Habits vs Routines

Habits vs. Routines

Habit and routine, we often use the two words interchangeably, for example, “It was his habit to wake up at six every morning” is easily replaced with “It was his routine to wake up at six every morning.”  For purposes of this book, however, each term has a specific meaning.   Habit is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary is “an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary.”  Whereas they define routine as “a regular course of procedure.”  The distinction is important.

When we use the term habit, we will use it in the sense that it is an action that is a nearly automatic response that happens mostly out of our conscious control.  When we talk about routines, we are talking about actions that are undertaken consistently and consistent process, but that still requires a modicum of conscious effort.

Both habits and routines utilize cues that set off a chain reaction for how we behave.  These cues make it easier for us to consistently do a behavior or respond in a set manner.   However, it is the unconscious versus conscious element that separates habits from routines.

Habits are an automatic response; when the cue happens our behavior or thoughts are involuntarily triggered.  If we don’t consciously intercede in the process, that behavior or thought will come automatically.   Routines have an extra step involved, which is a conscious choice between the cue and the behavior or thought.  When the cue happens, we get an urge and a standard method for satisfying that urge, but we must actively make a conscious decision on if we are going to do that action.  This little difference is vital as it plays a significant role in how we leverage each of these psychological constructs.

Let’s look at waking up at six every morning again to explore this difference.  In this case, we assume that the trigger for getting up is an alarm.  Think about two different people, one of them when the alarm goes off, reaches over hits the off button and rolls out of bed automatically, maybe doing a stretch or two, before launching into their morning.   For this first person, waking up at six is a habit.  The second person is a bit different when the alarm goes off for them, they moan, they are thinking about how tired they are and what they need to do that day.  In their tired head, they think can I sleep for 10 more minutes or do I just force myself to get up.  Their hand reaches for either the off button or the snooze – but it is a choice that they are making.  For this person, waking up at six is a routine.

A slight difference, but one that is important.

Routines are easier to start but also easier to break.

Behavioral Science “Beneath the Surface” – The Power of Rational Thoughts in an Unnatural Environment

Earlier this year I completed my PADI dive certification in San Diego, CA. Becoming dive certified has been a goal of mine for many years, one that had been consistently pushed off by either alternate priorities or due to time, financial, or geographic limitations.

I think it is important to note that this was completed as a part of my incentive program at work. The charge was to choose a personal development course (a class, a workshop, a program, anything really) that I saw value in and to observe the implications it had on work and life using a behavioral science lens.

In a prior semester, I had chosen to partake in a Duarte Design workshop to dive deeper into the best practices of communications and presentations utilizing the power of a story. After reviewing a significant amount of professional workshops, I identified a few that seemed interesting but overall, I was feeling a bit uninspired by the offerings that were out there. My manager and I had a conversation about it, and he encouraged me to dig a bit deeper and think outside the box. A new list was inspired and soon I was approved to take a PADI dive class so long as I could foresee value in it and commit to observing how behavioral science could be interwoven into the certification.

That’s pretty cool if you ask me. The idea that the company is interested in my personal growth inspires a heightened sense of admiration and loyalty. I know that many organizations have or are exploring similar programs and I would be interested in learning more about how that has impacted employee loyalty and retention. Send us an email here if you have partaken in a similar program and let us know your thoughts.

So, with that, what did I learn about human behavior 60 feet below the surface? As discussed in previous blog posts, the interesting thing about human behavior is that it can be observed or identified in any activity so let’s find out.

Rational Thoughts, Irrational Thoughts, and Adaptability

Before we can go to 60 feet, we need to begin at the surface. After a series of reading, modules, tests and prep (I’ll discuss these in a bit more “depth” later) I found myself at day 1, this day was 100% in a fitness club pool, no cool fish, no exciting sharks, no pretty coral – just me, an instructor, a bunch of gadgets, an old man swimming laps, and the realization that diving is a whole lot more than just swimming underwater.

After about an hour of orientation, some practice on dry land, and some instruction came the big moment I was waiting for – it was time to get into the pool and learn some skills! The very first skill is to practice breathing through the regulator underwater (for those who do not know, the regulator controls air flow from the compressed tank to your lungs). So, for the first time, fully geared up in a whopping 4’ of water, I placed my regulator in my mouth, began breathing and stuck my head under the water. Commence Panic. My brain immediately said, “No. This is wrong, you shouldn’t be doing this”.

Upon reflecting on this moment and asking myself why this happened I believe this comes down to the nuances of irrational and rational thought. Rationally I know my nose is covered by the mask, the regulator is connected to my mouth and a full tank of air is directly connected to it, allowing me enough air to easily last an hour below the surface. Irrationally though, I have spent 32 years knowing that humans cannot breathe underwater and my brain’s natural sense of panic and self-protection kicked in. For a few seconds, I was a caveman instinctually fighting for survival and grasping for the surface. Rationally everything was safe, but irrationally everything felt wrong.

After a few more attempts I’ll admit I had a moment of “hey maybe this isn’t for me…”. That is where the power of rational thought took over, I took a minute to think over the equipment, how it worked and how to use it. I knew it worked and that it was simply a process of learning a new skill. Through this deliberate thought process, I was able to push away the irrational panic, slow down my breathing, and go at it again and, voila I was calmly breathing underwater.

Within an hour we were at the bottom of the pool in the deep end and I was breathing away like the first moment of panic never happened. To me this is both fascinating and powerful – think about how much influence we have over our actions and reactions when we take a moment to think rationally, focus our intentions, breathe calmly, and use that focus to decrease our anxiety. The statement “just breathe” really can be a magical cure.

