The Art of Choosing, by Sheena Iyengar


We have an innate need for control so having options from which to choose makes us happy. Though this is not valid for all cultures – in collectivist cultures people are more satisfied with the outcome of a choice if it was made for them by the community or members of the family. The way we look at choices and the way we approach them influences our lives.

Choice might mean freedom for a lot of us. But freedom comes with challenges as well.

1. The more options we have, the harder it is to choose and sometimes we simply avoid to do it.

Sheena Iyengar is the scientist behind the famous 6 vs. 26 jars of jam experiment. People bought more jam when faced with six options than when faced with many more. Other studies also suggest that we can handle around 7 ± 2 options. Anything above that becomes just frustrating.

It helps to categorize the choices to narrow down the options and to start from easier ones to harder ones.

2. Sometimes we are faced with hard choices to make.

Red pill or blue pill? Marry or not marry? Pull the plug on a family member or leave him in a coma for the rest of his life? There are some choices that we’d be better off not making, but in a world of freedom of choice we can’t escape them.

We can use other people to help us decide and share the burden of the choice with them. Sometimes it’s easier to accept a choice made by somebody else for us than we are with what we chose – even though it is the same choice that was made.

3. We are a bouquet of biases.

We are prone to mistakes, to misinterpret information, to value immediate emotions more than future ones and this affects the quality of our choices. Imperfections are part of life, of course, but sometimes we get into trouble because we live with the impression we are perfect and we can be objective and we can be precise. We’re not.

If you want to improve keep a diary of your choices so that through self-monitoring and feedback you can build an informed intuition. Write what you did right and when you took a poor decision and how things worked out in the end. That way you will not have to rely on your unreliable memory or emotions when faced with choices.


In improvisation we practice to rely on our intuition, to trust our choices or our partner’s choices and make them work. Sometimes we get stuck because we can’t choose “the right line” and we seem to have no option, other times the best choice seems to be the most obvious one. It’s an interesting exercise to watch yourself choosing under pressure and there’s never one right way to get it right. But what and how you chose sometimes reveal things about you. Therefore, it’s a continuous process of self discovery and training your “choosing” muscles for different scenarios.

The book is very thought-provoking and I recommend it to anyone interested in finding a bit more of how we work. After finishing it I realized that one question got stuck with me:

Is it who we are that influences our choices or are we the sum of the choices we make?

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