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).
For this article, however, I am going to take you on a journey deep into the mountains of northern Pakistan. Right now, you are probably wondering: “what could the Hindu Kush possibly have to do with behavioral science!?
Well, as we have been telling you, it’s everywhere!
So, bear with me and let’s have some fun while we talk about behavioral insights in action; observed from a recent adventure in northern Pakistan.
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.
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.
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 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.
For the past 20 years, I have been exploring how people change their behavior. This exploration has led me down many different paths and lines of inquiry. One of the most fascinating areas of research that I’ve investigated surrounds the now hot topic of behavioral economics.
I often describe behavioral economics as the “fusion of psychology and economics in order to gain a better understanding of human behavior and decision making.”
So what do we find out when we fuse psychology and economics together?
“Humans often act in very irrational ways.”
Now that is not ground breaking news for most of us. Even when I graduated with an economics degree, I knew that people didn’t always act in rational ways – or at least I didn’t (otherwise why would I stay up watching bad T.V. until 2:30 AM when I knew I had to get up by 7:00 AM for a meeting or why would I spend a hundred dollars on a dinner out but fret over buying a steak that was over $10 at the grocery store?).
However, for many economists, that statement was hearsay. Many economic models are based on the fact that people act in rational ways to maximize their own utility (i.e., happiness). These theories stated that we might make irrational choices in the short-term, or when we don’t have enough information, or that at least your irrational behavior would be vastly different than mine so that on average, we would be rational.
The truth discovered by behavioral economics is that is not often the case. We don’t act rationally – in fact, we sometimes act exactly opposite of how an economist would think we should act.
For example, research has shown that we will judge the value of an unknown item using totally irrelevant data to help us in that decision. Dan Ariely ran a wonderful study where he asked people to bid on a wireless keyboard (something that they were not very familiar with at the time), but before they answered, they had to write down the last two digits of their social security number (a totally irrelevant piece of data). The results of the bid were fascinating (top 20% being SSN that ended in 80 or above, the bottom 20% being SSN that ended in 20 or below):
This is a significant difference in how much they bid – entirely based on the last two digits of the SSN.
Here’s another one.
Would you work harder for a set amount (say $10) or for an uncertain amount (say 50% chance of $10 or 50% chance of $5)? Most rational people would say that they would work harder for the guaranteed payout of $10…that isn’t the case.
In a study that looked at drinking a large amount of water in two minutes – some people were offered a $2 fixed amount for finishing it – the other group was told they would earn either $1 or $2 (random chance of either). So what was the result?
43% completion rate for the certain award versus 70% completion rate for the variable? Not what you would think right?
Note – that this doesn’t apply to people choosing to participate – existing research suggests that we prefer certainty over uncertainty when deciding if we should opt-in for a goal. However, uncertainty is more powerful in boosting motivation en-route to a goal.
So what does any of this have to do with change?
We so often want to drive change in ourselves or our organizations and think through the process of this – in a rational and systematic manner. I’ve worked with companies who are baffled that they don’t see a long-term increase in employee productivity and satisfaction after they increase their wage (Hedonic Treadmill Effect). I know people who have mapped out their exercise routine for the next day, only to hit the snooze button instead of getting up and going for their morning run (Hyperbolic Discounting).
Too often we try to implement a change program based on a belief that we are rational beings.
Behavioral economics highlights that this just isn’t the case.
Much of the work that I’ve done in the past has been on how the 4-Drive Model impacts employee motivation. The research that we did as well as the work that we implemented, focused mostly on large scale initiatives / programs that helped to satisfy these different drives (sales incentives, contests, recognition programs, award trips, performance management systems, etc..). Recently, I’ve been asked to develop some workshops, using the 4-Drive Model as the foundation, but that focus on helping managers better engage their employees – at a local level.
Putting these workshops together has been fascinating because it takes the 4-Drive Model to a much more specific place. Working one-on-one with an employee to help them feel more engaged at work. Even after 6 years of working with this model, I’ve identified a few new key pieces.
1. We all know that different people have different motivational profiles – but we’ve found that individuals motivational profiles can change very quickly (unlike someone’s personality profile – which changes little over time). Motivation, we found, is very context dependent. This is an important aspect when thinking about engagement.
