Dan Ariely clearly has a lot of fun writing his newspaper column. He has an edited volume of his advice, Irrationally Yours, which contains some excellent advice. Today I’ll share some of this. Next week I’ll explain why I don’t like the book’s title.
Firstly, advice columns are challenging. As an academic, I don’t like giving advice. The world is complicated and when someone gives you a paragraph on their life it seems obvious that you can’t really understand the issues that they face. This means any advice is likely to be either:
- a) overly directive, “do this”, when we really can’t tell what they should do from the outside, or
- b) completely useless and non-specific.
(I tend to adopt approach b, “you could do this, or that, or else anything really it is up to you”).
That said if everyone gets into an advice column’s spirit of fun it can be useful. People can benefit from general advice, that they can integrate into their own lives. For example, Ariely gives two examples that can be widely applied.
The Curse Of Knowledge
The first is the danger of the Curse of Knowledge. Ariely tells the story of a game he plays in class. He asks students to tap the beat of a song and asks them to guess how many of the other students will guess it.
They usually think about half will get it.. [but]…almost no one gets it right.Ariely, 2015, page 195
We have a tendency to think everyone else knows what we do. Yet, often other people simply don’t have a clue what we are talking about. (This applies especially to academics, and I certainly don’t exclude myself).
The Power Of Simple Rules
The second is the power of simple rules. He discusses tithing. As Ariely says, “specific rules, such as tithing, are very useful because they are strict and clear” (Ariely, 2015, page 101). The point is if you want anyone, including yourself, to do something make it easy. Leave very little wiggle room. Don’t say ‘I want to give money to a cause’. You probably won’t get round to it even if you genuinely mean to. Instead, say I will give $x every month and try to make the money go automatically. The less “choice” that you give yourself the easier to follow through.
Some Excellent Advice
Read: Dan Ariely, 2015, Irrationally Yours, Harper Perennial.