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The Power of Choice

Serena Mao

Everyone has responsibilities at home they’d rather not do. Whether it be cleaning the dishes, washing the floor, or taking out the trash, we have a plethora of chores that we know we should do but never want to do. And while this work is seemingly irritating enough itself, we sometimes feel accomplished when we proactively decide to do these chores at our own will. But then, when someone else yells at us to do them, we suddenly lose all motivation.

What does this mean? And if we were doing the chores anyway, why do we experience a mental turnaround out of nowhere when someone commands us to do them? It’s likely that this phenomenon originates from our desire for personal freedom and self determination. Instead of feeling controlled by those around us and ordered around like a servant, we want to be able to decide what we are going about in the world. Humans also don’t like feeling subservient, and acting like someone who listens immediately to what others say can make us feel inferior or degraded. Doing something without being prompted to make it feel like it is our conscious choice to take that action, thus making us more willing to complete it.

So what kind of implications does this have on our daily lives? Especially when we are responsible for urging others to complete any set of necessary tasks, we need to be careful of how we go about it. One option can be to tell someone what they need to do in advance, so that the knee jerk reaction which refuses the order doesn’t affect the task immediately. That way, the other knows what they need to do, and will likely do it willingly when the time comes. Urge them to do something right that moment, and they’re much more likely to dig their heels in and refuse. Another option is to phrase the command as a suggestion or in a more uncertain way. As long as the target audience is someone who understands their responsibilities and why they need to fulfill them and not your five year old brother, they are likely to accept the suggestion as it appears they are still making the decision by their own free will. 

Parents are often confused about why their kids seem to vehemently refuse anything they ask of them. To fix this problem, they need to understand the incentive structure within the human mind, and act accordingly to avoid this unwanted negative reaction.

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