2. Team environments within a larger organization are more important than any large scale initiative. Again, this is not ground breaking, but it does go to how team cultures are created or destroyed. One key piece that I’ve recognized, is that one bad-apple, can have an overly large negative effect on overall engagement of the team. In the past, I would have suggested working with that person to help develop them and coach them to improve – now I recommend that managers get rid of them as quickly as possible once they are recognized. It sounds harsh, but those individuals can poison the entire team to a point that makes it very hard to recover.
3. Most managers are too busy to focus on engagement. They have a hard enough time getting all of the work done that they are tasked to do – much less spend time thinking about how they can or should engage their employees. They often are so busy that they don’t stop to look around at what their employees are doing or saying. It is important to help them focus a portion of their energy on understanding what makes their team tick.
4. Most managers have not developed the skills and knowledge needed to effectively engage their employees. Some managers are naturally talented in this, like the sports phenom who at 18 possesses all skills necessary to be at the professional level. Most managers are on the JV team (if they even make the team). They need the coaching and time to develop their skills. Engagement is not hard, it just takes time and effort.
5. Probably the number one issue that managers have is that they don’t know what to focus on to increase engagement. Is it purely recognition, is it collaboration, is it tying to the larger purpose, is it compensation? This is where the 4-Drive Model really helps and can provide some guidance for managers and a way to understand their team.
Let me know your thoughts on this and any examples you’ve seen of good or poor management with regards to engagement.
Last week I wrote about how I have not kept up on my own goal of writing a book on achieving goals (i.e., change).
As mentioned, over the past two years I’ve been researching how people change. That research indicates that there are six major components that help people achieve purposeful change.
In reviewing my own lapsed change goal of writing five pages a week, I found that I had only leveraged two of those six components. Doing the math, that means that I was not doing four of the six. Those were:
1. Writing was not an emotionally driven goal – it was a rational goal
2. I had not established a habit around writing
3. I had not changed my environment to help facilitate my writing
4. I did not have social support network set up to help me
Last week I identified two of those six as easy fixes, one as moderately easy and one as very difficult. Here is my work to date on those:
My easy fixes (weren’t so easy):
4. Social support network. In response to this, I talked to my wife and asked her to help me on this by holding me accountable. She refused.
We are looking for input from people like you to answer some questions on how you were able to change something in your life or set out and achieve a goal. We want to understand how you were able to lose weight, get a promotion, start a new hobby, eat healthier, change a bad habit, start a new positive habit, complete a project, etc…). We are trying to uncover the underlying factors that help people purposefully changed a behavior or attitude. This research will be used as input to a model of change that we are developing as well as possible inclusion in a book we are writing on the subject. In the comment section, please share the following:
1) What did you purposefully set out to change or achieve?
2) What was your motivation that drove you to that do this (was their a specific trigger or was it something that you had focused on for a long time)?
3) What were the key actions that you took to achieve that change or result?
4) Did you change things in your environment to achieve this (i.e., move the treadmill into the bedroom or hang a progress chart on the wall)
5) Did you tell people (or a single person) what you were trying to do?
6) Did you set milestones to your goal?
7) Did you measure your progress against those milestones?
8) What was the hardest part about the process?
9) What was the most important part of your change journey?
10) What tips would you give for someone else who is trying to change this aspect of their life?
This blog has been kind of quiet lately – partly on purpose and partly because life is busy.
The on-purpose part of being quiet was brought on by a post I read by Derek Sivers blog (http://sivers.org/boring) on whether it is better to focus, entertain or both? The underlying message being that we sometimes put out content to just put out content, when instead we should be focusing and developing our ideas and build a “path to mastery.” It is a great conundrum that we all face…as Derek says, “you’ve got a conflict: What’s best for you is to shut up, sit down, and focus. What’s best for them [audience]… is for you to be entertaining.”
That being said, I’ve been working on developing a few concepts that build off of what we’ve done in the past, but reflect a new approach for us. This required me to shut up, sit down and focus.
As readers of this blog know, we have concentrated on improving employee motivation at an organizational level for years. We put a lot of stock into understanding the research out there on this topic and not just repeat the same old ideas. For instance, outside of the original researchers, we have probably done more work on the 4-Drive Model of Employee Motivation than anyone in the country (see here, here, here, here and here for just a sample of our thoughts on this). We think that this motivational theory offers companies new ways of looking at their reward and recognition framework that is refreshing and helps drive motivation in exciting ways. We used this and other research (mostly insights from behavioral economics and psychology) to help organizations set up reward and recognition systems that tap into these insights and improve employee motivation and engagement. We’ve done exciting work with a number of large and small companies helping them do this.
