Firestarter Labs

Self Behavioral Design – Promise & Problems

Behavior Design has been popularized as a means of improving product design, marketing, merchandizing, and public policy. Whether your goal is to design an online service that hooks your users, or you seek to increase the number of socially disadvantaged high school students that apply for college, the science of Behavior Design has something to offer.

If your objective is to influence the behavior of others, there are many excellent places to begin including books such as:

Researchers have also developed numerous frameworks that seek to capture the interrelated factors that influence human behavior and can be used to guide product development, marketing, and social policy. Some of the models with the greatest influence on our work include:

Despite all the ‘big think’ about behavior nudging, choice architectures, human biases and so on, it is not at all clear how this knowledge can be practically applied by individuals who seek to influence or design their own behaviors. That’s not to say that excellent books like Atomic Habits, Tiny Habits, Deep Work, and Indistractible aren’t full of incredibly valuable advice. It’s just that people are absolutely horrible at putting knowledge into practice.

“…information alone does not reliably change behavior. This is a common mistake people make, even well-meaning professionals. The assumption is this: If we give people the right information, it will change their attitudes, which in turn will change their behaviors. I call this the “Information-Action Fallacy.” Many products and programs—and well-meaning professionals—set out to educate people as a way to change them. At professional conferences they say stuff like, “If people just knew the facts, they would change!”

― BJ Fogg, Tiny Habits

There’s another problem. The available research is thin. There are simply not enough studies, and certainly not enough independent replications, to make strong claims about what is effective in the real-world, and over the long-term.

“Do we still remember the question we are trying to answer? Or have we substituted an easier one?”

― Daniel KahnemanThinking, Fast and Slow

For instance, an approach called Mental Contrasting (or Wish Outcome Obstacle Plan (WOOP)) is one of the most commonly cited methods for improving an individuals likelihood for following through on an intention. Yet, nearly all the published studies have originated in the same lab (Happier Human) and at least one recent study found WOOP to be ineffective in habit creation (Clearer Thinking).

Stay tuned. Firestarter Labs is approaching these tough questions by developing apps that will help you incrementally craft your own behaviors so that you can more easily achieve your goals.