The best way to design a new behaviour

I know a ‘lean systems’ expert. Her job, in aerospace manufacturing is to observe processes in factories and work out how to make them more efficient. This involves changing the position of machines and materials and the flow of materials around the space. Crucially it involves changing people: their ideas, their habits and practices but people don’t like change.

Illustration of a sign shaped as an arrow reading this way

Years ago when I began coaching the topic of how people change was at the forefront of my mind. People aspire to change but the reality is that default behaviour can be a lot more stubborn to shift than we predict.

I quizzed my aerospace friend about how she overcame this tricky problem – how do you get people to adopt a new way of doing something – and she had the most brilliant and simple piece of advice.

Make it harder to do it any other way.

We like the easiest route, the path with least friction. The trick here is to plan ahead, to prepare ahead. It can be argued that will-power or self-control is more about careful preparation to make the desired behaviour easier when you get to it.

This is a juicy design challenge for the Day Crafter. If you’re wanting to adopt a new habit or stop a harmful one, how might you design and craft the day so that the behaviour you want is the default; the choice that it is easier to take. Your ideas can make a good experiment.

The Practice

You’ve really got to want to adopt whatever the new behaviour is. If you have no motivation at all then the technique above is unlikely to work. If you think your motivation is nearly there, try changing the behaviour to make it smaller or easier until your motivation kicks in.

The next step is design: If it is a behaviour you want to do but aren’t, try making it easy and obvious and the alternatives harder. If it is a behaviour you don’t want make it really hard or impossible. For example, if I don’t want to keep eating biscuits, I can move them out of my way or avoid buying them in the first place.

Written by Bruce Stanley on Fri, February 12, 2021

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