Be Your Own Choice Architect. 6 Ways to Stay Out of the Ben and Jerry’s at Midnight.

I make the worst choices at the end of the day. Whether it’s a brownie after dinner, an extra glass of wine or blowing off the work out I skipped in the morning. All bad decisions happen after 5 PM. I make a lot more mistakes at the end of the work day. The last email I send out isn’t as well thought out and the report to my boss is full of errors. I have a lot more typos and I can come across as insincere. As my friend Michele Woodward says, “We all start with 100 units at the beginning of the day and that’s all we get. There is no carry over and you can’t go to the bank to buy some more. 100 units period. If you are out of your 100 units by 5 PM, you are going to make some bad choices.”

In the book, Nudge, by Thaler and Sunstein, they suggest that there is no such thing as a “neutral design”. Whether it’s a voter ballot, where a bathroom is located in an office building or whether organ donation is a forced choice, design has an effect on what we do.  Take the example of organ donation, if you require a driver to chose to either be a donor or not, the amount of those who opt into donation increases dramatically.  In the state of Texas, when they forced drivers to choose, the amount of donors went from 70,000 donors to over 936,000 in the first year.  One small design change, and suddenly the organ donation skyrockets.  Making it mandatory to decide if you wanted to donate, made it easier to do so, and therefore, save lives. Wow.

choice architecture
So here are some ideas on how to sustain your habits and stay away from the Ben and Jerry’s at 9 PM:

1. Loss adverse. We are much more loss adverse than reward driven. I found this out when I implemented a wellness program at a company with about 100 employees. When we rolled out the program, we charged employees $100 per month for their insurance premiums if they did not participate. We had 100 percent participation. Other programs that use $100 incentive to join up typically have about 60% participation. The stick of paying $100 more caused everyone to sign up because they were loss adverse. The program where you gain the $100 is much more beneficial to the participant but they don’t participate to the same degree. So how do you use this in your life? Go to and sign up. Want to get fit? You can set it up so that if you don’t run 10 miles a week for a year, you can send money to an objectionable group such as the Tobacco Growers Association. The stick will drive you to stick to your plan. Utilize your loss aversion.

2. Priming. Studies have shown you can “prime” behavior. One study had participants list words associated with older people and then afterwards they walked slower. In another study, subjects were primed to leave a larger tip if an altruistic saying was imprinted on the bottom of their tab. Think of ways to prime your behavior. Maybe it’s an energizing red shirt to go running in or a green plant on your desk to prime your creativity. Even the mere smell of disinfectant can prime folks to keep their space cleaner (hmm. I wonder if that works on teenage sons). Prime for the behavior you want.

3. Peer pressure. If it weren’t for peer pressure, I doubt you would have worn bell bottoms. Set up some peer pressure to help you develop new habits. Tell your spouse you’ll be getting up at 5 AM so that you can get your exercise done in the morning. Tell your friends you are going sugar free so they help support you at the next company picnic with snow cones and cotton candy. Be part of the solution by asking about your coworkers’ progress on their fitness program. Apply some peer pressure.

4. Rise early. Either rise early or at least at the same time every day. Successful people get up early. I have to say I’ve been getting up at 5 AM for the last nine months and I feel a lot more productive. First of all, it helps me get some form of exercise in before my day gets going. There is no excuse if you have to be to work by 8 AM. If you are up at 5 AM, surely you can get on the treadmill for at least 30 minutes if not an hour. Regardless, consistency in the time you wake up helps keep all your other habits on track. Systematize your day by rising early.

5. Two days in a row. I read this in an article recently. To keep your habits on track, never skip more than one day. So I have to say I skipped exercising last Sunday. The next day was pouring rain, I had a horrible night’s sleep but when the alarm went off at 5 AM, I briefly thought about sleeping in but I remembered the article, and I thought, I can’t skip two days in a row. So I got up and drove in the pouring rain to the gym. It’s kind of like, you can slide for one day but two? It keeps me on track and accountable. Skip one day with your new habit, but never two.

6. Environment. Set up your environment for success. All my running garb including water bottles, socks and shoes are in my bathroom closet. I don’t need to wake my husband up in order to get out the door at 5:15. There isn’t any Ben and Jerry’s stashed in my freezer. I keep my smart phone charging in the kitchen at night so I’m not tempted to check it in the middle of the night. I keep my desk clear and uncluttered so I am not distracted when I work. Design your environment so that you make the best choices.

Being your own choice architect helps you take responsibility for your life. There is a choice between believing that you are the captain of your own ship or you are at the whim of the current. Take control of the choices in your life.

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