still crave for more choice than less, because more gives the illusion of abundance.

Too many choices are overwhelming. Source: miro.medium.com

In a supermarket, it is common to see 20 varieties of toothpaste and 40 varieties of dips, ketchups and side dishes. When overwhelmed, the mind stops evaluated the items for their merits and looks for ways to whittle down the number of choices, the most common being categorising and sorting by price and then picking the cheapest one.

Choice in a field requiring expertise

Some fields require training, practice and expertise to make the right choices. For the untrained, making such choices is hard. Their choice usually ends up sub-optimal. It is in the best interest of everyone to offer little or no choice to such people, but simply offer them a product or service with defaults. Choices should be kept open for experts though.

Laptops are fairly new to India. The computer economy a decade ago was driven by assembled computers, where people were often tasked with picking their choice of hardware, such as the hard disk, processor, RAM, etc. Since people had no expertise in the field, they used to pick options that were cheaper or more popular. In the end, they’d have a cheap, but a sluggish and outdated computer trying to run the latest operating system.

With laptops, the decision of the hardware combination is made by the manufacturer. People have been happily using laptops for more than a decade now and no one is going back to assembled computers anywhere. But assembled computers do exist for the experts who want a fine-grained choice and the ability to swap old parts for new ones every few months.

Difficult choices

Choices such as pulling the plug on a comatose patient or institutionalising a juvenile son can be traumatically hard. In such cases, there are three things that can happen.

a. Those in authority make the decision, execute it and tell the affected person about it.

b. Those in authority present the choices to the person who’ll be affected and let them decide, without offering personal suggestions or biases.

c. Those in authority present the choices, state their own preference and then nudge the affected person to decide.

Study after study show that those caught in situation b were more traumatised after the event, because they felt the guilt of having directly influenced the difficult outcome. Those is situation ‘a’ were at peace since the decision was not theirs. Those in situation ‘c’ were at peace too despite having made the decision themselves. In this case, this was because they believed that they had done what was best as prescribed by an experience authority.

The red button syndrome

Some choices have adverse outcomes. It is better that people don’t know about those choices at all. However even the worst choices will find their way to people, whether we like it or not. One such choice is addictive smoking. In a utopian world, smoking as a choice shouldn’t exist. But we are stuck wit it.

The usual reaction is to ban those choices. But some personalities suffer from what we call the ‘red button syndrome’, which is the impulse to rebel, to break the rules and to go against any restrictions, either boldly or through creative ways. E.g. some people boldly smoke in public to make a rebellious statement, whereas some people take to alternatives such as vaping. The name ‘red button syndrome’ is so named because some personalities feel forced to press a red button which has a warning ‘Do not press’.

Red button syndrome. Source: 4.bp.blogspot.com

An outright ban will not work for such people, because they feel the need to exercise their choice even if the outcome is adverse. The enforcers need to get creative about it, such as heavily tax cigarettes so that the smokers need to think twice before lighting up.

Conclusion

Choice and decision are complex processes. To master them takes a lot of practice. So much that it is actually an art. That is why Sheena calls it the ‘Art of Choosing’.


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Book Summary: Deep Work by Cal Newport

Title: Deep Work
Author: Cal Newport
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
ISBN-10: 9780349413686
ISBN-13: 978-0349413686
Buy on: Amazon.in | Amazon.com

Introduction

In a generation that is constantly distracted by several inputs, either from too many electronic devices or by the constant interruptions of a an open plan work space, Cal Newport is a contrarian emphasising that several hours of work where you are uninterrupted by devices or humans is essential if you want to perform ground-breaking work. In his book Deep Work, he classifies all important work that requires total focus and utmost concentration as deep work or the type of work in which you need to work hard and dive deep down into the depths of your brain or body to find focus and achieve your goals. All other work  which keep you busy, but have no significant change in your life, say checking emails, chatting with your colleagues over work and commuting as shallow work. Continue reading Book Summary: Deep Work by Cal Newport


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Book Summary: David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

David And Goliath

Hardcover: 320 pages
Language: English

  • ISBN-10: 0316204366
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316204361

Buy Here : Amazon.in or Amazon.com

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book ‘David and Goliath’ covers the story of unlikely success. Instead of the cliche of how persistence and hard work pays, he analyzes the stories in depth and brings about how the underdogs chose a different path to win the game and how this learning can be used by us all.

Continue reading Book Summary: David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell


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5 thought-changing books you should read this year

Priya and I read several non-fiction books every year. Usually our yearly tally is 20 books each. We also summarise most of the books we read. You can read them in the Book Summaries section.

