How Defaults Affect Us

Departing from the default option causes more regret/blame if things go wrong. For example, the default after a bad loss is for a coach to make changes in personnel or strategy. Failure to do so will produce blame or regret if the team loses again. It is important to note that the change is not necessarily a good thing, just a way to avoid regret/blame.

How strong is the effect of defaults? How important are your vital organs to you? Evidence suggests that whether or not you elect to be an organ donor is largely determined by whether the default is set for you to donate or not. If the question is setup so you have to check a box to opt out of donating your organs, you are very likely to donate. If the questions is setup so you have to check a box to opt in to donate your organs, you are very likely to not donate. The decision itself is so difficult to consider that we will defer to the default option rather than go through the process of trying to figure out what we really want. This also affects us when we are deciding to sell a stock or not: it is easier to hold because it is the default – no action is necessary to hold the stock.

Again, there is not a reliable way to overcome this tendency. However, it is important to be aware of so we can make better decisions. Are you changing the lineup to avoid blame or because it is really best for the team? Are you holding the stock because you think its value will increase or because you don’t want to beat yourself up if you sell it and then it increases? We can’t predict the right answer to these questions, but we can do a better job of identifying which option is more consistent with our values and beliefs and basing our decisions on the value/belief rather than the default.


Hate to lose?

So do most people. But what are the effects of our aversion to loss?

Consider: professional golfers putt better for par than for birdie. In other words, when all variables are taken into account (e.g., length of putt, difficulty of green, etc.), a professional golfer is more likely to make a putt when going for par (i.e., trying to avoid a bogey, which is the same as taking a loss on the hole) than when going for birdie (when they can still miss and not lose par).

On the other hand, hating to lose can cause us to persist even when situations are against us. For example, a person who only wants to pursue victory will have a tendency to back off when victory is unlikely. A person who hates to lose will often put forth effort until the very end, regardless of the score.

There are many biological reasons for our hatred of losing (a single cockroach can ruin a bowl of cherries, but a cherry does nothing for a bowl of cockroaches), and it is relatively futile to try and fight this biological urge.

Thus, it is important to recognize how it can help us (serving as motivation when our situations look bleak) and hurt us (providing less focus and effort when seeking gain rather than avoiding loss). In financial considerations, loss aversion can make us avoid taking risks that are actually beneficial for us.

So, the next time you are faced with a decision or performance situation, take a moment and examine it from both a loss averse perspective (likely to be your natural reaction) and a seeking gain perspective (likely to require you to pause and use intention and effort). This won’t tell you what to do, but it will give you a better perspective on your options and provide an opportunity to make a choice more consistent with your values.

Inspiration: Perspiration

There are times all of us feel something less than inspired. During these times, we often wait for inspiration to find us. There are two problems with this: 1) it draws our attention to external sources, and 2) while we wait we miss out on lots of opportunities to create inspiration.

Regarding the first point, as discussed earlier, inspiration comes from personal values, purpose, and meaning. Values are choices we make about the life we want to live. While they may be influenced by external sources, ultimately it is an internal process of deciding what we want our lives to stand for. This is why the energy and positive feelings that come from motivational speakers tend to be so fleeting: they are not connected to values, and if they are it is not our values, but rather those of the speaker. So, the next time you are waiting for inspiration, look internally about what you value and who you would like to be.

And after you do that, do something about it! We miss out on opportunities to be inspired by feeling trapped by our jobs, our relationships, our circumstances, etc. While all of these things may make it more difficult to pursue our dreams, they seldom (if ever) make it impossible to do so. Building on the concept of Have Fun First, rather than waiting for inspiration start doing something that you enjoy. For example, if you are working a job that pays well, supports your family, but does not leave you fulfilled, set aside time to pursue something you enjoy. Many a successful career has started as a trivial hobby.

Wondering where you will find the time? How about starting with the time you spend saying how much you dislike your job? Most people find when they start putting time and energy into something they enjoy, they find they have more time and energy to be present with family and other important aspects of their life.

By doing more, working harder at something you enjoy, and having fun, you’ll discover your inspiration.


Inspiration addresses the “How?” and the “Why?” of performance in terms of both breadth and depth. As mentioned earlier, inspiration represents the soul, and Plato’s three divisions of the soul are a good illustration of the breadth of inspiration: appetite, spirit, and reason. From a societal perspective, appetite corresponds with the productive caste of workers, merchants, farmers, etc., and in an individual performer would represent the hard work and years of deliberate practice (see Ericsson, 1996) necessary for expertise. Spirit is the protective caste of society and represents the strength, bravery, and courage to pursue, in this case, excellence. Reason is the governing caste of society and consists primarily of wisdom and rational decision making necessary to achieve the planning and commitment necessary for the journey of mastery (see Leonard, 1992).

To be truly inspirational, the depth of one’s pursuit of excellence must extend beyond the desire for fame, glory, success, and even excellence itself. Inspiration must connect to the core values of a person and the chosen purpose and meaning of his or her life. When this is achieved, “(values) permit actions to be coordinated and directed over long time frames” (Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 1999, p. 206). As Ericsson (1996) has demonstrated, expertise takes a long time to develop, and without inspiration it is unlikely that the dedication necessary for excellence will be maintained. Furthermore, in order to have the essential courage to take the risks necessary to pursue performance excellence, it helps to have a purpose bigger than oneself. Connecting the pursuit of excellence to the inspiration for life provides the motivation, energy, and commitment required of performance excellence.