The irrational side of your brain has an incredible amount of power over you but by slowing down and intentionally rationalizing a situation you inversely have an incredible amount of power over the irrational side your brain. Don’t believe me? Try it next time you find yourself overwhelmed or nervous. Imagine if you used this the next time you were having a problem at work? The adaptability of humans is truly incredible when we put our minds to it.

Again, we would love to hear any insights you have on the subject – email us here!

Note: I have snorkeled countless times and never had a fearful reaction to breathing with my face in the water and yet this was very different. I can only conclude that it is the mental awareness that I was not directly connected to surface air and that everything was self-contained, and I was weighted enough to sink to the bottom, not float at the surface. In previous experiences plunging my head fully underwater to explore meant holding one’s breath and this was a hard habit to break.

In addition to these insights around rationality, I believe that activities like diving that require intense mental focus and push you outside of the limits of your everyday thinking help to exercise the brain and drive additional clarity in the everyday world. I am a firm believer that we have our best ideas in environments where we find personal inspiration. I often find that a few miles into a hike, a long bike ride, or on the slopes my mind tends to open up I have moments of revelation and clarity – a new bliss.

While it’s still early – diving seems to have this same power. By placing myself into an environment that diminishes some senses while heightening others my thoughts are able to gather an interesting sense of clarity. Diving is extremely meditative, and I found that it opens up an interesting opportunity to disconnect and free the mind. I often focus on many things or tasks at one time which can lead to a fog and mental drain toward the latter half of the day. Interestingly enough however, on the two afternoons following my open water dives, I found myself tackling the remainder of the day without the need for a break and with a heightened sense of focus.

My advice? Find an activity (or two, or three) that allows you to become both hyper-focused and disconnected at the same time and use it to your advantage. For Steve Jobs, it was a daily walk – a moment inspired by habit and focus that helped him maintain a state of mental clarity. For me, it’s being outside and active. Carry a notebook, or if you can do so without breaking your contemplation stop and jot down some simple notes on your phone, some may be nonsense, but some just might be your next big idea if not a stepping stone it. If not possible in the moment, jot them down as soon as the activity is over.

All that said though, PADI training is a bit of BS. 

I mean that as a compliment. Prior to participating in the course, there is a series of eLearning modules that need to be completed. When I first sat down to take them, I was underwhelmed with the format and content but as I got deeper into them, I found myself impressed with some of the nuances of Behavioral Science (BS) that were sprinkled throughout.

Here are a few I noticed and why I believe they have value.

  • Throughout the learning, there is an emphasis on planning your next steps and writing them down. We know that written goals and goals stated out loud can actually help drive adherence and follow through. In addition, there is a “priming section” that allows you to review in advance each key takeaway that you are supposed to learn in that section – by priming my focus on these key insights I found that my time was better utilized in the modules themselves.
  • Habits, habits, habits. There is a strong push toward habit development in both the modules and the active training. Habits help us utilize mental shortcuts and lower the mental load that it takes to perform an activity. By creating a systematic series of habits from pre-dive planning to handling situations as they arise, the PADI system creates a solid plan for minimizing errors that could lead to dangerous situations below the surface. The training also emphasizes the need to minimize panic (i.e. engage rational thought) and allow the habits to take over. Stop, think, act.
  • Lastly, this is small, but each training and certification makes you accept a diver statement before submitting. Studies have shown that reciting an honor code or an institutional credo before signing a document increases integrity and honesty. It’s a stretch, but I cant help but wonder if this simple concept has increased the honesty of those submitting the self-examinations and knowledge-based work and, again a stretch, perhaps it has even saved a life? We may never know but it’s an interesting thought.

I think the PADI modules have a long way to go and still need to work through the weeds of BS, but I am quite impressed by the insights that they have applied so far.

At the end of the day, there is SO much more that goes into diving than I realized. That being said, I believe there is also so much more that can be learned and inspired by it than I realized as well. Try it with these insights in mind, it may just have the same impact on you!

Shoot us an email now to see how these same insights can be applied within your organization or life. If you found this interesting, share below!

Cover Photo by Sebastian Pena Lambarri on Unsplash

Motivational Hacks – Using Self-identity to Drive Behavior Change (update)

Note: we posted this blog a few years ago. In this version, we have updated it with new insights and research findings. 

Each of us has a unique self-identity that both “drives” what we do and is “influenced” by what we do.  This dual component is one of the unique aspects of self-identity that we can tap into to help drive and sustain change.

As I’ve stated before, for most people, purposeful change needs to have an emotional foundation for it to be sustainable.  The challenge we face is that tapping into our emotions is very difficult and often a random process, thus making purposeful change hard.

Since our self-identity is innately tied to our emotional core, being able to use our self-identity to help motivate behavior change could be very powerful.  If we are able to hack into our self-identity, it will help to engage the emotional drivers that we require for change.

Self-identity overview.

We often think of our self-identity as one cohesive overriding concept of who we are.

That’s a misconception. 

Psychologists tend to think of people’s self-identity as being made up of a number of smaller self-schemas that are combined together (Horawitz, 2012).  These different schemas dominate our personality at separate times depending on the circumstance, social group, or environment that we find ourselves in.  For instance, you might be the strong forceful decision maker when in family situations, but in social situations outside of the family, you might think of yourself as more of a follower.

