Book Summary: The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar

Almost every minute of the day, we are presented with a decision. When opening a document to take notes on this book, I had the option of using a pre-existing template.

You decided to watch or read this book synopsis a few seconds ago. Some of the choices you'll make will be commonplace, such as the ones I just mentioned.

Some of the decisions you'll make will mean the difference between life and death like Steven Callahan did when he found himself alone on a raft in the ocean - he chose to live rather than give up and die — for 76 long and terrible days.

Sheena Iyengar takes us on a fascinating trip to discover how we may improve our decision-making abilities. We'll look at the assumptions we have about choice and how they vary based on the culture and circumstances in which the decision is made. Fasten your seatbelts and prepare for a thrilling trip into the intriguing world of options.

What is choice?

A male with 2 choices of cakes - which one should he choose. The power of choice is different in different cultures.

This is a philosophical issue that probably doesn't need to be explored in depth until you're in an undergraduate philosophy class. However, it's important to examine our beliefs about choosing before making choices for ourselves or others.

The notion that choice is beneficial has pervaded most Western societies. How else do you explain the tens of thousands of options accessible to us in the supermarket alone? Choice, on the other hand, isn't necessarily a good thing. Some individuals throughout the world feel that having more options is a bad thing.

In a study that looked at the homework habits of Asian American and Anglo American children, they found some startling differences. The study found that Asian American children performed better when they believed they were doing something their moms had chosen for them. In contrast, Anglo-American children performed better on activities where they felt they had the authority to select.

In a study, Asian and American students were asked to list their choices during a typical day. The American students listed an average of 50% more options, including brushing their teeth and putting the alarm clock on snooze as options.

What does this mean in terms of freedom of choice?

The way you perceive the world has a big impact on how your narrative unfolds. This may appear to be a little detail, but it may make all the difference. For example, how often have you heard someone moan about being "trapped in a horrible job"? That individual will most likely continue working there (or one similar to it) for the rest of their lives, living for the weekend until they are six feet underground. Someone other could see the same circumstance and remark, "I don't enjoy my job right now, but I'm going to look for a new one."

How do we make choices?

A male with questions mark on top of him showing curiosity and which one to choose.

Let's move on to how we create those choices now that you're aware that we pick what we perceive to be our choices. First and foremost, we must recognize that we have two systems from which to choose. The first is the automated system, which works invisibly and without thought. It's constantly there, affecting our actions because it never goes off and runs on emotion.

It's the system that warns us that an approaching lion may be dangerous to our health, as well as the system that informs us that the can of Coca-Cola on the table would be delicious right now. Our reflecting system is the second system that we must deliberately engage. It's the system that instills logic and reason in us.

Life is nice when these two systems come up with the same answer. In the event of the approaching lion, the response is the same: WE HAVE TO GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE! However, with Coca-Cola (if you enjoy it), you'll almost certainly have a problem to resolve.

On the one hand, they'll be delicious and will almost certainly relieve my thirst right away. Your reflecting system, on the other hand, will warn you that it's full of empty calories, that you'll have a sugar crash in approximately 30 minutes, and that it'll destroy your teeth and cause cavities.

According to a groundbreaking study, children who can listen to their reflecting system and exercise self-control as adults had healthier relationships, greater coping abilities, and even scored 200 points higher on their SATs. They appeared to be healthier, wealthier, and smarter, as Iyengar puts it.

So, while you're making decisions, remember to use your reflective thinking to ensure you're not doing anything you'll come to regret later. Just keep in mind that you (and I) are terrible judges of what will make us happy in the future. Remember to consider if the decision your reflective system is urging you to complete will truly benefit you.

The four missteps we all make

A female drawing her strategy on a piece of paper- showing that each step needs to be considered.

Our options are so many that it's easy to become overwhelmed. As a result, we create shortcuts for making certain judgments. People with higher degrees than you and I would call them thumb heuristics, while others would call them rules of thumb. We build these shortcuts for ourselves in four different ways.

They may, unfortunately, lead us wrong, therefore learn about them and be conscious of them while making judgments.

The first tip is known as "availability."

The knowledge we retain in our brain has a significant impact on how we make decisions. And the information loaded with emotion and stimulates our senses is the one that gets stored the most in our brains. This is certainly something you've heard before.

But consider this: if the only thing that's "available" is the stuff that gets us thrilled and emotional, there's a lot of other information that we choose not to keep in our memory.

