"In the long term, willpower alone won’t work for difficult behaviors. You need to take a different approach, such as changing your environment, removing triggers and taking baby steps."
How do we get people to not litter? How do we get people to switch off bulbs and air conditioners when they leave? How do we get people to brush without leaving taps open or use water more optimally when bathing or turn-off taps after use? How can we get people to avoid fats and eat more healthy food or even switch to a vegetarian diet?
How can we encourage people into installing energy conservation devices whose benefits are not immediate? How can we nudge people into planting more trees? How can we get people to give up smoking or drinking or taking drugs? How do we get people to stop picking their noses or biting their nails? How do we get people to control their anger? How can we turn people away from gossiping?
These are some classic examples of behavioural changes that have remained elusive to any standard prescriptions. Conventional approaches to resolve these problems have ranged from awareness creation to promulgation of regulations and invocation of conventions to use of incentives and dis-incentives. However, even the strictest regulations, most carefully designed incentives, and most intrusive of awareness campaigns have failed to deliver desired results.
Why have these approaches failed? Where did they fall short? It is now becoming increasingly clear that getting people to know about something does not automatically translate into actually doing it. In other words, while conventions, regulations, awareness, and incentives may get people to know and even commit them to do something or change their behaviour, it is not enough to actually complete the task. There are several cognitive biases that come in the way of fully-aware people fulfilling their commitments.
It is in this context that several interesting findings from recent research in the field of Behavioural Psychology has generated much interest. The field achieved prominence through the best selling work of Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, Nudge. They used insights from behavioural psychology to develop a "libertarian paternalistic" framework that could be used to design public policies that overcome cognitive biases that afflict human beings.
On similar lines, Dean Karlan and Ian Ayres have designed "commitment contracts" that attempt to "commit" people into doing certain things or behaving in a specific manner. Dan Ariely and others have proposed using "trigger factors" that would trigger at an appropriate time to get people into acting as required.
Behavioural psychologists study why people behave the way they do and what can be done to change behaviours. The Stanford University's Persuasive Technology Lab has been at the forefront of using computing products (from websites to mobile phone software) "to change what people believe and what they do". The website defines the new science as
"Captology is the study of computers as persuasive technologies. This includes the design, research, and analysis of interactive computing products created for the purpose of changing people's attitudes or behaviors... captology describes the area where computing technology and persuasion overlap."
Prof BJ Fogg, the Director of the Lab, has organized the various psychological theories that explain behavioural changes into a Fogg Behavioural Model (FBM). The FBM model requires the simultaneous convergence of three elements - motivation, ability, and trigger - for any behaviour change to occur. It shows that "behavior is the result of three specific elements coming together at one moment". Trigger a behaviour change after increasing the motivation and ability.
Motivation comes from three core motivators which appear in the form of pleasure or pain, hope or fear, social acceptance or rejection. Ability depends on six simplicity factors - time, money, physical effort, brain cycles, social deviance, and non-routine. The three types of triggers are facilitator, spark and signal.
Dr Fogg also has the Behaviour Grid which "describes 15 ways behavior can change". He has also created a Behaviour Wizard that "can help you design for successful behavior change".
See also this presentation on the ten mistakes people make when they attempt to achieve behaviour change.
Top 10 Mistakes in Behavior Change