Image: Our self- is comprised of identity many self-schemas

One way to think about self-schemas is to imagine that they are miniature mind-maps that guide how we think of ourselves in a given situation (i.e., a very localized map).  This map helps us envision how we should behave and think in this location. 

This map is the lens of how we see ourselves fitting into and responding to the world. It prescribes what we expect our actions and thoughts to be in that specific situation.

This identity lens also colors our world.  It can have a strong influence on what we see, what we feel, and what we experience.  It also impacts how we interpret and how we respond to what we see/feel/experience.

Recent work on our sense of political affiliation highlights this fact.  We like to think that we pick our political party based on how that party’s platform and policies align with our own self-identity, however, research by Dave Ciuk (2018), people tend to shift their self-schema’s based on the party’s position.  While the initial decision on which party one joins may be reflective of their self-identity, once that party has been chosen, the party’s position seems to impact our beliefs.

We have beliefs or self-schemas about whether we are fun or boring, outgoing or shy, combative or peaceful, brave or cowardly, and these schemas shape what we pay attention to, how we encode the information we receive, and what information we retrieve based on the situation (Wheeler, Petty, Bizer, 2005).

In this sense, schemas reflect our core values of who we are and how we fit in the world.

Horowitz (1998) describes it as follows: “Self-schemas include scripts, future intentions and expectations about self-realization, and core values. These self-schemas function as cognitive maps; simplifying details into attitudes…”

Schemas are also temporal in nature which means that we can think of ourselves as behaving and thinking differently based on the timeframe we imagine ourselves in – i.e., whether we are thinking of ourselves in the past, present or future tense.

Therefore, we can visualize our future self as being different than what we are today. Sometimes this future self is labeled our “possible self” or our “ideal self” which is appropriate.  The temporal nature of our self-schemas plays an important role in how we plan out our lives and make choices for the future.

Schemas and change.

So how does this impact our self-change initiatives?

First, we can think about how well our behaviors match with the schemas we hold of ourselves.  If our behaviors fit with that vision of who we are, those behaviors are “congruent”; if they do not align with that vision, they are “incongruent.”

Image: Congruent Behavior (reinforces and is reinforced by self-schema) vs. Incongruent Behavior (creates angst to stop behavior or reassess self-schema)

The more congruent the new change behavior is, the stronger the motivational pull to engage in that behavior.  Conversely, the more incongruent the behavior, the stronger the pull is to stop that behavior in order to get back in alignment. 

This is the self-regulation part of schemas and it works for however we envision ourselves. For instance, if I think of myself as “a walker”, I will have a stronger motivational pull to choose to walk when I have an option between walking or driving (or other mode of transportation).   Walking would be congruent with my vision of myself.  However, if I find myself sitting on the couch, vegging out in front of the T.V., that would be an incongruent behavior that would exert a sense of cognitive angst at not living up to my self-schema and would push me to get up and go for a walk around the block.

If I have a self-schema where I believe that I am an outgoing, happy and social person – that schema will influence my behavior to be congruent with the image I have for that. If on the other hand, I believe that I am more of an introvert and need alone time to recharge, I will more likely engage in behaviors that reinforce this belief.

It is safe to say, we view ourselves through the lens of our schemas.  Applied to our change effort, this can provide motivation to engage in or resist from certain behaviors that do or do not mesh with our self-schema.

Our behavior also provides us with a way to revamp our identity.  As mentioned in the first line, our self-identity both drives what we do and is influenced by what we do. 

Thus, our behaviors influence what our identity is. 

If we start to walk to the store instead of drive, invite friends to go for a walk instead for a coffee, relax by taking an evening stroll instead of sitting in front of the T.V. – our self-identity will be impacted.  We will need to reassess our behaviors and our schemas of self in order to get them more in alignment.

We can use our potential future selves to drive our behavior change.

We are usually really good at envisioning our future.  It is one of the key facets in any purposeful change process.  We need to visualize not only the change that we want to happen, but who we are in that change process.   As Gandhi said “be the change you want to see in the world.”

When we imagine highly detailed visions of the self in pursuit of a desired goal, those visions shape and organize our actual behaviors (Inglehart, Markus, & Brown, 1989). One study showed that persistence and effort expended on a tedious mental task were influenced when participants “possible self-schemas” were activated. In other words, people who imagined themselves as successful in the future out-performed those who imagined negative outcomes (Ruvolo & Markus, 1992).

Hacking our schemas?

Hack 1: The old adage, “fake it until you make it,” rings true when we think about hacking our schemas. 

To some degree, schemas can be thought of as the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.  So, if we tell a different story, we should be able to help influence our behavior.

Image: Our acted behaviors influence our self-identity.

As we have shown, our behaviors influence our self-identity.  If we have always thought of ourselves as shy, but continually find ourselves in situations where we are initiating conversations with new people – our brain sees this as incongruent behavior and works to get back in alignment.  One way that it can do this, is to reassess the schema of being shy and use this new information to update our self-schema to one where we see ourselves as being more outgoing (at least in those situations).

Hack 2: Can we envision our self so clearly and so in line with our goals/change process that we make it a reality? 

Probably not – a vision by itself won’t be enough to achieve our goals – however, it can help.   Karen Stein (1995) stated, Possible selves have been shown to play a powerful role in motivating and regulating goal-directed behavior.”

So, we should be very mindful of what are we envisioning our future self to be.  We should be purposeful in imaging our future self and the impact that the future self will have on us, and our behaviors and attitudes.

