Book Club: Predictably Irrational (September 2017)

Vat Jaiswal and I discuss Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely.

In this newly revised and expanded edition of the groundbreaking New York Times bestseller, Dan Ariely refutes the common assumption that we behave in fundamentally rational ways. From drinking coffee to losing weight, from buying a car to choosing a romantic partner, we consistently overpay, underestimate, and procrastinate. Yet these misguided behaviors are neither random nor senseless. They’re systematic and predictable—making us predictably irrational.

If you would rather read the full transcript, click here.

Below are some of the highlights:

…some tactics for self-imposed restrictions…

Scott: The first [tactic] I want to talk about which I thought was very interesting is something that you have deliberately designed your environment to try to overcome is the one on self-control and procrastination. 

In this chapter he talked about one of the deviations from rationality is that if you give people more constraints, in particular you give them the ability to hinder their own progress, in they might actually do better. I wanted to talk about this in the context of what you do, Vat.

You are somewhat interesting in our group of friends because you have a lot of self-imposed constraints that a lot of others would be like, why are you doing that!? But they are really effective so maybe you can talk about your own experience with that.

Vat: Just before I talk about my own experience, I remember, a book I was reading about psychology and they were saying that putting restrictions are self-imposed they are much more effective because you’re the one who set the limits, you feel more responsible and in control when you set your own restrictions as opposed to someone else telling you what to do. That can lead to a feeling of like someone is trying to get you to do something.

In my experience, when it comes to productivity, I use applications on my computer that block electricity.

It starts at 8:00am and it ends at 5:00pm and during that time all the social media sites and all the time wasting sites are all blocked. Now, this is a restriction I’ve set for myself. This occurred through observation; I was looking at how I was wasting time and how much more productive I am after not using those sites.

After implementing these restrictions on myself I find my productivity is much better and I’ve been doing it for years now.

We all know we shouldn’t be wasting time if we’re trying to study or work but we all do it. So, there are applications that can help you with that and I’ve been using that with a lot of success.

On the cost of “free”…

Scott: I want to talk about some of the other biases that are talked about. One of them is about the cost of “free”.

When something is free, when it goes from one cent or one dollar to costing nothing, suddenly our brains stop working. We become irrational. We pursue it with vigor and we want more, more and more of it.

One of the reasons this is irrational is that we fail to include the other costs that are involved. We are more likely to pursue something when it’s free but we don’t consider opportunity costs. 

Vat: Yes, I have an idea on this where this idea of opportunity cost — you should always been optimizing and saving the most amount of time and using your money efficiently — but this is a purely logical way of thinking and we are emotional creatures.

On health, lifestyle and irrational choices….

Scott: This happens with health products. Some aren’t actually that healthy for you meaning that they have extra calories and they also taste bad, so I can think of some things, well, no offense to anyone who likes kale but I’ve seen some kale salads and you know, kale tastes worse than lettuce. I’m sorry, it just does!

I saw a kale salad once that was covered in some kind of dressing so the calories weren’t actually that great. I can imagine people buying it and maybe it’s not that healthy but it gives you this feeling of aestheticism. This feeling that, “oh I’m saving myself with this healthy item!”

I think we need to weigh that into our calculation. Why am I trying to lose weight? Am I trying to be healthy? Think about do you actually get some kind of pleasurable feeling from eating that kale salad because you’re doing something that’s quote, unquote, good for you?

As you said, emotional calculus is important.

Vat: One last example before we move on to the next section, studying. I’ve wasted a lot of time as a student sitting in the library but not actually studying. It gives you the feeling that you’re studying even if you’re not.

That’s another one of those things that gives you the feeling of studying but really, if you actually wanted to study, you can study anywhere, you don’t need to go to the library. Again, emotions come into play when we’re looking at these biases.

For those of you who want to read the book, it is available here. If you want to participate in the group discussions and join our book club, click here.

Special thanks to Vat Jaiswal for joining me for this month’s book club discussion. 

The book for October will be Don’t Sleep, There are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle, by Daniel Everett.

  • Great conversation! There seems to be a basic disconnect for becoming aware and being honest with yourself about the results of your choices. Being able to actually see the truth and not just the story you’re telling yourself. Thanks!