Category: Change (Page 1 of 2)

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.

Conclusion

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. 

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?

Research

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!

References:

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

 

 

 

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!

Thanks!

Kurt

Change is hard

So how hard is it to change?

Be prepared, the following statistics are not going to leave you with a whole lot of confidence in our ability to change as humans.  This is not the warm fuzzy blog telling you how easy it is to change.  It is, however, important to look at the world empirically and without rose colored glasses.   We need to understand the reality that we face when we are trying to change or achieve a goal.

So here we go…some change statistics:

  • On average, addicts need to go through treatment four times before the stay sober
  • According to a study by the University of Scranton, only 9% of New Year’s resolutions are achieved, which means that 91% of people fail at achieving those resolutions. Most New Year’s resolutions don’t last more than two-weeks (i.e., January 15th).
  • In a large study with patients with a severe cardiovascular trauma, patients were informed by their doctors that they needed to alter their eating, exercise, stress and alcohol habits or face continuing issues or possibly even death. After 2 years, only 11% of patients fully complied with their doctor’s recommendations.
  • It is often reported that 95% of dieters regain the weight they lost over a five-year period. This comes from a 1959 study by Dr. Albert Stunkard and Mavis McLaren-Hume.  More recent studies show a more favorable outcome, but not by much.  Kraschnewski et. al., found that only 17.6% of obese dieters were able to maintain a 10% weight loss after one year.
  • 90% of Americans don’t have written goals.
  • 94% of teen drivers acknowledge the dangers of texting and driving, but 35% admitted to doing it anyway.  How many teens text and just didn’t admit it?
  • Medicine adherence – only 70% of all prescriptions are filled, and only 30% are ever refilled.

The statistics do not paint a convincing picture about our ability to change.  It appears that we fail more than we succeed.

Yet, we keep trying.  Why?

I believe that it is because, within each of these figures, there is some hope; there are some people who do succeed.

We see the success stories.

We hear about them.

From time to time, we’ve been them.

Change, either purposeful or not purposeful, does happen.

Dan Gilbert of Harvard talks about how when you look back at who you were 10 years ago, you see how much you’ve changed.   He states that for most people that change is significant, regardless of your age.  We change the things we do, where we go, who we hang out with, what we work on and what we care about.  We tend to think that once we reach a certain age that we’ve stopped changing or growing.  Dr. Gilbert’s research shows that while we realize the change that takes place in the short-term when we look back long enough, we realize that we have changed a ton.

Take a moment to think about yourself 10 years ago – and then think about all the things in your life that have changed and how you’ve changed with them.

See, change is possible. I would argue that it is inevitable.  We are changing all the time.  It is just a matter of influencing how we approach that change and making sure that you are changing in ways that you want.

You should be the director of your life.

You determine where you want to go and how you are going to achieve it.  Change that is left up to chance or the whims of the universe can sometimes be great, but often, we are left worse for the wear.   Change that is directed by you can help you achieve your dreams.

It might not be easy, but change does happen.

So go for it!

Take the time to work on who you are and your goals.  Figure out what you need to change to achieve them.  It might be hard, but you can do it.

  •  Make sure that you enable your emotions for the change and embrace the need for change beyond just your rational self.
  • Take time to think about how you will overcome the obstacles that stand in your way.
  • Figure out how to harness the habits that you will need to sustain the change.
  • Enable your environment to make staying on course is easier.
  • Enlist support from your social network and use that power to help keep you on task.
  • Make sure that you plot your progress so that you can celebrate the milestones along your change journey.

Change might be hard…but that makes it all the sweeter when you achieve it!

Behavioral Science & Graphic Design

By pure definition graphic design and behavioral science may seem like two very different areas of study with very little connection to each other.

  • Graphic design is defined as: The art and profession of visual communication that combines images, words, and ideas to convey information to an audience to produce a specific effect.
  • Behavioral science is defined as: The branches of science (such as psychology, sociology, economics or anthropology) that deals primarily with human action and often seeks to generalize human behavior in society.

However, by utilizing behavioral science principles when practicing graphic design, the result is a more cohesive, higher quality design.

Your design not only looks good, but can increase the impact of the message you are presenting and drive the behaviors of the audience. In fact, many marketing firms and advertising agencies are already utilizing these concepts in their designs to increase the effectiveness of everything from how you shop to what you buy, how you perceive a product or idea and much more. These trailblazing concepts are shaping the world around you and by utilizing them in your own designs you can drive the level of impact you are having when you communicate to the next level.

