Understanding behavioural change

This post can be considered in continuation with the article and talk that I had added last month: Trying something new. That article discussed forming new habits by trying something new for 30 days, whereas this one tries to understand how to change behaviour [1] for better, and the factors affecting it. Dan Ariely (PhD) is a behavioural economist and professor of psychology teaching at Duke University, USA. In the early days of My Zen Path I had discussed his What makes us feel good about our work? talk and his idea of ‘Meaningful Work Vs Sisyphus Work’ has stayed with me since.

In this talk Dan Ariely, with all his knowledge and insights about the human behaviour, delivers the bad news first –

You *cannot* modify behaviour by ‘just telling people’ about it.

How to change your behaviour for better?

However, Dr. Ariely discusses two important factors that affect our behavioural changes: Motivation and Friction. I particularly like his analogy of a rocket while explaining these two factors, without making it sound like rocket-science. This is how he puts it beautifully –

Well, social science has made lots of strides, and the basic insight is that if we want to change behavior, we have to change the environment. The right way is not to change people, it’s to change the environment. And I want to present a very simpleminded model of how to think about it: it’s to think about behavioral change in the same way that we think about sending a rocket to space. When we think about sending a rocket to space, we want to do two main things. The first one is to reduce friction. We want to take the rocket and have as little friction as possible so it’s the most aerodynamic possible. And the second thing is we want to load as much fuel as possible, to give it the most amount of motivation, energy to do its task. And behavior change is the same thing.

~ Dan Ariely

Do listen to his funny, but insightful talk here:

Reducing friction

The two factors that Dr. Ariely mentions – ‘motivation’ and ‘friction’ are quite important. To successfully change any behaviour, the motivation should increase and the friction should decrease. Thus to build a habit of healthy eating, it might be helpful to keep nuts, chopped veggies, or healthy snacks nearby so that we can readily reach for them (reduce friction).

In another thoughtful (albeit longish) article from Psychology Today Kristi Tackett-Newburg (PhD) elaborates on the behavioural modification – Choose the Path of Least Friction to Change Your Behavior. Here is a brief excerpt from that article –

Friction comes in many different shapes and guises (e.g., distraction, state of mind, environment, negative self-belief, etc.). Typically, when we set goals, we feel upbeat, positive, and motivated to make a change. When we’re in that mindset, we fail to recognize potential barriers that will interfere with our goals.

~ Excerpt from: Choose the Path of Least Friction to Change Your Behavior

Dr. Tackett-Newburg refers to Dr. B. J. Fogg’s Behaviour Model, and his famous book: Tiny Habits. She also delves deeper into friction with respect to the behaviour change process, and refers to ‘The Persuasion Slide’ by Roger Dooley (excellent illustration, see it in the article) from his book titled: Friction. Do read the article if you’re really intrigued.

The takeaway

For me the best takeaway from this talk is understanding how ‘motivation’ and ‘friction’ affect our behavioural change. I have created this simple illustration to serve as a visual cue for any desired behavioral change. 🙂

Behavioural Change - Motivation & Friction
Behavioural Change – Motivation & Friction

Notes & Resources

  1. In this part of the world, we spell ‘behaviour‘ with a ‘u’ – it is a legitimate spelling; and so is ‘behavior’ – Dr. Ariely quotes use the later.
  2. Book Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, a delightful read.
  3. Talking about books & habits, have a look at Atomic Habits by James Clear, you can also watch this video to get its gist.

Featured Image:
The featured image used for this article is by dae jeung kim from Pixabay, and I am using it here with gratitude.

One thought on “Understanding behavioural change

  1. Really loved the aspect of ‘friction’. About motivation, yes we mostly talk about it. But, this article highlights how important it is to consider reducing ‘friction’ as well. That too with the help of latest research in the field. Brilliant!

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