Trick yourself into new healthy habits

Trick yourself into new healthy habits

In my last article I covered the biggest mistake we make when trying to change behavior – we rely on motivation.

Two key problems with motivation:

  • It’s not stable, so sometimes we have it and sometimes we don’t. Our mood and energy levels impact our desire to do stuff. And
  • It’s pointless without a level of ability to take action. Just because I am motivated to hit a hole in one at the golf course doesn’t mean I can.

Our misguided reliance on motivation not only has implications for how we spend our marketing dollars, but also how we can shape our own behaviour. 

Today I’d like to talk about how we can trick ourselves into taking action without having to rely on motivation to do so, and illustrate with three things I’ve recently changed in my life to improve my health. As these examples show, it all comes down to how we structure our environment.

1. Standing desk

Much has been written about how sitting is the new smoking – that our increasingly sedentary lifestyles are contributing to ill health. When many of us are desk-bound computer jockeys we can spend eight hours a day on our butts (invariably followed by time on the couch because we’re so tired). Enter the standing desk as a way to encourage us to use our legs and core muscles throughout the day, and you can see my set-up in the picture below.

Figure 1 Bri’s standing desk

Now that my desk is defaulted to the standing position I don’t have to motivate myself to stand up more often – my environment makes me.

(For those interested, I ordered my standing desk from Uncaged Ergonomics in the US. I have no affiliation with them but can say I am happy with their product.)

2. Wine glass

While I’m not a big drinker (I know, that’s what we all say), I was seeking ways to reduce my intake without reducing the enjoyment of the ritual.

As anyone who has rifled through their grandparent’s crockery and glassware can attest, 30-40 years ago we used much smaller serving sizes – smaller sugar spoons, smaller plates and smaller wine glasses. A quick visit to the local op shop and I found the glasses I now use instead of my contemporary red wine glass.  In the image below both glasses have 150ml of liquid in them, but the smaller glass tricks my brain into thinking it’s getting a generous helping whereas the larger glass leaves my greedy brain wanting to add more.

Rather than relying on self-control (which tends to be knocked around by alcohol) I now rely on my glassware as an environmental cue to limit my consumption.

Figure 2 Bri’s new smaller wine glass

3. Snack jar

“Out of sight, out of mind” is so true and can be used to your advantage if you are seeking to moderate your consumption of goodies. Instead of storing my nuts in a glass jar I now store them in the canister below. Not only am I no longer triggered to snack by seeing the nuts, if I do want to snack I have to grapple with the latch – a small moment of friction that helps to inhibit my desire to impulsively grab from the jar.

Figure 3 Bri’s snack jar

Small changes for big results

I’m sure you’d agree that the changes I’ve made to my environment are screamingly simple. And that’s the point – by tweaking where behaviour happens we can change it. Instead of relying on willpower or motivation to change we can influence our choices by either making them the easy default (standing desk, wine glasses) or by inhibiting access (snack jar). While this has been about our own personal habits, the same applies to influencing the behaviour of your customer (about which you can read more here).

PS: If you happen to be in Melbourne on Monday, October 6, I am running a public seminar on how to make or break habits using practical techniques like tweaking your environment. You can find more info here.

Bri Williams runs People Patterns, a consultancy specialising in the application of behavioural economics to everyday business issues.





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