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On Behavior Change

"The best idea I've ever heard in psychology is this. People's behavior is driven primarily by two main, external forces. Driving forces and restraining forces. If you want to change people's behavior, there is a good and a bad way to do it. The good way is to diminish restraining forces, not by increasing driving forces. That turns out to be profoundly non-intuitive."

-- Daniel Kahneman, psychologist and Nobel Laureate citing Kurt Lewin, a German-American psychologist who developed many ideas central to modern psychology in the 20th century.

Kanehman further elaborates, most of the time, we try to change peoples' behavior by a mishmash of arguments, incentives, and threats. Which he does not believe is as effective as removing the factors (many times environmental) which restrain us from doing the behavior in the first place.

The idea he elaborates is that when we're trying to change our own behavior, instead of asking ourselves how can I get myself to do this thing? We ask instead, why am I not already doing it?

I'm excited to hear Kahneman's ideas on behavior change because it supports the work we've been doing on habit formation. It also answer the questions and doubts I've had about how much time I should spend looking into and including negative reinforcements in the behavior change work we're doing for workshops. Having spent a life-time using punishment as the driving force towards my own behavior change and seeing how poor of a master it is both in terms of change and my happiness, I'm thrilled to have one of the forefathers of behavioral sciences confirm my suspicion of it's ineffectiveness.

All of the ideas above were first heard on the Freakonomic's podcast on behavior change.

Bonus is this fascinating article about the bullying and take-down of social psychologist Amy Cuddy (famous for her research on the power pose) in New York Magazine. It's interesting to read both for facts about the rigors and lack there-of in research and the vicious targeting of ambitious women. Special thanks to my mentor for directing me to the article.

Lastly, my favorite audio personality, Jonathan Goldstein has launched a new episode of his podcast Heavyweight, Rose. It's another take on bullying, this one about a sorority who kicks out a member Rose, who's recently recovered from cancer seemingly without a reason. Years later, Rose is still haunted by the event, and Jonathan is on the case to dig up what happened.

Questions of the week:

  • What is one behavior you'd like to change?

  • What's prevented you from doing this?

  • Can you think of one restraining factor that you could easily remove?

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