Sidetracked: Why and How We Decide to Act

By — on / Negotiation Skills

Francesca Gino‘s newest book, Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed and How We Can Stick to the Plan discusses a common shortcoming that we have all faced at some point in our lives – the inability to set a goal and stick to it.

Often when we set goals for ourselves we seek to rectify some perceived shortcoming or change ourselves in order to have a brighter future or more fulfilled life. Change, in and of itself, is a powerful force for helping individuals realize their dreams and potential, but like all things worthwhile, it is incredibly difficult.

Why do we abandon goals that would often only improve our lives?

Why do we hesitate, procrastinate, and deviate away from our plans?

Reasons for Goal Abandonment

Professor Gino suggests that the reasons many of us fall away from our goals and plans are as multiple and diverse as the goals they accompany. How we decide what to do and why is a very circuitous process and not one easily explained.

Gino recalled a honeymoon memory with her husband in Dubai. The couple wanted to buy an authentic Emirati souvenir to commemorate their trip to their desert oasis, so they headed over to the open air, traditional souk markets in hopes of purchasing such an item. While there, Francesca Gino’s husband became enamored with a replica luxury watch that Gino says now, “he’s not even sure he likes.”

Humans as Irrational Actors

Frequently in life we think we are going down one path only to end up in another. Decisions, instead of being the byproducts of rational processes born wholly of logic, are an amalgamation of circumstance, environment, and factors preceding the decisive moment. In contradiction to classical economists’ assertion that humans are rational actors, life instead shows that people make decisions for any number of inscrutable or even irrational reasons.

“We also tend to do things we’re often not aware we’re doing, but they hamper our ability to make good choices,” says Gino.

Humans as Emotional Actors

Professor Gino cites the example of someone arriving for a first date after being trapped in a traffic jam.

While the traffic jam likely had a negative impact on the person prior to the date, she is unlikely to register the traffic jam as a potential source of her negative emotions and is instead likely to think that maybe the date did not work out because it was a mismatch. This difficulty in recognizing the effect prior events have on the present is a challenge that many face as they make decisions in life.

Humans as Overconfident Actors

In addition to being occasionally irrational or emotional, we also have a tendency to be overconfident with regards to our abilities according to a study cited by Gino in her new book, Sidetracked.

US News and World Report survey of 1000 people in 1999 found that 87% of respondents said they were likely to go to heaven, while Michael Jordan had a 65% chance and Mother Theresa had a 79% chance of making it. Needless to say, such an overly optimistic self-assessment is likely to color your decision-making.

Why Do We Do as Emotional, Irrational and Overconfident People?

Professor Gino advises us to take our ’emotional temperature’ before acting. By being aware of your emotions, where they come from, and how they are impacting your decision-making abilities, you can not only make decisions that are better for you as an individual, but also become a more effective advocate for others. Carefully researching and considering the source of your information, along with a high-level of self-awareness, can help you make better and more informed decisions in your life.

[New York Times]

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3 Responses to “Sidetracked: Why and How We Decide to Act”

  • Danielle R.

    Yes, that saying about preparation is very true. Thank you so much for the well wishes with my studies. : )

  • Danielle R.

    Thank you for writing this article, I find the topic to be relevant to my current goal of preparing for the fall LSAT. Earning a 180 on the LSAT is a goal that I can achieve; however, I am aware of the fact that I will have to prepare in advance. As you suggested in the article, many people fall short of fulfilling their dreams because of different life experiences and or procrastination. Also, you asked, “Why do we hesitate, procrastinate, and deviate away from our plans?” One thought that comes to mind is the fact that perhaps people also deviate and or do not seek to accomplish their goals due to the possible fear of failing.

    • Keith L.

      Fear of failure is definitely a real phenomenon. I think there is an old saying about preparation: ‘Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.’ Or something along those lines. Best of luck with your future studies!


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