What are some reasons for human behavior

How do you get people to change their behavior?

Humankind's greatest problem is we humans ourselves: we often make decisions that harm ourselves and others. We smoke, we argue too much, we move too little and then have another drink - even though we knew better. The same is true at the global level: we are poisoning the climate, we are knocking out CO2, we are overfishing the seas, we are donating too few organs. Many, many - even existential - problems could be solved if we would only change our own irrational behavior. Numerous studies show that more information is of little help: Of course we know that smoking is harmful and that every vacation flight contributes to the CO2 problem. It is already clear that we creatures of habit contribute to our own annoyance with our quirks. A whole armada of psychologists is trying to explain our puzzling inaction on the occasion of the climate catastrophe.

No matter how long we can present solutions for every single problem: Our behavior reminds me of my three-year-old nephew when he lives out his defiant phase. Then he stamps his foot and shouts: “I'm going to do this anyway because I feel like it! You have nothing to say to me! "

Man is himself the greatest enemy, on both a small and a large scale. But he has now found an equal opponent: The neuroscientist Angela Duckworth, 48, has come up with a 47-strong all-star team of Harvard, Yale and Stanford scientists to change that. "The problem with people is that they are human and repeatedly make decisions that will harm themselves in the long term, even if they know full well that they are eating the wrong things, spending their money on the wrong things and not spending their time sensibly." says Duckworth, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. The bestselling author (Grit) drives a $ 100 million question: How can we get people to change their behavior - not just short-term, but permanently? And: If we solve this one problem, if we tackle mankind's dilemma, so to speak, at the root, can that be the solution for all other problems?

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It's a tempting question. The $ 100 million label comes from Duckworth's application for the MacArthur Foundation's $ 100 million grant on the subject. She won a MacArthur "Genius" award a few years ago, and what kind of genius would she be if she did not take part in the tender of the century? The big money has now gone to Syrian refugee children, but even then the question naturally arises: If people behaved more rationally, would they have let the Syria tragedy come about at all?

Duckworth and her colleagues are looking for the solution to permanent behavior change, not just short-term nudging when peeing.

Duckworth founded the non-profit "Character Lab" some time ago, which has committed itself to implementing the latest scientific findings on character development, especially in children and young people. To find a solution to all the solutions, she started the “Behavior Change for Good Initiative” (BCFG) at the University of Pennsylvania last fall and lured experts from various fields such as computer science, neurobiology, psychology and marketing with the key question: “What if we make the decisive ones Make progress on all major social problems of the 21st century with a single solution? "

So: How do you get people to persist in changing behavior? Not to throw the New Year's resolution back into the bin on January 4th? To fill the reusable container in the supermarket? Reaching for the apple instead of the chocolate? And then not reward us with a burger for the hour in the gym?

The gap between being and ought is enormous, but behavioral psychology has constantly gained new insights in recent years. The initiative aims to ensure that the brightest minds not only exchange ideas about it, but also work together on implementing it.

That sounds a bit like the "nudge" concept, the psychological tricks with which the economist Richard Thaler won the Nobel Prize in economics last year. The strategy of "nudging" works: A painted fly in the urinal leads to 80 percent greater accuracy. The green stripes on Kölner Strasse that lead to the trash can encourage people to throw more rubbish in the bins. Entire governments have now set up teams that translate Thaler's findings into politics.

Thaler is also part of Duckworth's team, but the challenge goes a few steps further: Duckworth and her colleagues are looking for a solution for permanent behavioral changes, not just for short-term nudging when peeing. "If we can solve the problem of how positive behavior changes become permanent habits, we can address every single societal evil that affects people."

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You start with three areas where the findings are undisputed: 1. Health. People are healthier when they move, but more than half of people move too little. 2. Training. One in four students in America never graduates. How can you motivate students to learn better and stick with them through to graduation? 3. Finances. Every third family in America has no reserves. More than half are not saving enough, even though they could. The need is enormous in all three areas. Duckworth's modest goal: "Reduce dropouts, financial insecurity and premature deaths in ten years by at least ten percent, better still by 20 percent."

The scope of the initiative is also new: Instead of observing human guinea pigs in laboratories during individual tests (such as the questionable but famous Marshmellow test), the researchers are working with schools, universities, companies and banks to determine the influence of various strategies in the right one Check life.

Take exercise, for example: The researchers are now cooperating with as many of the four million members of a nationwide chain of fitness studios as possible, 24-hour fitness. The “Step Up” program only looks like one of the usual motivational programs at first glance. Massive data analyzes are running in the background, there are scientifically founded control groups and experimental approaches. "We are currently trying out 75 ideas to find out which exactly will be most successful in the long term." Of course, not everyone can be motivated in the same way: for some it is a buddy, for others an app that reminds them of their goals , for others, the desire to be fit for the grandchildren.

After all, it's about not just getting people to the gym on January 2nd, when they are known to be regularly overcrowded, but specifically about how to maintain the motivation to get fitter throughout the year or throughout life. "Billions of people around the world are struggling to achieve their goals, whether it's their health, education, or finances," says computer engineer Katherine Milkman, co-director of Behavior Change for Good. “No matter what resources we have available, almost all of us would like to do better. This is a struggle for all of us. "

Milkman says that both of her parents had cancer a few years ago and that observing their healing process motivated her to become director of this project: "40 percent of premature deaths can be traced back to suboptimal behavior," Milkman researched. "Smoking is responsible for a large part of these deaths, poor nutrition and physical laziness are second and third of the causes."

The good news: That can be changed.

The bad: we don't yet know exactly how.

But Milkman and Duckworth know the direction and that's why they share initial findings:

1. Clear objectives: Those who want to change need a vision of how they want to see themselves in a few years' time. Specifically: personal text messages at Step Up remind the participants to keep an eye on their goal.

2. Self-knowledge. »Those who understand their own strengths and weaknesses can make progress. If you are not aware of it, you have no motivation to change, ”says Duckworth. Actually logical, but that's where you can start: With questionnaires and discussions.

3. Enjoyment. The program has to be fun, otherwise we'll stop again soon.

4. Competition. It is well known that friends who also jog encourage us to participate. In fact, we now know that muscle envy and a little competition are more likely to make us persevere than just running around nicely.

5. Support and rewards. For example, those who take part in the Step Up program receive Amazon vouchers. Small amounts, but with a big impact. "If we get small rewards at every milestone and pair them with instinctive cues, we're more likely to make it to the next," says Milkman. "We'll keep doing this until the new positive habit becomes second nature."

Bastard, you're not done yet, but your days are numbered.