How to motivate yourself to change your behavior

This TED- Cambridge talk was posted 5 years ago but it is still applicable today. It’s always good to have a refresher on a subject matter or be exposed to a new way of thinking when tackling a current issue. This TED Talk by Dr. Tali Sharot, a neuroscientist at the University College London, provides “3 key ingredients” on how to change your behavior, however, some of the examples she provides are organizational behavior change and customer behavior change.

The 3 key ingredients are:

  1. Social incentive;
  2. Progress monitoring;
  3. Immediate award.

One big take-away I got from this is fear appeals, shaming, threatening, warnings, etc. on the whole are not effective in changing behavior. Many impact evaluation studies have shown where negative messaging and fear appeal marketing campaigns are ineffective in changing behavior, however, some fear appeal social marketing campaigns have proven effective in road or driver campaigns. I think this is something we really need to dive deeper into. Think about social norming of face masks during COVID-19. What if 99% of people are wearing a face mask in a grocery store but one person approaches a non-face mask user and yells at them for not wearing a face mask. What happens? Do they decide to wear a mask next time? Ummm, no. What if they are told that they may have a pre-existing condition in the future or may pass the disease unknowingly to a loved one later. Does this change their mind? Probably not. Now what if the manager goes over the intercom and says, “Congratulations shoppers at so and so grocery store, we are at 99% compliance for wearing face masks and we are outperforming the grocery store so-so five miles down the road”. Does this change the non-mask user’s behavior? More likely. What if the manager says, “we are passing out $2.00 off your coupons for all mask wearers”. We got a winner. The messaging is positive. It demonstrates social compliance, progress monitoring and incentives. The benefits are immediate.

We seek positive information! We want to know we are okay and WE CAN change the outcome. Positive intentions are REWARDED and socially ACCEPTABLE.

“Kids and teenagers are the worst at learning from bad news”. Plug for the ever growing trend towards positive behavioral therapy, or cognitive behavioral therapy, in schools. How does this work in real life? “Son, you are getting better at picking up your toys, could you finish the job so we can go outside and play?” vs “Son, you still haven’t picked up your toys and you can’t play outside until you do”.

We get too much information and filter out what we don’t want or need by focusing on the positive information, giving us a distorted view of the reality. Self-denial anyone? I don’t know about you but my new thing is to tune out PEOPLE who don’t give me the information I want (anyone want to take a wild guess who it might be?). This is why it’s important for organizations to put out specific, timely, relevant and targeted messages with BEHAVIOR SCIENCE. Go beyond thinking about information or education.Don’t just put out anything to stay relevant. You won’t be.

Informational campaigns and education are not enough. We must get the word out to organizations and agencies that applying behavior science to impact change is a must-do and the more cost effective way to achieve results.

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