Here are two ways YOU can start using behavioral science RIGHT NOW to optimize the impact of your designs and join the growing list of professionals who are moving toward the new standard in design.


Reduce Cognitive Load

Let’s talk about cognitive load, the power of simplicity and how it can increase understanding.

Cognitive load refers to the total amount of mental effort being used in  working memory. Rationally, we would think that the more information that a person is given, the better informed they would be; therefore they would make more sound decisions. However, this is not typically the case.

People can become overloaded with information and it doesn’t always provide optimal outcomes.

For instance, if we are trying to present the high-level concept of the 4-Drive Model of Employee Motivation, let’s take a look at these two images:

cognitive-load-1cognitive-load-2

How long did it take you to understand the concept being presented in the first image? How about the second?

The simplicity of the second allows the brain to focus immediately on what’s important.

The first image is hectic, unorganized and does not allow you to focus in on the key concepts being presented. It is important to design so that you present the most important concepts and key takeaways in an easy to understand manner that does not get lost in the ‘fluff’.

In many cases, less really is more when it comes to making sure your audience interprets the message you are trying to convey.

Think of a billboard – you are cruising by at 65 mph (well probably 80 but I’m not supposed to be promoting speeding over here, let’s focus on design and the human brain)… you are cruising by at 65 mph, you glance up to see something that catches your eye but you have very little time to interpret the message.

With this in mind, the designer needs to ensure that the most important and key message jumps out and stays with you. Ask yourself when creating your design, what do I want my audience to understand IMMEDIATELY? Design around that intent and allow the rest of the design to compliment it without taking away from the main point.

So how can you reduce cognitive load in your designs and maximize the impact of the content and messaging? Remember:

key-callouts

Simplify and reduce.
Do you absolutely need to convey that information at this time?

White space is good
Fill the page with too much information and the brain can become overloaded.

callouts

Visuals.png

 

Visually represent your ideas.
Visually representing information in an info-graphic or diagram can significantly reduce cognitive load.

 


Build Consistency and a Strong Identity with The Power of Branding

Creating a consistent brand, look & feel and color pallet within your design helps the audience link to understanding. If your design is part of a larger project, communication or campaign, utilizing a brand throughout the individual pieces creates a mental stamp for the audience to connect the pieces within that campaign.

At the Lantern Group, we have done a significant amount of work in the area of incentive compensation communications. With every client and project that we work on we start with one thing: establishing a brand and a look and feel for the campaign that we will utilize throughout every part of the project.

What we are achieving by doing this is establishing the expectation with our audience that when they see that brand their brain automatically connects it to the content and concept.

branding-and-understanding

Additionally, this can drive increased understanding – seeing that brand can help the user (often subconsciously) trigger what they have already learned in previous communications. These cues and reminders help provide a more immediate understanding of what the content will be and can lay out much of the legwork to capture the audience for you.

Let’s go back to the highway – you are cruising along at 65 mph (I’m willing to bet you think this is a wisecrack about speeding before you even read it, why? Because it feels the same as the previous comment)…

Anyways, you see a large yellow “M” – the golden arches. There is a good chance you already know what the golden arches represent without even needing to see the name of the establishment. The brand is so ingrained in your mind that the link to what you are seeing and what it represents become automatic (a strong established brand).

This same concept can be applied to communications and graphic design!

Now let’s go even further, there is also a good chance that you can remember what that restaurant will look like, what is on the menu, how the ordering process works,  etc. The cue has been planted with the yellow “M” and your brain connects the pieces.

Now incentive communications may not be as exciting as a Big Mac, a milkshake, and some fries BUT we can create that same visual cue through a strong brand and increase the power of the information we are presenting.  We are allowing our incentive brand to initiate the understanding amongst our audience every time we send out a communication.

You too can have that same impact on your audience when communicating the information you need to get across, the advertisement you are creating, or the logo you are designing by establishing a strong brand.

We hope this has helped you begin to understand the benefits of applying behavioral science to your designs. Next time you begin a design start by establishing a strong brand and evaluating exactly what NEEDS to be portrayed to reduce cognitive load so you can redefine yourself as a behavioral graphic designer.

  • Behavioral graphic design is defined as: The profession of visual communication that applies scientific principles dealing primarily with human behavior to the art of combining images, words, and ideas to convey information to an audience and drive human behavior.

