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How to Overcome Our Laziness


"We're blind to our blindness. We have very little idea of how little we know. We're not designed to know how little we know."

-Daniel Kahneman


It's cold and snowy outside. I'm 14 years old walking over to my friend's place to watch a movie. Luckily I only have to go to the next apartment building, but I should have worn a jacket! Once we're there I learn that his mom rented three movies. My friend is happy with either one and asks me which one I prefer. One is a comedy, one is an action movie, and one is a scary movie. This is a pretty easy choice. I'm not really a fan of horror movies. I really like comedies, but I'm kind of in the mood for action. Action movie it is!

It's five years later and I drive to the movie rental store. There are hundreds of choices. There's a whole section for comedy movies. There's another whole section just for action movies. Plus, there are about 15 other sections. It's hard to decide, but I finally find a comedy that I'm interested in, but it took a half-hour.

20 years later I turn on my TV. I have thousands of movies I can watch on Netflix. I have thousands of movies I can watch on Prime Video. I can't decide amongst all these choices, so I punt. I watch one of my favorite movies that I've already seen several times.

Making decisions is hard; there's too much data and too many choices. We have to rely on shortcuts. In other words, we're lazy.

we think we are less lazy than we are


There is a lot of data in the world. If we had to sit down and sort through all the information we needed, we would never be able to make a decision. We have to take shortcuts. These shortcuts are called heuristics, and they save us a lot of time but introduce errors into our decision-making.

So if I define being lazy as taking shortcuts, we're hardwired to be lazy.

heuristics are mental shortcuts

Making Choices

It's not just that we have too much information to deal with. Often we have too many choices. This is counterintuitive. It's tempting to think that we would be happier with more choices. I should be happier with thousands of movie choices. But, it was actually easier to make a decision at the video store when there were only one hundred choices - most of which were already rented out. And, we were happier because we didn't have the choice paralysis. It actually gets better than this. It's even easier to make a choice when someone asks you if you want to see movie A or movie B with them. Two choices. Simple. Make a decision and move on.

When there are too many choices we end up in the weeds. The fear of regret enters our minds. If we choose option 1, we think, would be have been happier with option 2? But what about option 3? It's a fine line.

analysis paralysis

Default Choices

Our minds were designed to be lazy. We can't sort out too much information and we struggle with too many choices. So what does that mean? We rely on default choices. Some of these default choices have names, including anchoring bias and status quo bias.

Anchoring happens when an idea gets thrown out at us. It could be a number, like the sticker price of a car, but it could also be an option, like where to go for dinner. Once we have an anchor dropped, it's hard for us to deviate from the anchor - it's an easy choice. We might think we're negotiating or getting a good price, but anchors matter. If you've ever purchased something because it was 40% off and you focused on the amount you saved rather than the amount you had to pay, anchoring was in play.

Status quo bias is the idea that we don't like change. We prefer to stay the same (aka prefer the status quo). This is like a jacked-up version of anchoring because the status quo is a heavy anchor. Even if the change would be good, our primitive minds prefer consistency. Even if it's bad, we know the rules. If you know someone who smokes cigarettes and wants to quit but is struggling, status quo bias is part of the reason for the struggle.

Default choices are given to us in other ways, too. Those responsible for form design are giving us default choices. If the default option at your job is to enroll in the 401(k) contributing 3% unless you opt-out or make a change, th