Facilitating Behaviors

Plans held within our own head don’t seem to mean that much. I have had tons of plans to get things done around the house, to stop snacking on baked goods, and to read more, but I often find the time ticking by while I waste time reading news stories that don’t mean much to me or checking twitter. Having plans just in my head, that I convince myself I will accomplish, isn’t an effective strategy to making the changes I want. However, there are strategies that can be used for facilitating behaviors that we actually desire.


My last post was about the mere measurement effect. Just by measuring what people plan to do, simply by asking them if they plan to vote, plan to buy a new car this year, or intend to lose weight, people become more likely to actually follow-through on a stated behavior. But, there is a way to nudge the mere measurement effect even further, by asking people how they are going to enact their plans. When you ask people how they plan to vote, where they plan to buy a new car, and what steps they plan to take to lose weight, people become even more likely to follow-through on their intentions.


Asking people the how and when of a behavior they plan to adopt or an action they plan to do is a powerful and simple nudge. It is also something we can harness for ourselves. If we really want to make a change, we can’t just tell ourselves that tomorrow we will behave differently. Doing so will likely lead to letdown when the cookie temptations kick in around 2:30 in the afternoon, or when we fail to get up at our early alarm, or when we are tired in the afternoon and put on a tv show. But, if we have asked how we plan to make a change, then we can look ahead to the obstacles in our way, and plan for a healthy snack when cravings kick in, set thing up to make it easier to get out of bed, and hide the remote so we don’t turn on the TV without thinking.


Nudges don’t have to be external, they can be internal. We can use them to set a default course of action for ourselves or to push ourselves out of a default that we want to change. The quote that inspired this post is from Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler’s book Nudge, where the authors write:


“The nudge provided by asking people what they intend to do can be accentuated by asking them when and how they plan to do it. This insight falls into the category of what the great psychologist Kurt Lewin called channel factors, a term he used for small influences that could either facilitate or inhibit certain behaviors.”

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