This has been just the tip of the iceberg, there are many more ways in which we can apply behavioral science to graphic design to optimize the impact is has. If you want more information on how those ideas are being used by the leading companies in the world, join us – click the links below to follow!

 

 

Don’t Be A Communications Relic – Using behavioral science to make communications more effective

Communication Relic - LGWant to make communications more effective – use behavioral science

Over the past few years, we have seen a shift in how organizations value their internal communications.  In the past, employee focused communications were often an afterthought.  Companies would spend significant time, effort and money on developing out their incentive plans, making sure they were designed to drive the right behaviors and performance, only to communicate it to the field in an e-mail with a 30-page, single-spaced legal contract attached.

Thankfully, this is starting to change.

Today, organizations realize that they need to invest time and resources into their internal communications to optimize their value and impact.  As companies make this investment we are seeing a significant improvement in the design and visual appeal of internal communications – from incentive compensation to benefits to operations; the production value of employee communications has risen.

However, merely making a communication look pretty and appealing isn’t sufficient in today’s hyper-competitive world.  Organizations need their communications not just to inform, but also to spur new behavior and actions.

When companies communicate about programs that require employee action, they often only see a small change in employee behaviors (or no change at all) – even when these actions have clear benefits for the employee (i.e., increasing their contribution to their 401K plan, using a flexible health care spending account, or changing their selling behavior to align with the new incentive plan to maximize their own earnings).

This is where behavioral science comes in.

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 to achieve similar results inside the company.

Read further to make sure that you’re not being left behind. 

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Moving Past Disappointment Peak

Disappointment Peak

In 1925, four climbers, led by Phil Smith, ventured north from Colorado to Jackson Hole, Wyoming to attempt to climb “The Grand Teton” mountain in the Teton Range.*  The Grand had been summited before, but these four climbers were coming at it from a different route, one that had not yet been explored.  From the valley floor of Jackson Hole it looked like they would have a relatively straight ascent to the peak.

The four climbers set out with high expectations of being the first to chart this new route.  As they progressed up the mountain, it looked like they were getting closer and closer to the summit.  One can imagine their feeling that this goal was within easy reach.  That is until they came up to the top of what they thought was a ridge.  To their dismay, instead of it being another ridge, it was the peak of an entirely different mountain.  The Grand was almost a mile away with a sheer 450-foot drop to the saddle between the peaks.  The four, not wanting to give up,  attempted to rappel down the face of the cliff.  They realized that it was too hard and too dangerous, so they gave up and headed back to Jackson Hole.

Before they left, they named this new summit point, Disappointment Peak.

It is not only climbers who run into disappointment peaks.  We often fall victim to this same dismay when we realize that the goal that we had set out to achieve is harder, will take longer, requires more resources or effort than we first envisioned.

Often, we too give up.

Our illusions

The four mountaineers had fallen victim to an optical illusion of the Grand.  When standing in the Jackson Hole valley if you look directly at the mountain, it seems as if Disappointment Peak is just part of the Grand.  The two peaks appear to be one and the same (see image).

Disappointment Peak

Cannot Discern Disappointment Peak Elevation 11,618

One of the elements of successful change is being able to anticipate how you are going to achieve that change.  We like to plot out the steps that we need to make in order to reach our goal.

The problem comes in when we encounter our own mental illusions – when we think that the goal is much closer or easier than it really is.

One thing that both psychology and behavioral economics have shown us is that as humans, we are really good at self-deception.  We have a number of innate biases that affect our belief formation and influence our thinking – from confirmation biases, base rate fallacies, availability heuristics, gambler’s fallacies, control illusion, and my favorite, the Dunning-Kruger effect (The tendency for unskilled individuals to overestimate their own ability).

Generally, we are overconfident in our abilities and underappreciate the difficulty that is required to achieve change.

These mental illusions set us up.

When our expectations of what this goal is going to cost us in terms of time, effort, energy, and resources does not match with reality and when we realize the summit is much further away than we thought – we become disappointed as well.

  • We are doing great on our diet and losing weight weekly until we hit that plateau and can’t seem to lose those last 15 pounds.
  • The first three chapters of the book flowed smoothly, but we now are encountering writers block and can’t even complete the first paragraph of the fourth chapter.
  • We stopped smoking for five weeks until that project at work stressed us out and we needed something to calm our nerves.
  • We had achieved our goal of making ten cold calls a day for the two weeks but felt dejected that we had not had one sale from those encounters.

Moreover, just like Phil Smith and his companions, we can see the peak in the distance, but can’t seem to rappel down that cliff that is between us and the summit.

