Advertising
Advertising

Design for Default: How to Optimize Your Daily Decisions

Design for Default: How to Optimize Your Daily Decisions

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.

In the best-selling book Nudge (Kindle | Audiobook), authors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein explain a variety of ways that our everyday decisions are shaped by the world around us. The effect that eye-level shelves have on our purchase habits is just one example.

Here’s another: The ends of aisles are money-making machines for retailers. According to data cited by the New York Times, 45 percent of Coca-Cola sales come specifically from end-of-the-aisle racks.

Here’s why this is important: 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.

Advertising

My argument is this: 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. Let’s talk about how to do that right now.

Design for Default

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:

Advertising

  • 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.

How to Optimize Your Default Decisions

Here are a few strategies I have found useful when trying to design better default decisions into my life:

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.

Advertising

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.

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.

Designed For You vs. Designed By You

Default choices are not inherently bad, but the entire world was not designed with your goals in mind. In fact, many companies have goals that directly compete with yours (a food company may want you to buy their bag of chips, while you want to lose weight). For this reason, you should be wary of accepting every default as if it is supposed to be the optimal choice.

Advertising

I have found more success by living a life that I design rather than accepting the standard one that has been handed to me. Question everything. You need to alter, tweak, and shift your environment until it matches what you want out of life. Yes, the world around you shapes your habits and choices, but there is something important to realize: someone had to shape that world in the first place. Now, that someone can be you.

This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.

Featured photo credit: Yohari Garcia Martnez via flickr.com

More by this author

James Clear

James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits. He shares self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research.

How to Change Your Beliefs and Stick to Your Goals for Good Plan for Chaos: How to Stick to Your Health Goals When Life Gets Crazy How to Stay Focused on Your Goals When You Are Worn Out One Simple Trick That Helps You Reach Your Goals Successfully 7 Helpful Reminders When You Want to Make Big Life Changes

Trending in Productivity

1 7 Ways to Eliminate Your Excuses 2 4 Effective Ways To Collaborate With Your Team 3 Why Your Habits Hinder You From Reaching Your Goals 4 We Do What We Know Is Bad for Us, Why? 5 13 Bad Habits You Need to Quit Right Away

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on January 24, 2021

7 Ways to Eliminate Your Excuses

7 Ways to Eliminate Your Excuses

I have this friend. She uses excuses to get out of everything related to being a responsible adult (and I mean everything!). The worst part is, she’s been doing this for so long, excuses are now a deeply embedded part of her personality.

I used to gently nudge her toward ways to solve her excuses so she’d stop holding herself back, but she has the market cornered. Seriously, it’s an impenetrable force field. Her life isn’t at all how she wants it to be, and instead of taking responsibility for it, she pulls out her scroll of excuses and reads out the section called “Reasons Why Nothing Is My Fault.”

Truthfully, I’d have more respect for her if she were to just come out with it and say, “I’m not doing this or that because I’m too lazy.” Let’s face facts: if she wanted her picture-perfect lifestyle badly enough, she’d do anything to get it.

Why do I bother with her? Because at one time, I was her: ambitious, motivated, determined, but when things weren’t going how I wanted them to I was suddenly a victim of my environment. This led to years of spinning my tires. My excuses were always there to break my fall… until they weren’t. Like my friend, I was participating in a blind game of self-sabotage that led to my life turning out exactly how I swore it never would.

Like all bad habits, excuses are easy. They allow you to box yourself into your comfort zone and be “okay” with your life. After a while, you’ll find this way of living isn’t enough for you. You can either accept where your life is (which is the excuse-coated version of “give up”), or you can eliminate your excuses by taking responsibility for where you are now and more importantly, why you created the excuses in the first place.

Advertising

So what’ll it be? Yeah, I thought so. To help you get started, here are 7 ways to eliminate your excuses:

1. Read Between the Lines

Usually, the excuse you’re using is masking the real reason why you “can’t” accomplish something. For some, it’s a fear of failure. For others, it’s a self-esteem issue. For others still, it’s a fear of success or having something to lose.

If you’re unsure of where the excuses are coming from, simply ask yourself: if you were to succeed and accomplish what you want, what’s the worst thing that could happen? List off every worst case scenario, and you’ll likely recognize a theme. This is the issue to tackle.

2. Stop Ending Your Statements with a “But…”

This is a little trick I use that works every time: instead of saying “I’d really like to, but…”, cut yourself off and say “I’d really like to.” This triggers your mind to focus on the plans you need to make to reach your goals, instead of the roadblocks currently in your way. Instant motivation!

3. Avoid Other “Excusers”

One of the big things I noticed once I began stepping out of my comfort zone was the number of people in my life who were also making excuses. So many excuses, in fact, that looking back on our conversations together, we were always complaining and excusing! Imagine if we instead put all of that time into doing!

Advertising

Like you, those you spend time with might not realize they’re making excuses, and trust me you can point it out all you want – it’s a realization everyone has to come to on their own before they can change. Jump start a new conversation; be the one who changes the tune. If you eliminate your excuses, you’ll likely encourage those you care about to do the same.

Advertising

4. Trick Yourself

Depending on your goals, sometimes just thinking about them is overwhelming. This is especially the case with enormous goals, such as succeeding in a challenging career or building a business from the ground up. It’s too easy to become so overwhelmed you don’t get started at all.

Eliminate your excuses by creating the mother of all to-do lists as it relates to that specific goal. Break it down into itty bitty baby steps. Only work on one tiny step at a time, and hide the rest of the steps in a drawer. When you’re done the step, it doesn’t feel like it was such a big deal. Then move onto the next, and the next. This worked wonders for me when I started working on my first screenplay while simultaneously recovering from adrenal fatigue. Now, I’m able to work on it regularly—and comfortably—without a list at all.

Soon, you’ll look back on all of your tiny steps and will be amazed at your progress!

5. Build Excuse-Free Habits

As they say, “Feel the fear, but do it anyway.” Recognize the excuses you’re making, own up to them, and do what you want to do regardless of what you think is holding you back. Yes, it’s a lot easier said than done, but it’s one thing to say you have control of your life and another to take control.

Building these habits is difficult, and sometimes painful in the moment, but afterward you feel refreshed and indescribably proud of yourself. So much so, you’ll want to set your next challenge right away. It’s an addictive practice once you get started! Make testing your limits fun and enjoy the process on your own terms.

Advertising

6. Use Your Excuses As Signals

Once you recognize your excuses for what they are, you can begin using them to your advantage. Consider your excuses a signal to a deeper underlying problem. It’s a great way to familiarize yourself with what makes you tick. Each time you find yourself making an excuse, look into it further, find the true cause and work toward moving past it. The more you practice this, the less you’ll hold yourself back from your full potential.

7. Trust the Process

There are times when you sincerely want to do something, but there are aspects of your schedule/lifestyle/workload that hugely conflict with what you want. In these instances, you’re not in denial or making excuses, you’re simply examining the roadblocks that are in your way. It’s when you allow these roadblocks to stay in place that they become excuses.

Oddly enough, it’s when something’s really important to us that we start layering on the excuses. If you immediately turn to a proactive attitude when these situations arise, and trust yourself to think of a solution, you won’t have to eliminate your excuses – you won’t be able to find one.

How do you eliminate your excuses?

Read Next