To identify alternative schemas, fill in the blank with detail on what you would like to do, “I am the type of person who ________!”   This helps create the vision of that “possible self.”   To add some more specificity to it, we could add in “I am the type of person who ________ in _______ situation!”

In one study that looked at how behavior changed when people held a “self as exerciser” schema, Kendzierski (1988) found that people with an exercise self-schema exercised more frequently than those with no self-schema and also used more strategies to help them exercise regularly.

Hack 3: Engage in reinforcing activities and create small wins

When we are at the beginning of a change process, we should purposely set up specific opportunities where we can actively engage in congruent behaviors.  The more that we can reinforce our positive schema, the more that schema will make stronger cognitive connections.

These congruent behaviors are registered in our brain as small reinforcements of our schema.  They are small wins for us in our change process.

We should look for specific activities or environments that we can be successful at.  For instance, if my behavior is to walk more and I’m reinforcing my walking self-schema, I should purposefully park my car at the far end of the parking lot.  This small step supports our schema and provides positive reinforcement.

Difficulty and cautionary advice

Hacking our self-identity isn’t a silver bullet.  Here’s some reasons why:

We are really good at fooling ourselves…really good.

Once formed, schemas’ are often maintained in the face of contradictory evidence.  We distort what we see or feel, our brain can ignore those behaviors that are incongruent with our schemas, and we engage in cognitive discounting – were we see contrary evidence as an exception and not the rule (Padesky).

Studies have shown that people are more likely to direct their attention to information that is consistent with an established self-schema, and to process information more quickly, and have greater recall for schema-consistent versus schema-irrelevant information.  It is difficult to change our perception of ourselves when we only see things that are aligned with our behavior.

We view the world through our self-schema colored glasses.

We can’t just will ourselves into a new schema.  We may tell ourselves that we want to be a certain type of person, but if that schema is not believed in our subconscious, it is hard to maintain.  We will find other, older or more aligned schemas, taking over.

Take the shy example from above.  We would hope that our brain would reassess the available information and start to reassess our schema – however what often happens is that the brain might view that behavior as an outlier (I’m not normally like that, it was just a few times) or reshape the memory of it (I didn’t really initiate the conversation), or just repress it (I don’t remember doing that).

Additionally, our various self-schemas can vary in their overall consistency from being rather fragmented to being harmonious with each other (Horawitz, 2012).  If we have a harmonious set of schemas, our self-identity is stronger and we will feel more motivational pull to be aligned with it.  If our schemas are more fragmented, that pull is lessened as our self-identity isn’t as cohesive – people tend to be able to shift to another schema more easily.   For instance, if a behavior is out-of-line with our dominant schema, a person who has fragmented schemas is more likely to be able to find an alternative schema where the incongruent behavior fits than someone who has a more harmonious set of schemas.  Work by Jonathan Haidt reflects that some people tend to view the world more black and white while others view it in shades of gray.  This perception lends itself into our political beliefs but also impacts how we distort facts – the more black and white we perceive the world, the more likely we are to alter our perception of the facts than we are to shift our self-schema’s.

All of this leads to a potential problem where our hack efforts can backfire.  So instead of us reshaping our identity by engaging in new behaviors, we just create angst and further reinforce the old or alternative schema.


Hacking our self-identity is one way that we can help ourselves change more effectively and sustain that change in the long run.  It is a way that we can more consistently tap into the emotions which help propel that change process.  Understanding how self-schema’s impact our behavior and how behavior impacts our self-schema’s can help us emotionally engage.

It is not the magic bullet; however, it is one more tool in our tool bag of change. 

Creating Your 2019 Total Rewards Budget? Think: “Culture, Trust, Communications”

2019 is rapidly approaching. The pressure is on you to formulate and calculate budgets for next year’s incentive and rewards programs. Are you covering all of the bases?

Like most, you need to balance: rewarding top performers, targeting the right motivators, harmonizing cash and non-cash incentives, and staying aligned with your corporate philosophies. All the while, fitting these factors into your overarching financial budgets.

BUT, have you considered if your program is leveraging the human dynamics that are at work in your culture?  Are your programs targeting the right behaviors and tapping into the right human motivational drives? These human factors are the keystone to acceptance, performance, and ultimately success. Remove that keystone, or design it improperly, and the pillars come crashing down.

Image: Designing with human factors v.s Designing without human factors.

Let’s look at a quick case study to see how human dynamics impact your programs. We recently partnered with BehaviorAlchemy to complete a total rewards audit for a large international pharmaceutical sales organization. It is important to note that when we complete a rewards audit, we don’t just look at the program itself, we look at the human elements that it impacts. It’s not just about the numbers, although we do analyze those, it’s also about the behaviors.

For this project, we were tasked with determining why the company’s current total rewards structure was not hitting the mark when it came to field buy-in and performance.

Our behavioral reward audit process involved qualitative interviews with senior leadership to explore the key strategic aspects that are needed moving forward.  We then conducted a series of focus groups with field managers and sales representatives from across the organization. These focus groups were used to access the perceptions of the field and understand how the current reward framework drove attitudes and behaviors. In addition to the focus groups, we conducted several one-on-one phone interviews with the field and other key stakeholders in order to deeper explore some of the insights we uncovered from the focus groups.  Finally, we analyzed this data using a behavioral lens to see how we could improve or change the various reward components to drive greater engagement, motivation and ultimately performance.

What we anticipated what was that there would be an issue with the incentive design itself.