Three things to do when you reach your disappointment peak

We cannot always find a way to keep trekking on and reach our goals, but here are a few things to try:

Step back and look for new routes.

Over the years we have conducted a team building event called the electronic maze (see 5 lessons from the maze).  Envision a giant chess board comprised of 54 squares, where some squares beep and others do not, and teams are trying to get from one side to the other stepping only on non-beeping squares. Maze Route

At one point in their journey through the maze, people tend to get stuck and keep running into beeping squares as they move forward to the other side.  The path goes backward here – but EVERY TEAM we have ever worked with has repeatedly stepped on one or more of the “beeping” squares that are in front of them.  Even after repeated failed attempts stepping on the same beeping squares over and over, they cannot fathom that if they just take a step backward, they will ultimately move forward.

Sometimes we just need to look around and see if there is a different path to our goal.

Find new tools/knowledge.

Do you have the right equipment to overcome your obstacles?  Phil and his team attempted to rappel down the cliff and felt it too dangerous.  Today, many climbers specifically go to climb and rappel down that very cliff.  The equipment and knowledge that people have today are much better than what they had 90 years ago.  Are there new or different tools that you could use to overcome your road block?  Would additional knowledge help you in continuing your journey?

Push on through.

Sometimes we just have to grit our teeth and power on through.  As Dory says, “Just keep swimming.  Just keep swimming.”  There are many times when we reach a point of dismay and our mental energy and enthusiasm collapse because it is going to be longer or harder than we thought.

If the goal is important, then sometimes the best solution is to continue to trudge on.  We can think of this as applying Newton’s first law of motion, “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.” (NASA.com)  Our movement towards the goal has stopped, so we need to apply an unbalanced force upon it to get it moving again.

Plan ahead for obstacles.

Just because our mental illusions often trick us, does not mean that we will always be fooled by them.  Before beginning our journey, we can carefully map out the process and try to visualize what potential roadblocks we could encounter.  That process helps prepare us for when we do run into an issue.  In other words, we have primed ourselves and our expectations so that dismay will not fully knock us off our course.  Specifically, we should be asking ourselves:

  • What might happen that could derail the journey
  • What are external forces that could impact this process
  • What are internal forces that could affect this process
  • If we run into one of these obstacles, how will we approach it (“If ________ happens, then we will do __________.”)

We should also tap into our social networks and see if other people we know gone through this process or attempted this change.  These people can be our mentors and help work through with us some of the unforeseen obstacles that we had not thought about.  Their experience and knowledge can not only help identify potential barriers and how to overcome them but also might point us on a route that avoids those obstacles altogether.

Reexamine your goal.

Lastly, reexamine your goal.  Is it worth the effort, time and trouble that it will now take you to achieve?  If it is, keep going for it.  But don’t just blindly go on just because you started.  Climbers too often focus on reaching the summit at peril to their own lives.  Ed Viesturs, renowned mountaineer and bestselling author who’s summited Everest seven times says, “I’ve always had this motto that climbing has to be a round trip. I’ve always understood that getting off the mountain was more important than getting to the top…It’s OK. It’s not a failure…If you’re rushing, if you’re thinking it has to happen today, then you’re going to make bad decisions.” (Time.com) Sometimes it is ok to stop and say, not today.  I’ll try this some other time when conditions are better, or I’m in a better spot.

 

*A common mistake is for people to call the Teton Range “The Grand Tetons.” The Grand Teton is a single mountain while the mountain range’s proper name is “the Tetons” or “the Teton range.”

**Thanks to Michael Anschel for introducing me to the story of Disappointment Peak.

A bike, some lights and motivation: what a stationary bike hooked up to an LED panel of lights can teach us about motivation!

Kurt Nelson, PhD and Ben Granlund

IMG_4449

As part of our exhibit booth at the World at Work 2016 Total Rewards Conference, we designed a method for giving away our promotional t-shirts that simultaneously acted as an experiment to help us understand what motivates people.

What we found out was intriguing and reinforces some key behavioral insights about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, recognizing accomplishments and having specific goals.

Our process involved a stationary bike that was hooked up to a bank of LED lights1 – the faster and longer you peddled, the more lights lit up, sounds basic enough right?

The six LED light panels set up on a vertical pole that lit up from the bottom to the top – once all six lights were lit up, all the lights flashed and the process was over.

We set our process up a little differently

To earn a very cool “Behavior Matters” t-shirt, all people needed to do was get on the bike and light up one of the lights.

