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Do we need a Nudge? 0

Posted on 1, August 2018

in Category Change Management, Decisions, Personal Development


Everyone has those moments when they really wish they had made a different decision…or actually just done something they perhaps should have.

Welcome Nudge Theory, which is about making it easier for people to make decisions which are in their best interest.  Thank you Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein for the book ‘Nudge’, published in 2008. And well done Richard Thaler for winning the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2017.

Nudge TheoryMost of us think of a nudge as a little prompt needed to get something done. Which it is, and those nudges can be the difference between something happening and nothing happening. Coming from behavioural economics, Nudge Theory takes this further, considering important biases in human decision-making and positing ways to help people make decisions that would benefit them.

“By knowing how people think, we can make it easier for them to choose what is best for them, their families and society.” wrote Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, authors of ‘Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness.

Simple example: on the assumption that most people want to be healthier but for many reasons (lack of willpower, lack of availability of healthy foods, sweets at the check-out), they stay unhealthy. The nudge here would be to fill the shops with only healthy products, improve food labelling to provide health information, replace the check out sweets with fruit and nuts. The objective – to encourage shoppers to make healthier choices.

Or, you want to go running every day but you can’t be bothered. Just put your trainers where your feet will hit the floor when you swing them out of bed. Your thought process is more likely to veer from procrastination to action.

Nudge Theory has become popular with politicians and policy makers as it touches on important biases in our decision-making processes. From a societal perspective, if you can encourage a whole bunch of people to engage in behaviours that improve society, that sounds like a good idea.

David Cameron’s Behavioural Insights team used the Nudge Theory concept when adding an invitation to join the organ donor register when people were renewing their car tax. This little nudge resulted in a massive increase in people joining the register. Barack Obama had Cass Sunstein as an adviser on his team with the goal of bringing the US Government into the 21st century in a wide range of ways”.  One of these was to try and increase the honesty of quarterly sales reports submitted by providers of goods and services to the Federal Government. By adding a brief prompt at the top of the online form, more accurate information was submitted leading to a reported $1.59 million increase in fees in one quarter, supposedly reflecting more honesty in sales figures. All good news for society as a whole.

But what about nudging to help us as individuals? Nudge Theory demonstrates that using quite simple prompts and techniques can bring a subtle change in our responses. It can push us into taking action rather than not doing anything. But, and here’s the interesting part, it won’t work if we think we are being told what to do.  So those policy making examples needed to be suggestive and inviting rather than perjorative.

Nudging behaviour

For our own personal nudges to work we need to feel ownership of them, and to find things that are easy to do. Here are our Nudging Tips:

Make it simple – so you don’t have to think before doing

When setting your nudge try thinking of the pain/negative that you will be moving away from

Don’t expect it to last forever – renew your nudges by introducing different ones

Use reminders – pop post-it notes in the places where you want the behaviour change to happen. Or send yourself a morning email reminder.

Give yourself a reward once you have ‘done’ the new nudged behaviour or task a set number of times.

Share the nudge – tap into the power of peer pressure to make the nudge work for you.

To explore how to set your own nudges and what changes you want these  nudges to make in your life, how about your first simple step being to get in touch with us – you’d be surprised what you might be able to do!

Isla Baliszewska – islab@smartcoachingtraining.co.uk