What we learned was that there were much larger issues at play. Concerns around organizational trust, organizational mission and vision, leadership, goal allocation biases, and communication that took an otherwise well-designed program and squeezed the life out of it. The interpretation of the plan was negatively impacted by an overall lack of trust in leadership and corporate culture.

Because we sifted past the purely tangible elements of the program and folded back the behavioral layers, we were able to learn that the issues the company was experiencing went well beyond the program design and the rejection was amplified based on complex human elements derived from issued within the corporate structure.

Now you’re probably wondering, how do you fix this? Understanding the problem is only a small part of the battle. The short answer is shameless self-promotion – let us audit and fix it for you! The long answer – communication, communication, communication, and did I mention… communication? In more complexity, it is a combination of things that can include design, training, structure, culture, understanding where your toxic roots are and removing them, and more – but communication is the most often overlooked and the biggest “bang for your buck” place to start.

Communication is the bridge between leadership/the company (in this case you) and your team. It’s simple – if that bridge is poorly constructed, your employees are not going to want to cross it. They will stay on the other side amongst themselves and there will be a lack of trust and acceptance in the programs that the bridge connects them to.

Often companies overlook this simple concept – allocate more budget toward building that bridge the right way, and you will often see a big return in your program’s effectiveness. So, what is the forgotten key line item that should always be considered when building your total rewards budgets? You guessed it – communication!

A story is only as good as its delivery. Your total rewards programs are the same.

Reach out now to understand what the appropriate budget for communications should be, or for help in auditing and communicating your reward programs.

Lessons from Duarte Design’s “A Visual Workshop”

The Lantern Group recently had the pleasure of attending one of Nancy Duarte’s workshops in Santa Clara, CA – led by facilitator Mike Pacchione. The workshop was a one-day event called “A Visual Story” and focused on how to design and deliver persuasive presentations.

For those who are unfamiliar; Nancy Duarte is the founder of Duarte Design, a TED Talk speaker, and a leader in presentation design. Duarte Design is a consulting agency that specializes in “all things presentations”.

The workshop attendees were a fun mix – including representatives from Google, Facebook, and Apple, as well as local elementary school teachers, communications specialists, and graphic designers – all seeking ways to improve the way they give presentations.

At the Lantern Group, we are consistently looking for ways to expand our client services and drive value in our communications, as such, we attended to see if we could improve the design and storytelling aspects of our Behavioral Communications.

We believe that quality design combined with insights from the world of behavioral science is the key to creating powerful communications that drive employee behavior. Here are the top 5 things we learned from this fantastic workshop

1. Almost all great presentations look the same. Sounds odd right? Well let’s look. Nancy examined the top presentations of all time, including Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” and Ronald Reagan’s post-Challenger disaster address to the nation, among hundreds of others. In examining the structure, she found that they pretty much all looked like this1:

So, what does that mean? Let’s break it down:

First, the story is told as a series of “what is” and “what could be” scenarios. These scenarios help build conflict along with solutions and keep the audience engaged.

Secondly, these presentations use three parts to structure that series – the same three parts that make up great stories. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

The beginning should be used to set the stage. You should put yourself in the audience’s shoes and introduce a problem (“what is”), in story format, that explains the current situation as the audience knows it. You should then introduce a “what could be” that shows a future-state, the result of your intended proposal. The gap between the current state and the future state should make up the bulk of your presentation – this is the middle. The middle should be back and forth dynamic between “what is” and “what could be’s”, laying out the steps to get to the desired solution you introduced in the beginning.

Note: The biggest mistake in the middle that has been observed is that we provide one short current scenario followed by one long solution, this does not create a dynamic story that engages the audience and keeps them captivated – many presentations are simply the beginning section of the persuasive story diagram with a drawn out “what could be”.

Finally, the end. After laying out the final “what is” scenario, you need to wrap up the presentation in the ending in an engaging manner. Nancy refers to this final take away as the “New Bliss” – or simply stated “an inspiring call to action”. Give your audience a clear action and give them a reason to want to do it! Think – “do this, get that”.

2. Let your imagination go wild (and then reel it in). When asked to draw a picture of another person, a child typically does so without asking and is not ashamed of the outcome. When an adult is asked to do the same they tend to hesitate, apologize for the outcome, or even refuse to show the finished product to the subject. Why is this? Simple – the child is not overthinking it, they have not let their imagination be squandered by years of social norms. This is a fun one – when planning your presentation: be a child, let go of the social norms, ignore the “that’s dumb” impulse, and run with whatever jumps into your head. Once you have the wildest and wackiest ideas on the table, you can then let your “adult kick in” and streamline the content into an acceptable format. Some of our best ideas can come out by letting your brain go. One method of this that is recommended by Duarte is “word mapping”. Write down a word and then spend a few minutes writing every association and sub-association you can think of. This can be a fantastic way to break out of the typical word choices or associative image choices and icons that drown presentation’s today.

3. Understand your audience. Conduct an audience analysis – put yourself in their shoes. Duarte recommends asking yourself: “What makes them tick? What does the world look like from their eyes? Why are they here? What are they like? What is it you are asking them to do? How might the resist your proposal?” You need to be able to understand and speak to your audience if you want them to be engaged. In addition to understanding them, you need to be able to find common ground between yourself and the audience to properly connect with them.

4. Map your story. Story mapping is a way of laying out your presentation’s structure to align with the “persuasive story pattern”. Write down the “big ideas” the “what is” states, the “what could be” states, and as Duarte explains “any steps needed to bridge that gap, any resistance the audience might have, any tools they will need to make that happen, and the calls to action you will need them to enact.”

