Incremental behavior change – does it add up?

I have been so (happily) buried in two projects for Unilever, that I have not written a single blog post in weeks! One of the projects has behavior change at its core – a fascinating topic – so that’s the topic for this post as well.

behavior change books

The beauty of being involved in such a project is that it provides the perfect excuse to rediscover books in my bookcase, to raid the library and to surf the web to read up on behavior change. As if I needed an excuse to read….

Here are some of the books I (re)discovered. One of the ones that really stuck out was Yes! 50 secrets from the science of persuasion by Noah Goldstein, Steve Martin and Robert Cialdini. It provides 50 stories on behavior change based on behavioral science research, written in every day language about topics in our daily lives – including such things as getting hotel guests to reuse their towels. Have not finished it yet, but I certainly will.

One I did finish when I first got it and that has had a real impact The 15-Minute Inbox by Joost Wouters. Great to see how little exercises and raising awareness of “bad” behaviors can have such an impact and really change behavior. It really helped me reduce my inbox time. Perhaps I should reapply some of the levers for behavior change to force myself of write blog posts more frequently…..

Just yesterday, the Guardian Sustainable Business platform ran a live chat on behavior change and sustainability. You can read the full discussion here – but perhaps better to go straight to the excellent summary the GSB team put together.

My key take-outs from this live chat were:

  • Human behavior changes constantly – the more challenging task is to move the change in the desired direction
  • We’re not as rational as we think – more information is not the answer
  • Focus on the positive is more motivating than focus on the negative
  • People like having options to choose from, but the choice should be easy – choice overload will reduce action
  • Successful changes tend to be incremental, starting with realistic achievable targets and then progressing to other levels of change over time

This last point really got to me – as for some of the world’s biggest problems, we do not have much time. Lots of small changes would add up to large change, but without the kind of leadership to make sure the small changes are moving us in the same desired direction, this may not be too effective. It brings me back to my earlier post about change management to halt climate change.

Does that mean we should do nothing? No, as the essential choice remains for all of us – to do nothing and whine – or to make changes (however small) to your life now and inspire others to change as well, for a sustainable world.

What change will you make today? And how will you make it stick? Or better yet, what changes have you been able to sustain?


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