3 Ideas

  1. The illusion of choice

    We think we make our own choices, but in reality, our choices are influenced by the choice architects that design interfaces, experiences, insurance programs, and dining halls. The book defines a choice architect as someone who "has the responsibility for organizing the context in which people make decisions".

    Often, we think we are making a choice, but rather it's the consequence of the context that the choice architect has given us. Even something as simple as putting a fake fly in urinals which decreased spillage by 80 percent is a nudge.

    One of my favorite choice architecture examples is Chicago's Lake Shore Drive (the big street that runs along the lake). There's one stretch (pretty close to where I live) where the road S-curves, making it dangerous to go down at high speeds. To nudge drivers to go down the road slower, they painted a series of white lines that got progressively closer, giving the illusion that you were driving extremely fast.

  2. Automatic vs. reflective: taking time for your reflexive system to make decisions

    Psychology defines two systems of thinking: automatic (system 1) and reflective (system 2). The automatic system is intuitive, your snap judgments when something happens. Your reflective something is slower - it's your rational thoughts after you've spent some time thinking.

    Your automatic system overrides your reflective system all the time. If you've ever committed to go to the gym several times a week to improve your health but then proceed to skip the gym and drink a milkshake, that's your automatic system taking over. We can be completely rational in thought about our health and finances, yet completely irrational in our actions.

    For big decisions, it's important to give your reflexive system a chance to catch up with your automatic system. Whether you're making an expensive purchase, signing divorce papers, or buying a car, sleeping on it is important. Give your reflective system a chance to catch up to the rush of emotions and impulse from your automatic system.

  3. Make things automatic

    Things that you want to do more of, like save money, try to do automatically.

    Two programs they talk about in Nudge are Save More Tomorrow and Give More Tomorrow. They follow the same concept: automatically save a certain amount of money or give a certain amount of money to charity and increase the amount as you get raises. As a result, you save more money while your paycheck stays the same, so you don't even notice anything. A group that participated in Save More Tomorrow had an average savings rate of 13.6%, higher than the group's average savings rate of 6% before participating in the program.

    I've felt this feeling of saving more/less when contributing to my 401k. Once I finish my contributions for the year, I feel like I got a raise (even though in reality I didn't). Once they start up again the following year, it feels like I got a pay cut.

    Equivalently, you want to make things you want to do less of less automatic. I try to avoid buying snacks because it's easy to make it automatic to grab an unhealthy snack when you get hungry. I set time limits on social media and delete the apps because it's easy to make it automatic to open Facebook or Twitter when you're bored.


  1. On choice architecture and keeping things simple:

    The more choices there’s are, and the more complex the situation, the more important it is to have enlightened choice architecture. To produce user friendly design, the architect needs to understand how to help Humans. Software and building engineers live by a time-honored slogan: keep it simple.

  2. A quiz contrasting your automatic and reflective systems. You might come up with an instinctive answer to each of the questions (automatic), but when you take a bit more time to think about the question, you'll come up with the actual answer (reflective).

    1. A bat and ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? ____ cents
    2. If it takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets? ____ minutes
    3. In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake? ____ days

1 Takeaway

I didn't figure out my one takeaway from Nudge until I started reading my next book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson. One of the chapters in the book is titled "You're Wrong About Everything". While that may be a bit overdramatic, Manson's point is that the more certain you are of a decision, your identity, or your actions, the less you'll question yourself and you'll end up passing up opportunities to grow and discover more about yourself.

In the context of Nudge, many of our actions and decisions are influenced by the context designed by choice architects, the defaults we are given, and the snap reactions of our automatic system overriding our rational reflective system. Many of the decisions we view to be ours, might not even be ours.

So constantly questioning yourself, operating in the mindset that I'm probably wrong, is essential for you to become a choice architect for your own life, design your own defaults, and let your reflective, rational self overcome your automatic self.

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Thought Bytes #50

April 23rd, 2020

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