Next, organize these notes into the pattern of “Beginning, Middle, End”. Duarte recommends using post-it notes – however in the spirit of our workshops “Use Your Style” and “Igniting Change”, we would recommend using whatever system works for you in your flow state.

5. Use one slide for one idea. Now that it’s time to build your presentation, keep it simple. Use one slide for every idea you are presenting, cramming too much information onto a page will confuse and dis-engage your audience.

At the Lantern Group, we are huge fans of mitigating cognitive load – we have said it a million times “white space is good!” so this concept really speaks to us. It is better to have fifty slides that move at a quicker pace and keep your audience engaged and informed than it is to have five slides to cover the same length of time, leaving your audience bored, mentally exhausted and confused.

Overall, we would highly recommend participating in one of Duarte’s workshops. If you would like to attend one of the workshops yourself check them out here.

If you would like to combine these ideas with cutting edge behavioral science to maximize the value of your employee communications – email us now!


  1. Duarte, Nancy. (year, month day). Structure Your Presentation Like a Story. https://hbr.org/



Behavioral Grooves – Coming to a City Near You

For those of you who don’t know, The Behavioral Grooves is both a meetup and a podcast – sort of like a breakfast cereal and an energy drink at the same time.

Kurt Nelson, PhD and Tim Houlihan, Behavioral Alchemist founded the Behavioral Grooves as a non-profit organization to share their enthusiasm for the application of behavioral sciences with a wider audience.

Read along for a brief overview by Tim as he takes us on a ride through the experience:

Day 1: The Minneapolis Meetup

The first iteration of the Behavioral Grooves was the Minneapolis meetup. We gathered 25 people in a pub in Minneapolis to have a little social/networking time, an 18-minute presentation by a speaker, and about 45 minutes of table discussions based on cues from the speaker.

It went well. Really well, to be honest. Everyone walked away invigorated and asking for more. So, we did it again. And again. And again. At this writing, we have held a Behavioral Grooves meetup on the Third Thursday of almost every month since we launched in August 2017.

Day 2: The Podcast

We soon realized that a once-a-month meetup in Minneapolis was not enough. The list of academics and practitioners that we wanted to have in front of our group was stretching out into the year 2029 at this rate. We needed an alternative means of sharing ideas. The podcast was born.

The Behavioral Grooves podcast was launched in December 2017 and we already have listeners in 54 countries! We’ve interviewed guests across the United States, India, Sweden, England, Denmark and Kenya. We also have plans to interview practitioners and academics from Australia in the coming weeks.

The podcast is a long-form informal discussion that comprises of three key parts:

  1. The introduction. Kurt and I tee up the podcast with an introduction of our speaker and highlight key elements of the interview. This is just a couple of minutes.
  2. The interview. As much as is technically possible, we try to ensure that our podcast interviews are published uncut an unedited. The interviews last between 20 and 40 minutes.
  3. The grooving session. Following the interview, Kurt and I groove on the key points that struck us during the interview. We might ramble a bit here or explore rabbit holes that, at the moment, feel like they need to be explored. Our grooving session lasts about 10 – 20 minutes.

Day 3: The World

The podcast opened up all sorts of questions about personal appearances, the Behavioral Grooves Meetup is going on the road.

In April, we held a Behavioral Grooves Meetup in St. Louis at Cortex, the technology barn in the heart of the city’s innovation centers between St. Louis University and Washington University.

In May, we’re holding a meetup in Dallas to coincide with Kurt’s and my presentation at World at Work. (Date = May 22nd, Time = 5:30pm, Location = Del Rio Room at the Gaylord Texan Resort in Grapevine, Texas)

In June, we’re headed to Chicago – date and location TBD.

What’s Next?

Want to get involved? Interested in hosting or sponsoring a meetup in your town? Give us a shout – we’d be happy to have a conversation about it.

The Behavioral Science of Socks!

Socks – really?

No, this isn’t one of those government studies where you wonder how it ever got approved (i.e., how long can shrimp run on a treadmill or does playing FarmVille on Facebook help people to make friends and keep them?*).

Socks and behavioral science. The two do not seem to fit together, yet I consistently use my socks as a personal behavioral modification tool.

Here’s how.

I have a penchant for different types of imaginative socks.  It started 11 years ago, when one of our Au Pairs from Poland gave me a pair of very colorful, bright blue and green striped socks for Christmas.  Before that, I was a bland brown and black sock kind of guy.

But I liked wearing the colorful socks she gave me – I always seemed to smile when I put them on in the morning.

As the years went by my colorful sock collection grew, both through my own purchases and through gifts from family and friends.  As I collected more socks, they began to go beyond wild colors. They started to have pictures and statements –  I had green socks with little footballs on them, red socks from Canada with drawings of little beavers on them.  My kids even got me a pair of “I’m kind of a big Dill” socks with a picture of a large dill pickle on them. I often can’t distinguish my Thomas Jefferson socks with my “the Thinker” socks (that have an outline of the Rodin’s famous thinker) when they are folded up in my sock drawer.

As my collection grew, there were three pairs that have led to my belief that something as simple as socks can be used as a powerful behavioral hack.

The first are my Einstein socks.  These black socks feature colorful caricatures of Einstein with wild colored hair.

The second are my blue socks – punctuated by menacing sharks.   

The final pair are my unicorn/ narwhal socks, emblazoned with unicorns battling narwhals horn-to-horn.   

I’m not sure when it started, but over time I realized that I was wearing each of these socks on specific days to help build and sustain a mindset for myself.

