A ‘nudge’ to a more Active Life.

‘Behavioural Economics’ has become a popular way of looking at what we do, and why we do it, and it is revealing how irrational we really are!

Unlike traditional economics, this version takes into account all aspects of our wiring, how we make conscious decisions, and where it gets especially meaningful, and valuable, is in how our unconscious is controlling our beliefs, attitudes, and therefore how we behave. It also provides a view into the deeper human, social, emotional, environmental context behind our decision making.

In short, it’s a way of linking science and common sense to understand how people behave.

There is a reason we use these shortcuts, as we can’t analyse every decision we need to make, and, understanding behaviour of our fellow humans can be extremely complex. The good news is we are gaining a better understanding of the mix in our rational and irrational thinking, the conscious decisions, versus the ‘heuristics’ (the mental shortcuts) we take. These types of ‘fast’ and ‘slow thinking’ are fascinating, as are the many biases we unknowingly delve into every minute of each day. The generalisations, assumptions, stereotypes we use in our ‘based on experience’ — aka — ‘gut feel’ decisions.

Our ‘choice architecture’ uncovers many ‘heuristics’, which are decision making shortcuts we all use, mostly subconciously, and often irrationally. Our beliefs shape our expectations which I turn shape perceptions, then, conclusions.

The ‘Cognitive Bias Codex’. Impressive isn’t it!

Intentionally or not, behavioural psychology has been used for many years by savvy marketers, and now our governments are deliberating attempting to influence (or ‘Nudge’) our behaviour. We’d trust this is for good not evil, and in fact this greater understanding can, and should be, used by us all. To help the process the British Government ‘Nudge Unit’ has come up with a nice simple model we can reference — ‘EAST’ — representing a very consolidated view of behavioural insights, boiling down interventions to be either ‘Easy’, ‘Attractive’, ‘Social’, and/or ‘Timely’.

So “how might we” use this?

Design a (active) life

‘EAST’ seems a nice tool to go to when encouraging a more active life for ourselves.

The following may appear, and in fact be, obvious insights. But, think about how you might apply them in your active life. Create your own behavioural insight experiment!

Make it… EASY

Humans are inherently programmed to take the path of least resistance. It’s not cheating, its normal. So the good news is your inclination to cut the corner around the park (or school cross country!) wasn’t cheating, it is in your DNA.

SIDE NOTE — look at the fruit bowl, chances are the oranges are the last to go, so much more work than the apple or banana — the worlds ‘easiest’ food! (and we all know the appeal of ‘fast food’!)

It is known that ‘self efficacy’ (perceived competence) is a huge determinant in moving from a ‘contemplation’ to ‘action’ phase in psychological terms (or from ‘excuses to ‘Just Do It’ in everyday terms).

So choose an activity that is easy for you to do. Yes, this is a shortcut, but a good one. You can push yourself within this activity, but to beat the ‘status quo bias’ that keeps you inactive. Reduce the friction, choose to do something accessible, that you have the information, equipment, and the confidence to do.

As experience designers we know that we need to make it Easy…


A challenge to triggering any behaviour change (whether that be from advertisers or for yourself), is to get our attention, and have the desired behaviour (i.e. a workout) in your ‘attentional spotlight’ as psychologists call it.

Then, this needs to immediately be recognised as an attractive choice, to ignite a positive response. Susan Fiske, an expert in social cognition tells us that we ‘instantly categories things and people on one of two key dimensions, 1. positive or negative emotional reaction (warm or cold), and 2. competence to help.

So it is important to place yourself in situations where you will react positively.

A nudge might be that attractive personal trainer at the gym (warm and competent!) — whatever works, if it is for good not evil! Get some cool workout gear, a new bike, create a attractive environment (the beach, park, studio…). It works.

Public visual ‘Nudge’ experiments on the general population include musical and painted stairs which illustrated how visual nudges can sway our decisional balance. As you can see, making something attractive changes our behaviour.

The Australian Heart Foundation and the City of Melbourne increased use of the Southern Cross Station stairs by 20% as part of the #100Ways to be active campaign.

Make it… SOCIAL

We do know from psychology behavioural change is heavily influenced by social factors. We know that people are strongly influenced by what others are doing, what we see and hear. What people are doing around us is critical. Social norms are a huge influencer. We naturally mimic each other, and peer to peer encouragement incentivises a behaviour. For example if you are around family, a workplace, or friends that live active lifestyles, you are much more likely to adopt one also.

Lots of our biases come into play here. If your workplace happens to have some young people who cycle to work we can believe cycling is ‘cool’ and that everyone is into it. So place yourself in the right ‘social circles’. Make it the default behaviour in your peer group and it becomes natural. A habit, a ritual.

These networks are important but personal connections are also critical. Pair up with someone and they will make you accountable to show up at 6am for a walk. We all know if left to reply on ourselves the success rate diminishes. Reciprocity is a powerful nudger, make it work for you.

And if you are active, you can give others a nudge. As we have shown earlier there is a huge correlation between perceived self efficacy and a willingness to participate, so you can provide help to others by reducing the gap between capability and action through his information (where to walk/run/ride/workout, how, etc).

Leading brands like fitbit know we value making things Easier, Attractive, Social, with Timely interventions.

Make it… TIMELY

We have a decisional balance, and if you can influence and tip this at the right times, you can effect your behaviour in positive ways.

This might be time of year, or time of day.

The New Year is a great time to intervene into your own behaviours. It’s a good time to establish habits, as ‘new years resolution’ gym marketers have responded to over the years. Or it might be a new job or new home, these are timely phases in your lifecycle to influence lifestyle.

But more specifically, influence yourself at micro moments. Set a alarm at 530pm to hit the gym instead of watching ‘insert name’ meaningless TV game show. Get your gear out the night before a morning workout. This will be a positive moment of impact in your early morning decision making. App developers are masters as timely prompt notifications. Set up your own.

We know there are a dozen common decision making journeys, getting out of bed, turning on TV, turning off the computer, heading for coffee, for home. Try and identify your moments of impact, influence and manipulate these moments and you can change the patterns in your behaviour.

To help yourself enter an event, as this will provide timely nudges in your life. If the event and associated communications campaign is well structured the event will be a brilliant catalyst to ongoing behavioural change. As a Timely, Social, Attractive and Easy intervention towards a more active life.

Event success story of decade ‘Colour Run’ certainly provided the right ‘nudges’.

In our work as experience designers at Limelight Sports, we know the value of ‘EAST’, whether that be an in our CRM experience, a face to face, email or social touchpoint, or an entire campaign strategy.

We are using these behavioural insights, have a think about how you can as well. For yourself, or in your work.

Email me or speak to us at www.limelightsports.com.

And for more ideas, insights and nudges at the www.activeworld.online.

To get some more ideas from the team at the Behavioural Insights Unit ‘Dr. Rory Gallagher and Owain Service are releasing a book Think Small’. Hear them talking about it with Stephen J. Dubner on Freakonomics Radio.