Here are some ways to make the right decision the easy decision.
Willpower would be great, if it worked.
Luckily, a team of behavior science researchers came out with a report on how to make it easier to make the right decisions. The scientists actually found dozens of strategies, but I'm pairing it down to the more unusual ones (I'm not gonna tell you to keep a food diary).
Planned interruptionsA lot of the time, people act mindlessly, going through the motions. That's a problem if your motions involve spending money, eating chocolate or watching too much television. So build in interruptions, forcing you to make a choice between doing the right thing and going about your regular day.
"In a field experiment in rural India, households invited to set aside a portion of their wages using two envelopes each week, rather than one envelope, increased savings rates over 14 weeks by 70%," the report explained.
Temptation bundlingYou can combine activities you like to do with ones you *should* do. When I want to wash dishes, I usually put on a podcast I like and give myself permission to turn off my brain and just listen. One study found that letting people enjoy "tempting audio novels" only while they exercised made them exercise 55 percent more.
"In theory, the best temptation bundles allow people to benefit from complementarities between simultaneous experiences (e.g., exercising is more fun when watching an engaging television show because time flies on the treadmill and no guilt is associated with binge-watching lowbrow TV)," explained the study.
Choosing in advanceIf you make better decisions for the future than in the present, use that to your advantage. Make decisions ahead of time.
"One recent field experiment, for example, found that when employees were required to order lunch at their corporate cafeteria several hours before mealtime, their choices were approximately 5% less caloric," the report explained. "Likewise, when a customer places an online grocery order for more delayed delivery, there is also a tendency to purchase a healthier basket of groceries."
Social pressurePeople may say, "stop caring what others think about you," but that's absurd. We're social animals. We all really care what everyone thinks of us. So if you're trying to get your children, employees or citizens to do what you want, a little social pressure will do the trick.
"When people learn that the majority of their peers are engaging in a certain behavior, they are motivated to shift their behavior in the direction of that norm for at least two reasons. First, they assume that information is conveyed by the crowd: Maybe their peers know something they do not? Second, it is socially uncomfortable, and even ostracizing, to deviate from the crowd," explained the report. "In one study, hotel patrons were 8 percentage points more willing to reuse their towels when they were told that 75% of other patrons had done so."
Like all social control tools, this one can be used for good or evil. So use it for good. Or at least, if you use it for evil, don't tell anyone you got the idea here.
Fresh startAlright, I said I would try and avoid anything you already know, and this one is probably familiar to anyone who has ever made a New Year's resolution. But seriously, did you know you can make a fresh start whenever you make up an excuse for one?
"... participants in a field experiment who were invited to start saving for retirement in the future were more interested in signing up to save when the future savings opportunity was labeled as following their birthday, saving 30% more than others over a 9-month follow-up period as a result," the report continued.
Redecorate your roomEnvironment really, really affects behavior. It's hard to avoid eating cookies when they're sitting on your kitchen table. So rearrange your space to make it easy to do the right things, and hard to do the wrong ones.
One study on hospital cafeterias found "rearranging water bottles to be located at eye level in the refrigerated section, as well as in five baskets near food stations, increased bottled-water sales by 25.8% and decreased regular soda purchases by 5.9%," continued the study.
So if you want to use fewer paper towels, then keep the paper towels in the closet and make sure you've got a dozen clean washcloths on the kitchen counter.