Mindset and Socks

On days when I thought that I needed to be particularly smart, I would put on my Einstein socks.  If I was giving a presentation, needing to do an analysis of research data or brainstorm ideas with a client, I would purposefully put these on in the morning.  They framed the day, acting as a gentle reminder. Whenever I looked at them that I was smart and ready to refocus my energy.

The shark socks were worn on days when I needed to be tough and direct.  If I was working on a contract or in need of a tough conversation with a client or employee, I would pull out the shark socks.

Finally, the unicorn/narwhal socks were used when I thought I needed a little bit of magic in my life.  When I needed to feel lucky -the days I had a meeting with a new potential client or when I was flying.

The interesting thing is that each day I wore the different socks, I had a different attitude., I exhibited different behaviors.

I started to wonder:  was this just me, or if was there something more to this?


So, I looked for some research.

Alas, there was no research on “socks’ impact on behavior” that I could find (if anybody knows of any, please let me know).

However, there was plenty of research on the effects of attentional selection, pre-loaded associations, influence cues, and priming.  These psychological components have been shown to influence our behaviors – often without us being aware of their influence.

Robert Cialdini, one of the preeminent researchers on influence, says this in his book Pre-suasion, “…exposure either to simple words or simple images can have a pre-suasive impact on later actions that are merely associated with the words or images.”  He uses an example where fundraisers who were raising funds for a local university were placed into one of two groups.  Before their shift, each group was given a sheet of paper with information “designed to help them communicate the value of contributing to the cause.”  The only difference was that one group received the information on a plain sheet of paper while the other group got the information on a piece of paper with a watermarked photo of a runner winning a race.   

We would think that this difference would have no or little impact on performance, the information is the same for both, yet those with the picture had 60% more donations than their non-picture counterparts.

Another example, this one that shows how priming can influence behavior was done by Bargh, Chen, and Burrows (1996).  In their study, Bargh et al., primed people with words that were related to being old.  When they subsequently measured their walking speed, the people primed with old age words walked slower than those who had not.

Dijksterhuis and van Knippernberg, two Dutch researchers did an experiment similar, but this time, using a quiz and priming people either to think of the attributes of “professors” or “soccer hooligans.”  They found that those participants primed to think about the attributes of a professor answered more general knowledge questions correctly (mean score of 23.4 out of 42) than the soccer hooligan primed participants (mean score of 17.9 out of 42).**

Back to socks

In essence, the socks I wear prime my behavior.

Because I have a pre-association of Einstein with “smart” or sharks with “mean” – they have primed my mind to respond in this way.  They also act as a vivid reminder of my intentions, refocusing my thoughts throughout the day whenever I catch sight of them.

Now does this mean that I’m a completely different person when I wear different socks?

No.  I’m not a completely different person.  My behavior is going to typically fluctuate around some behavioral norm that is my baseline.  This norm is based on a number of factors that impact me including things such as the weather, how well I slept, what others in the room are doing, how I feel, etc.

But at some level, the socks I choose are having an influence on me.  They nudge me to behave in a manner based on the association that I have with them.  It may be a slight change in my behavior, but that slight change could have large impacts on the overall outcome of my day.

A word of caution, you better be careful if you are playing a game of trivial pursuit with me and I am wearing my new Einstein socks.  You’ve been warned!


Bargh JA, Chen M, Burrows L (1996) Automaticity of social behavior: direct effects of trait construct and stereotype-activation on action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 71: 230–244.

Cialdini, R. B., (2016) Pre-fluence: a revolutionary way to influence and persuade.  Simon & Shuster, New York, NY.

Dijksterhuis, A., & Knippenberg, A.V. (1998). The relation between perception and behavior, or how to win a game of trivial pursuit. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74(4), 865-877.

Other stuff

*I think that these studies get a bad wrap because the researchers do a horrible job of explaining what their study is about.  For instance, the shrimp treadmill study looked at how long shrimp would move on the treadmill in different water pollution conditions – trying to understand the impact that pollution had on their ability to flee predators and thus help predict how this would impact shrimp farmers in the future.  

**Many priming studies, like a lot of psychological studies, have a hard time being replicated.  The studies listed here have a mixed bag in the replication world – with some replication studies finding the priming effect and others not.  As with all research, we need to be careful in how we interpret their findings and how we apply those findings – often, the specific nature of the research isn’t easily generalized to other situations.  Unless we are talking about socks with images on them – then we know the applications hold true




Engaging Your Sales Force With Direct Mail

In today’s hyperconnected technology-driven world, it can be easy to overlook the simple time-tested solutions of the past. This holds true for communicating with and motivating your sales force.

With the consistent advent of new communications, new sciences, and new methodologies – shaking things up with a new (old) method can be a refreshing way to tap into your teams’ motivators.

Let’s take a little step back in time and talk about direct mail. Simple, well designed, customized mailers that tap into key behavioral insights can be just as effective as the newest technologies or communication tools when utilized correctly.

Think about it, we are flooded with messaging all day every day – both personal and business. With each organizational department trying to get their message out on top of that, it can be hard to manage all of the information. Technology can get lost in the fray, but unexpected personalized direct mail can disrupt the norm and grab back that attention. Combine this with behavioral science and you have a simple yet powerful tool.

Let’s take a look at an example, a postcard series we designed to help top achievers keep achieving and to nudge bottom achievers to end the plan period on a high note.

One customized to a high performer:

And one customized to a moderate performer:

While these may seem simple, there are some key behavioral insights that are being strategically targeted to drive performance.

