Nudge Theory: When Small Changes Make a Big Difference
How are those new year’s resolutions going? Trying to make positive changes in your life can look like an insurmountable hurdle. You try, you fail, you beat yourself up, you give up. Sound familiar? It doesn’t have to be that way, especially for a change that you want. Enter: Nudge Theory.
Nudge Theory, attributed to economist Richard Thaler, is based on the idea that you make changes by shaping your environment, which in turn helps adjust your habits. The change is rooted in indirect suggestion and positive reinforcement.
As a guest on the CNN podcast “Chasing Life,” Maya Shankar referred to nudges as choice preserving. They work best when it is a behavior you are choosing, not a one that you think you should because someone or something else guilted you into it. Nudge theory can work on changes you want to make for yourself as well as help others around you. Here are some nudges to try for some of the most common goals we set for ourselves:
Food choices can often come down to convenience. We’re busy. We’re tired. We’re hangry. We want satisfaction with as little effort as possible. To encourage those healthy eating habits, make it convenient for yourself. Put the healthy choices on the counter or on the top shelf in the fridge, front and center. At the same time, put the more indulgent snacks in places that take a little extra effort to get to. Not only can this help you with your eating goals, but it can work for all members of your household. We’re suckers for convenience, so we might as well use it to our advantage in the kitchen and elsewhere.
Going to the doctor
How many of us realize that it’s been X number of years since we saw our dentist? Or we keep forgetting to call the doctor to get that annual checkup? If you’re lucky enough to be generally healthy, these maintenance appointments can easily slip our minds. Next time you make it to the office, ask to set your next appointment while you check out. Enter it into your calendar. Set and forget. Yes, it can be hard to know your schedule many months out, but you can always reschedule when you see the appointment reminder in your inbox. And now that you’ve got your preventative health care all taken care of, think about what else in your life you can set and forget!
Finding the motivation to exercise is certainly a challenge, but maybe you can help that motivation with what is called “temptation bundling” also referenced in the “Chasing Life” podcast. Pair something you know you need to do with something you want to do, or even just something you enjoy. Love a specialty coffee made by a professional barista? Only get one if you walk to the café. Have a favorite TV show? Do your squats or sit-ups or whatever stationary exercise you choose during the commercials. Over time, you’ll naturally associate that challenging goal with a positive and fun experience and maybe even start looking forward to it.
And final words of wisdom for podcast host Sanjay Gupta? Don’t confuse nudging for nagging. Think of these nudges as gentle reminders – encouragers even – to helping you overcome the challenges that stand between you and your worthy goals.