What we hadn’t done is focus on what individuals could do to improve their own motivation.
We had not explored how individuals, such as yourself, keep on task and stay motivated to achieve your goals? How can we leverage the new research that is out there to help us stay motivated everyday.
So we are shutting up, sitting down, and focusing on that.
And it is fascinating.
Recent work by researchers on habit formation, willpower, and individual change have shed light on a number concrete steps that we, as individuals can do, to help keep us motivated and on task. We have taken the first strides in building a process that melds together all this research into a few main concepts that can be framework for a personal motivation plan. Our initial work has led us to develop a five step process, that we think will not only help people to ignite their own motivation, but also to build ways to maintain that motivation for the long run. These five steps are:
1) Find your motivational flow
2) Recalibrate your habit triggers
3) Enable your daily environment
4) Socialize your motivational strategy
5) Track your goal progress
Each step has both research and real actions behind it.
We are still working on this and are looking for collaborators to help refine the process and test our assumptions. The idea is to create a workshop and support materials that can be piloted. In the near future, we will be testing the model and piloting the process with a few people. If you want to be part of that group, let us know (leave a comment below or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org) and we will put you on the list and you can be one of the first to try it out.
This means that while theory is nice, what is really important is what happens in real life.
Most of the time when clients hire us, they hire us because we can impact the bottom line through changing the behavior of their employees. Most of them don’t care about the theory behind that change no matter how wonderful it is (e.g., The Four Drive Theory of Employee Motivation) – what they want is results.
Which gets me to the point of this post – if we are really about changing behavior, why do we care about motivation?
Think about it – motivation in and of itself does not change anything. You can be motivated and pumped up and rearing to go and still not accomplish anything. I’ve been motivated for years to loose weight – yet up until a few months ago, I haven’t done anything about it. In their book, “Change Anything” Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan and Switzler (the guys from Vital Smart who wrote Crucial Conversations and Influencer) talk about how motivation is just one aspect that is required to achieve personal change. Indeed, they talk about the fact that if all we have is motivation, no matter how much it is, we are most likely headed for failure.
To drive change we also need to have the skills, tools and knowledge necessary to achieve that change. We need to have a social network that supports us in our change efforts and isn’t trying (actively or passively) to derail that change. We also need an environment that helps us and doesn’t hinder us. In other words, motivation by itself is not enough.
Motivation is vital to this whole equation. It is the impetus to get us off our butts and start doing something. It is the pressure that is applied to us throughout the change process – the pressure to continue and not quit when it gets tough. It is the internal drive and fortitude to keep going and keep pushing oneself. Without motivation, no change would happen.
And that my friends, is the reason that motivation is important.
Dan Airely, Richard Thaley, Cass Sunstein, Daniel Kahneman, Ran Kivitz, and many more psychology and behavioral economics researchers have shown that while we like to think of ourselves as rational, thinking human beings who are out to optimize our well being, we aren’t.
In fact, we are very far from it.
Sharon Begley at Newsweek wrote this interesting blog “The Limits of Reason” in it, she states, “But as psychologists have been documenting since the 1960s, humans are really, really bad at reasoning. It’s not just that we follow our emotions so often, in contexts from voting to ethics. No, even when we intend to deploy the full force of our rational faculties, we are often as ineffectual as eunuchs at an orgy.”
We see this all the time. I wrote about it in my earlier post from today “5 Lessons from the Maze.” We tend to act and behave in very non-rational ways. There are lots of irrational types of behavior and thinking and lots of theory’s about them (i.e., Loss Aversion, Status Quo Bias, Gambler’s Fallacy, Hedonistic Bias, Anchoring, Reciprocity, Inequity Aversion, etc…).
Here is what is interesting – we tend to still design our incentive programs and our motivational strategies based on believing that people act in a rational manner. We create programs that have 10 different ways to earn, with multipliers, qualifiers, and ratchet effects. We create programs with multiple components and factors that we think will drive specific behaviors and elicit particular performance results. We believe we know what people want and use only extrinsic rewards to drive our results.
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