Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Another Good Point From the Book Nudge

In chapter 4 of the book, Nudge, titled, "When Do We Need to Nudge?", the authors make a very powerful point about the challenge for people to make choices "that test their capacity for self-control".

Check this statement out:

We have seen that predictable problems arise when people must make decisions that test their capacity for self-control. Many choices in life, such as whether to wear a blue shirt or a white one, lack important self-control elements. Self-control issues are most likely to arise when choices and their consequences are separated in time. At one extreme are what might be called investment goods, such as exercise, flossing, and dieting. For these goods the costs are borne immediately, but the benefits are delayed. For investment goods, most people err on the side of doing too little. Although there are some exercise nuts and flossing freaks, it seems safe to say that not meany people are resolving on New Year's Eve to floss less next year and to stop using the exercise bike so much.

At the other extreme are what might be called sinful goods: smoking, alcohol, and jumbo chocolate doughnuts are in this category. We get the pleasure now and suffer the consequences later. Again we can use the New Year's resolution test: how many people vow to smoke more cigarettes, drink more martinis, or have more chocolate donuts in the morning next year? Both investment goods and sinful goods are prime candidates for nudges. Most (nonanorexic) people do not need any special encouragement to each another brownie, but they could use some help exercising more.

The authors go on to make points around this statement, one being "Knowing What You Like". The change we need today involves a level of self-control that is difficult to grasp by most people. And even though we choose to avoid dealing with the problem, it doesn't make things easier; difficult is probably the inevitability more so than anything. I don't really have a point today, other than to recommend reading the book, if you haven't done so already. And also, I encourage us all to spend time thinking about what decisions we have avoided socially and collectively that impact our performance today and in the future. We now enter an era where both sides of the political line are racing to the extremes to an ideology that centers on great self-control either fiscally or morally. In any case, one must ask if these choices are truly realistic given the assessment of human nature provided in this passage.

Thaler, R. and Sunstein, C. (2008). Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Yale University Press, New Haven and London.

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