Choice Architecture

Choice Architecture

I’ve been setting myself up lately.  Setting myself up for success that is.

How?  By applying the basics of a concept called choice architecture…to myself and my own habits.

Wikipedia defines Choice Architecture as the “design of different ways in which choices can be presented to consumers,” manipulating the number of choices available, the location of the choices and the insertion of “default” choices which encourage specific behaviors.  For example, choice architecture can be used for good by shifting the presentation of desserts in a cafeteria, steering people towards salad and away from chocolate cake.  It has been used to encourage people to sign up to become organ donors, or to make saving for retirement easier and more automatic.  It can also be used in less healthy ways, for example by making you walk by the slot machines on the way to the bathroom in a casino (you’d be amazed how many people stop and play the slots, delaying taking care of themselves).

I decided to run a little experiment on myself recently when I realized that I had a poor showing on a very basic health behavior: eating my fruits and vegetables.  I was only eating about 2-3 fruits and veggies a day.  Since the generally recommended standard consumption for fruits and veggies is 5-9 per day, I was falling far short and was worried about the long-term effects of having a carbs and cheese diet, rather than that lovely colorful plate the nutrition gurus advise.

No one can convince me to give up cheese, but I was easily convinced to increase my fruits and veggies.   I ran into problems, however, when I realized that I was buying them but not consuming them.  So, I started to do a little research.  When would I eat them?  What did I like the best?  How could I help make more balanced nutrition an easy go-to instead of an “oops I’ll eat that tomorrow” occurrence?

The proponents of choice architecture advise decreasing the overall number of choices a person has to make, while increasing the likelihood that the person will make a healthy choice.  First, I set my goal: minimum 5 fruits and veggies per day.  Second, I changed my environment to increase my odds of getting to my goal.

Now, when you come into my office, you will see either a fruit or an open container of a veggie or both on the right-hand side of my desk.  Why the right side?  Well, I’m right handed.  Why an open container in plain sight?  Turns out I don’t eat the stuff in the fridge upstairs and I’m less likely to eat things if I have to fuss with opening a container.  What I DO well is eat either my fruit or veggie in between sessions, munching away while I do my progress notes or check my messages.  The visual of the fruit/veggie stimulates my memory of my goal, and it is SO EASY I can’t help but make the right choice.  At home, I also changed my environment, putting fruits and veggies on the counter or in the front of the fridge, and having a minimum of one with each meal.  I’m finally eating like a grown up.  Good news:  so is the rest of my household!

What choice do you need to support yourself in making and how can you use the concept of choice architecture to improve your odds?  You can make it in a “make things easier” direction like I did with eating fruit/veggies.  You can also make it in a “make things harder” direction like my client who put his cigarettes in the trunk, so he wouldn’t automatically smoke when he got in the car.  Either way, you are setting yourself up for success.  Have fun with this!

Best wishes for a productive, enjoyable 2018.  Looking forward to helping you live your best life!

Dr. Carrie