In this post, we have picked 5 books that are our favourites. Reading these books have replaced some cliched and flawed thoughts about talent, personal finance, productivity, psychology and concentration. Continue reading 5 thought-changing books you should read this year


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Book Summary: Mindset – Carol Dweck

 

Title: Mindset, the new psychology of success
Author: Carol Dweck
Publisher: Random House
ISBN-10: 1400062756
ISBN-13: 978-1400062751
Buy from: Amazon.in | Amazon.com

This book has been the most embarrassing book for me to read ever, for it showed me the mirror. In effect it was deeply revealing, it gave me a perspective into how I had been looking at several things. Dr. Carol Dweck’s research has been the most revealing and explained many of my bizarre moments of life.

Personality Mindsets: Fixed Vs Growth

People with fixed mindsets believe that abilities are frozen in stone. Most of their efforts are spent in trying to prove themselves. People with Growth Mindsets believe that we can change and improve with practice.

Mindset - Growth Vs Fixed
Mindset – Growth Vs Fixed

Continue reading Book Summary: Mindset – Carol Dweck


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Book summary: Atomic Habits by James Clear

Title: Atomic Habits
Author: James Clear
Publisher: Penguin Random House
ISBN-10: 1847941834
ISBN-13: 978-1847941831
Buy from: Amazon.in | Amazon.com

 

 

 

Introduction

There is a myth and an all-pervading belief that in order to transform your life, we need to transform our behaviour in a major way and need to do is fast. To lose weight, people go on crash diets overnight. Alcoholics and addicts go cold turkey. People with no previous experience with workouts join the gym and work out so hard on day 1 that they get sore muscles.

James Clear offers us a better solution in his book Atomic Habits. He argues that in order to transform our life and add new behaviour, it is necessary to take tiny steps and let the habits build and then change one thing at a time.

Continue reading Book summary: Atomic Habits by James Clear


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Book Summary: Left Brain, Right Stuff by Phil Rosenzweig

Title: Left Brain, Right Stuff
Author: Phil Rosenzweig
Publisher: Profile Books
ISBN-10: 1781251363
ISBN-13: 978-1781251362
Buy on: Amazon.com | Amazon.in

Intro

Swiss author Phil Rosenzweig talks about two modes in which our brain operates: deliberation and implementation. The process of deliberation is for carefully considering options and their outcomes. Pros and cons are weighed, the best and worst outcomes are sized up and a decision is made. With a decision made, the process of implementation is when you stop deliberating, focus on the tasks and get them done. Rosenzweig offers that the two modes are divided into the two sides of the brain: left and right. Continue reading Book Summary: Left Brain, Right Stuff by Phil Rosenzweig


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Book Summary: Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki

 Click to Buy here in Amazon.in or Amazon.com

I had read this book a long time back and decided to re-read it now. It is surprising how many insights I received in the process. So I have decided to summarize this classic and follow it up with all the books in the series.

Only Rule For Getting Rich:

Know the difference between Assets and Liabilities. Buy Assets.

An Asset is something that puts money in my pocket.
A Liability is something that takes money out of my pocket.

As someone from an accounting background, for a long time I was resistant about the above definition. But now when I am training myself to think like an investor, this is the only definition that makes sense. The only practical way to evaluate opportunities.

Continue reading Book Summary: Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki


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How to remember what you read?

We read that “Great Leaders are Great readers.” So we set up new year resolutions that say “I will read at least 10/20/50 books this year“.  Some of us even get to that number, but often we look back and can’t seem to remember any ideas from a book we really enjoyed reading and thought was great.

Most productivity Guru’s can’t list the ‘seven habits’ from the cult book, ‘Seven habits of highly effective people’ although they have read it several times and even train others on them. So how do we ensure that we not just read a book, but actually remember what is in it and make an impact in our life.

Continue reading How to remember what you read?


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Book Summary: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith

Title: What got you here won’t get you there
Author: Marshall Goldsmith
Publisher: Hachette books
ISBN-10: 1781251568
ISBN-13: 978-1781251560
Buy here: Amazon.in | Amazon.com

Introduction

Marshall Goldsmith is a behaviour coach in leading companies. His day-to-day life involves working with CEOs of top companies, entrepreneurs, top lawyers and dignitaries. Goldsmith takes these already successful people and makes them more successful. How can he do that? Is he an engineer? A businessman? A mystic?

None of these. Goldman has discovered that for the people who are already in the top 2 percentile in their field, further growth is not limited by skill or lack of magic. Instead it is limited by their own behaviour. The way they behave with themselves, their colleagues, their families and their support group influences their success. Goldsmith describes 20 habits that act as a hindrance to further growth of these already highly successful people. With these habits, people stand in their own way. Some of them hit a plateau, while a few of them self-destruct, throwing away their careers and relationships. Continue reading Book Summary: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith


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