That is to say; our memory is a distorted representation of reality. Pretend you're trying to recall your colleague's preferred shirt color so you can get them a nice present. If somebody wore a bright green shirt a couple of times, it could be the only thing you remember, and you'll decide based on that.

Certain words can guide the way we view information, influencing our perception to a certain degree.

Consider how 1980s Coca-Cola CEO Roberto Goizueta presented a challenge to his staff. The executive team was quite pleased with themselves since they controlled 45 percent of the soft drink market. Isn't it really impressive? That is until Roberto gently pointed out that, while they controlled 45 percent of the soft drink industry, they only controlled only 2% of the whole liquid market.

He converted a group that was relatively pleased and complacent into a hungry team that needed to think imaginatively about how they might expand their little 2% market share—with one simple twist of words. We now consume the same company's water, fruit drinks, sports drinks, and energy drinks. It appears to have worked. You can benefit from this framing method, but you must be aware of when it is being used.

Third, our brains are wired to make connections between things.

This is how some of the greatest innovations of all time were born. Take a phone and an MP3 player and combine them, and you've got yourself an iPhone. Combine the Internet with the Dewey Decimal system, and you get Google. Finally, take peanut butter and chocolate—the list is endless. In the creative process, this shortcut is very useful. It can, however, be a hindrance to your success in other areas.

For example, when Americans began to look at growing real estate prices over ten years and concluded that those prices would continue to climb indefinitely, despite evidence to the contrary. So, check-in and make sure you're not making critical decisions based on untested assumptions.

Ultimately, we find information that supports our opinions and beliefs and defend them just as vigorously.

Philip Tetlock, for example, has shown that political authorities are susceptible to this when forecasting the result of global political events. They were no better at guessing them than if they had tossed a coin, he discovered. Remember, these are individuals who are paid to make predictions for a living! What went wrong with their performance?

Because they were willing to absorb facts that supported their pre-existing beliefs, furthermore, we all do it because it feels easier to defend our actions than to question them. While we can't afford to second-guess every decision we've ever made, you should double-check the essential ones to ensure you're not merely gathering data to back you up.

Six ways to make better choices

A male with an all good hand sign. This shows that there are ways we can make better choices.

Now that you've heard the terrible news, let's talk about dealing with it and making better decisions for yourself.

First, becoming an expert in a field allows you to make better decisions.

Do you want to learn how to make sound financial decisions? Become a financial counselor who knows all there is to know about money. However, as much as we'd like to become experts in every decision we'll have to make in our lives, the fact is that we won't be able to. As a result, we'll need to find new ways to make decisions in areas where we aren't specialists.

We can take the advice from experts into account and rely on them for support.

This should go without saying, but know that there is someone out there who can help you through the process of making a smart selection in just about every area where you need to make a decision. The trick is to accept that you don't need to have all of the answers, as we all like to believe we occasionally do.

Third, there are times when it makes sense to turn a choice into an opportunity for discussion.

For example, you may call a meeting of your company's executives to decide on the course of a project. Hearing and connecting with a variety of perspectives can eventually assist you in making a more informed conclusion.

Fourth, you can ask the people around you for suggestions.

This may be seen in the Zagat restaurant guide and the Amazon merchandise rankings. When you know how most people feel about a product or service, it's much easier to make a decision. Keep in mind that this does not imply that you must complete the same choices as the market as a whole; for example, you may love films that the market generally undervalues. You may take advantage of the wisdom (or ignorance, in certain circumstances) of the crowd in various ways.

Fifth, you may classify alternatives so that instead of having 100 possibilities, you have 5 to choose from.

A department store, for example, could divide its merchandise into departments, reducing the number of options available based on what you're looking for. This is most commonly observed on the Internet through keywords and "tags," which allow you to filter through online material and eliminate irrelevant alternatives.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we have the opportunity to learn from our mistakes.

Reflecting on how we've made decisions in the past and whatever biases we may have had can help us figure out how to approach future choices.


Even if we wanted to, we can't escape making a decision. Every day, we make hundreds of decisions that directly impact the course of our lives. This book is for you to learn how they're created and how you can improve them.

Claim your welcome gifts

- 100+ Social Media Content Ideas
- 2022 Social Media Content Calendar
- Ultimate Facebook ads checklist
- 7-step Kingsmaker Growth Blueprint
and more...
No spam, only valuable content. Guaranteed!

If you don't like it, unsubscribe at any time. Seriously, no hard feelings.