In both versions we utilize:

  • Idiosyncratic Fit: We have higher motivation if we think that a program is customized to us. By adding the employee’s name, stats, and a customized message to help them improve we tap into this drive. Each message is framed for the greatest impact based on their performance and adding the physical component of the postcard further personalizes it.
  • Social Proof: We look to others to see how we should behave. There are two elements at play here. One: the messaging addresses the performance of their peers, pushing them to stay with or ahead of the pack. Two: this can be shared with a spouse, partner, or family member who can provide an additional level of support – for example, the reminder of a chance to partake in an awards trip with a partner can be very impactful.

Now, note that in the high performer card we tap into:

  • Loss Aversion: The pain of loss is greater than the pleasure of a similar gain. For high performers, the idea of having something valuable and then losing it is far more motivating than a “carrot” on a string.

And in the average performer card we use:

  • Gain Messaging: Framing the statement to focus on what can be gained from increased performance. With the moderate performers, where the perception is that there is more to be gained than lost, the gain messaging can drive a higher participation rate.

Try this with your sales force or reach out now for help customizing and implementing this simple, effective technique within your team!




Behavioral Grooves

Back in September,  I partnered with Tim Houlihan to start “a monthly gathering of curious minds” which we called Behavioral Grooves.  We thought it would be interesting to get like-minded people together to talk about applying behavioral science to life and work.

We had no idea if others would be interested in this…

We announced the meetup and were hoping to get at least a few of the friends that we had contacted to show up.  We ended up with 24 people for that first session where we talked about habits – how they are formed and what people can do to improve them.

We were thrilled!

From there, it took off.  We have over 180 members signed up to our meetup group and it is growing fast.  We have had three monthly sessions as of early January 2018 and our fourth is lined up for two weeks from today.  We have over 20 people who have made it to two or more of the sessions.

I guess we struck a nerve.

For our second session, we invited Professor James Heyman to speak and thought, hey, since he’s here, why don’t we interview him and make a podcast out of it.  Thus, our Behavioral Grooves podcast was born.  Tim and I both loved that so much that we decided that we didn’t want to wait for the next Behavioral Grooves session to record our next one – so we started to invite people and interview them – both live and over the internet.

To date, we have seven interviews recorded and three more in the works.  These podcasts mirror the Behavioral Grooves sessions in that they are conversational in nature where we geek out over behavioral science and how we can apply behavioral science insights into our daily work and lives.

They have been a blast!

In reflecting on this, it appears to me that these two outlets provide us with a way of both learning and sharing.  We want to be advocates for good, ethical use of behavioral science.  We believe that there is much to learn and we can improve our work and lives by understanding and by applying these principles in a thoughtful and deliberate manner.

We also realized that we love the community that this is creating.  A community of curious minds who are interested in science and the application of that science.  A community of people that we can bounce ideas off of.  A community of people that can push us to think about things from new perspectives.

This is ultimately what we have been building and hope that it grows and provides a place and outlet for others, as well as ourselves.

If you are ever in Minneapolis on the third Thursday of the month – please come and join us at our meetup (find out more info here) and if you can’t make that, please listen in to our podcasts (click here to find the latest).

Come and join our community of curious minds!



IC Managers – was your 2018 plan launch effective?

As an IC Director or an IC Manager, a lot of responsibility falls on your shoulders to drive performance, build motivation, and clearly communicate the new IC plan. 

So, you just finalized and launched your 2018 IC plans, but its not over yet! With the first plan period kicking off and the second just around the corner, it’s time to see how they were received by the field, if the communications used to deliver them were effective and if they are driving the right behaviors amongst your sales force.

With over 20 years of successfully communicating incentive plans, we have learned a lot.

One of the most valuable lessons has been that a plan is only as good as the communications used to deliver it. If your sales team does not understand their plan then they are less likely to accept it, less like to trust it, and less likely to leverage its power to drive sales. This can lead to diminished performance and frustrations amongst the field.

Now is a valuable time to ask yourself:

  • Are your 2018 incentives driving the right behaviors in your sales force?
  • Were they communicated in a way that drives understanding, buy-in, and value?

Think of it this way: you can design the best performance jet in the world but if people don’t understand how to fly it, that jet isn’t going to get them anywhere.

It’s not too late to ensure your 2018 plans are understood. Every plan period is a new opportunity to dial your plans in towards field buy-in and increased sales. In fact – now is the ideal time to conduct an audit and see what is and is not working.

So how do you ensure that your plans are understood and that they drive the behaviors that mean success for your sales team, your organization, and yourself?

Leverage behavioral science!

Behavioral sciences such as psychology, sociology, and behavioral economics help improve organizational communication and drive both action and behavior change. These cutting-edge scientific concepts are currently being used heavily in consumer marketing with positive results – and now they are being implemented by many companies as part of their internal employee communications. Behavioral science can help you communicate your plan to drive greater buy-in, increase motivation, and get your sales representatives to change their behaviors.

At the Lantern Group, we conduct field audits to understand what the sales force thinks of the plan and how well they understand it. We also combine modern graphic design with behavioral science to help you craft IC communications that get results.  We have designed communications for thousands of incentive plans and helped many companies achieve success. Let us help you!

Email us at behavior@lanterngroup.com with the subject “Free IC Webinar” and we will set up a free 1-hour workshop personalized to you and your plans!

We will also include a free white paper that dives deeper into how behavioral science can optimize the power of your communications. Click to learn more or reach out now!

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