The Psychology of Making Good Decisions

In his best-selling book, Predictably Irrational, MIT professor of behavioral economics Dan Ariely observed that resisting temptation is a universal human goal, but our failure to self-regulate is the source of much unhappiness. “When I look around, I see people trying their best to do the right thing, whether they are dieters or families vowing to spend less and save more,” he writes. “The struggle for control is all around us.”

To gain more control, Ariely suggests making “precommitments.” When he let his students at MIT set their own deadlines, for example, they missed them. But when he set deadlines for them – providing a “parental” voice – they got their assignments in on time.

“If we can’t save from our paycheck, we can take advantage of our employer’s automatic deduction option,” Ariely notes. “If we don’t have the will to exercise alone regularly, we can make an appointment to exercise in the company of our friends. These are the tools we can commit to in advance, and they may help us be the kind of people we want to be.”

Listen to Ariely’s TED talk below about our ability to control our own decisions.