We did not require that people light all six lights, and we did not assign a time length for peddling to earn a t-shirt.  All they had to do was light up one light – a relatively easy process.IMG_4473

Additionally, people could get their name written on our leader board if they were one of the five fastest people to light up all the lights.  This white board with hand written names on it was updated whenever someone earned one of the top five spots.

Our original concept was to have people read one of two sets of written rules – one positive and encouraging; the other bland and discouraging.  The intent was to see if the different messages impacted how people performed or felt about the activity.  We quickly realized that our original plans were not working – too many people wanted to ride the bike and the process ended up being us telling participants the rules instead of them reading them thus invalidating the initial study.

Luckily for us, this is where things got interesting!

Results

While the original communication experiment didn’t pan out, we were still able to gather very interesting findings.  Specifically we were intrigued by some of the insights we gained into extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, the power of leader boards, and the impact that specific goals have on performance.  First, let’s look at the overall results:

A total of 103 people rode the bike over the two days the exhibit hall was open (some participants rode multiple times).  Their performance is shown in table below.

Highest number of lights lit up 1 2 3 4 5 6
# of people achieving level 1 0 6 14 34 48
% of people achieving level 0.9% 0.0% 5.8% 13.6% 33.0% 46.6%
Average time to reach level
(in seconds)
15 0 68.7 46.1 32.5 20.6

The average ride time was 31.7 seconds – with the fastest time being 4.8 seconds and the longest time being 80 seconds.   There is some obvious differences based on physical fitness here as shown by the inverse time required to reach the different levels of lights (i.e., more time on average to reach 3 lights than 4 lights, etc.) which played out in how well people did.

Insights

Do you just want a shirt or are you looking for something more? 

We needed to have an incentive to get most people on the bike.  True, there were some who just wanted to get on the bike and see how many lights they could get, but the vast majority of the people got on the bike to earn the t-shirt.  In other words, they needed an extrinsic reward to participate.

But that’s not the interesting part…

The interesting part was that only one person stopped at the first light (1 out of 103, that’s less than 1%)!  Once they were on, the majority of participants moved past the threshold for earning a t-shirt and continued peddling to see what they could do.  This was not easy – we had the settings on the bike be rather hard. This meant that peddling for more than 15 seconds was difficult for most non-athletes.

We believe once they started the activity, they intrinsic motivation of the bike  kicked in.  The lights tracked their progress immediately and they could directly see how they were doing against the goal.  They wanted to see what they could accomplish.  They no longer worried about the t-shirt – but instead, focused on the event.

 In other words, they challenged themselves to see how many lights could they light up?

They had already committed to participate in order to acquire a t-shirt (the reward) – now they were pushing beyond what was required for the shirt because of the challenge that they were presented with.  If we think about the 4-Drive Model of Employee Motivation (for more info see here, here, here) we see that the Acquire component was instrumental in the motivation to initiate the event, but the ongoing motivation was propelled by the intrinsic drive to Challenge oneself and see how they could do.

Application:

The idea of using an extrinsic motivator to entice people to participate in programs or activities that they are not excited about and then allowing their natural Challenge drive take-over should not be undervalued.  Additionally, the more that a program uses a measure of goal progression, highlighting an individual’s progress, the more a participants Challenge drive is activated.  In other words, the design of your extrinsic incentive program can impact the intrinsic motivation that is activated. Finding cohesion between these extrinsic and intrinsic motivators can certainly help drive the right behaviors.

What’s up with the leader board?

We had a leader board where riders got their name featured if they were one of the five fastest people to light up all six lights.  They did not earn any additional extrinsic reward for being on the leader board – no fancy give-away, no grand prize, not even an extra t-shirt.

So did it make a difference?

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Our new commercial

What drives you to take 10,000 steps a day – everyday for a year!

Plotting progress

Janelle and her 10,000 Step Tracking Chart

Curiosity

Driving home from a wedding on January 2nd 2016, my wife was looking at her Facebook feed on her iPhone and made a little exclamation, “Wow!”

Of course that made me curious, so I said, “what was that for?”

“An old colleague of mine just posted that she walked 10,000 steps every single day last year.” she stated.

Now I was really curious, “Can you get me an interview with her!”

Fast forward a month and half and I sat down with Janelle at a coffee shop on the campus of the University of Minnesota where she worked.  For the next 60+ minutes I was enthralled listening to her story and asking a ton of questions.

“How did you do it?”  “What was your motivation?” “How were you supported?” “What was the hardest part?” “Why?” “What insight can you give to people who want to achieve something like this?”

Some facts first:

Total steps in 2015: 6,456,950 (that is 6 million, 456 thousand, nine hundred and fifty) totalling 2,818 miles walked.

May 2015 was her most active month with an average of 21,388 steps per day and her most active single day of 80,606 steps.

Dang – that’s impressive!

February 2015 was her least active month with an average of 14,190 steps and her single lowest step count on any day was 10,016 (just 16 steps over her goal) on January 16th, 2015.

See more stats at http://www.nivens.me/blog/2015-fitbit-stats

How Janelle did it

I wanted to know how Janelle did it.

Walking 10,000 steps everyday is not easy nor is it a task that you can do by just forming a new walking habit.

It takes concentrated effort and dedication.  It requires that you have an emotional commitment to achieving your goal.  It takes support from friends and family and sometimes even strangers.  It takes coming up with hacks to motivation to keep that fire going all year long.

In my interview, I wanted to find out if Janelle employed any of the six actions that I’ve identified as being key to successful change (see here) and (here).   When I asked her about how she did it, she used all six to some extent: Engaging her emotions, Plotting her progress, socializing her support, harnessing her habits, enabling her environment, and preparing her plan to overcome obstacles.

Janelle engaged her emotions.

One of the key concepts from the change work that we’ve done, is that purposeful change is more likely to succeed if you actively engage your emotions.

Rational change, we found, is not sustainable. However, emotions are hard to consciously activate.

We’ve found that one way to hack into those emotions, is to align your change with your self-identity.  If you can align your change behaviors with who you perceive yourself to be, then your behaviors become easier, and when you behave in ways not aligned with that self-perception, you feel angst to come back into alignment.

Change - Identity

When your behaviors and self-perception don’t match it creates a sense of cognitive dissonance – a pull to change something to get the image and perception back in alignment

Within the first five minutes of the interview, without prompting, Janelle stated, she identified herself as a “walker”.  She talked about how she always liked to walk, how she walked with her mother when she was younger, that when she walked, she felt better.  In her mind, she identified who she was as a “walker” and that implied that she behaved in certain ways (walk instead of drive when possible, take the stairs – not the elevator, etc…).

By identifying herself as a walker, she was emotionally invested in those behaviors.  It made it easier to do them and harder to not do them.  Here is a picture from her Facebook page (Minnesotan’s will recognize the famous Walker Art Museum):

Janelle - Walker

Janelle plotted her progress.

Plotting ones progress towards a goal is important.  Research has shown that progress, no matter how small or insignificant, provides humans with great satisfaction.  We know from behavioral economics that the closer you get to a goal, the more motivated you are to achieve it (see here).

Of course Janelle had her fitbit to track her steps…but that wasn’t all – she had her calendar.  Janelle had gone online and bought a special full year calendar (from Europe), had it shipped over and framed.  This was hung in her home office where she saw it every day.

Each day that she walked 10,000 steps, she added a sticker to that calendar.  Different colors represented different step counts.  Yellow was 10K, blue was 15K,  and red was 20K.

One interesting side note, was the amount of stickers she had actually added to her motivation.  Here is how she describes it:

“In November and December I gained some motivation by the fact that I was running out of yellows and eventually blues. So, I had to walk more to get to the 20K level (red).”

She also set up motivational milestones.  She created a “walk wish-list” of different places or walks that she wanted to do.  She posted these to her Facebook page (adding a social element  that we will talk about later).  When she achieved these walks, she was able to check them off her wish list.

Additionally, Janelle joined a fitbit group (again, we will talk more about the social aspect of this in a bit) that had different walking challenges.  Fitbit calls these challenges, “a fun way to help you stay motivated by competing with friends and family.”  These mini-challenges helped provide ongoing ways to measure her progress.

Her fitbit group also had a leaderboard that showed her daily steps compared to those in the group.  This was a way to track her progress not only against her goal, but as part of a fun competition against others.

Janelle socialized her support.

When she decided to commit to her 10,000 steps a day for a year challenge, she purposely posted her decision on her Facebook page.  She told me that she did this to create  accountability.  By publicly stating her intentions, she enlisted her Facebook friends to become part of her social support team and keep her on task.

We often feel more pressure to do things for other people than we do for ourselves.  I call this “other focused motivation.”  For some people, this motivation is much stronger than the motivation that they have to complete things for themselves.

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