Oliver Burkeman’s new book, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, challenges many widely-held assumptions. In this video, Burkeman discusses how positivity, goal setting, and visualization, often backfire.
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- Practical insights to create habits that stick.
- Actionable steps for building products people love and can't put down.
- Behavioral techniques used by Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and others.
Nir’s Note: This guest post is by Francesca Gino, an associate professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and the author of “Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed, and How We Can Stick to the Plan”
A few years ago, Joe Marks, then Disney’s vice president of research, visited Tokyo Disneyland and was puzzled by a particular behavior he observed there. Park visitors were standing in line, often for many hours at a time, outside a shop in the park’s Frontierland. Marks found out that they were waiting to buy an inexpensive (less than $10) leather bracelet on which they could have a name painted or embossed.
Why were the bracelets in such demand? Joe wondered. And why weren’t other stores in the park selling the same bracelets, so that Disney could improve visitors’ experience by reducing their wait time? In Joe’s mind, the company needed to make the popular product more easily available.
As it turned out, Joe’s intuition, though supported by standard economic theory about supply and demand, was wrong. The visitors he observed usually were standing in line with their sweetheart or spouse. The couples’ willingness to patiently wait for the bracelet was a signal of their strong commitment to each other, for according to a Japanese tradition, exchanging leather bracelets is a sign of bonding. It was the very act of waiting for the bracelet that made the product so popular.
If the Internet had a voice, I am fairly certain it would sound like the HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
“Hello Nir,” it said to me in its low, monotone voice. “Glad to see you again.”
“Internet, I just need a few quick things for an article I’m writing,” I’d reply. “Then it’s back to work. No distractions this time.”
“Of course Nir, but while you are here, won’t you look at what Paul Graham just wrote?”
“No Internet,” I’d resist. “I’m just here to find some specific information, I can’t be distracted.”
“Of course Nir,” the Internet would say. “But this article about LOLCats addiction is related to your work. Give it a click, won’t you?”
“Interesting.” I’d say hesitantly. “Just a quick read and then it’s back to work.”
3 hours later I would realize the time I’d wasted clicking and curse the Internet for sucking me into its mind vortex yet again.
Ironically, I research and write about seductive technology and yet I struggle to resist its temptations. Much of my work is written for entrepreneurs and designers looking for ways to boost user engagement with their products. The rest of my writing is intended to increase awareness of the habit-forming potential, and at times, unintended consequences, of an increasingly connected world.
The first thing Don Draper does when he gets to his office is give his busty secretary a suggestive wink. The second thing he does is take off his fedora. Finally, depending on the severity of the previous night, he completes his morning routine with a stiff drink.
What can we learn from Don’s habits? First, that scotch and submissive secretaries always equal drama. But what of that fedora? There’s a lesson there too.
As any Mad Men fan knows, it was once popular for men to wear hats everywhere they went — except that is, when they stepped indoors. When a gentleman went inside, he removed his hat and placed it on the nearest rack. It was a required social norm, a sign you were ready for business.
Though hats have long gone out of fashion, the custom should be a guide for how we adapt to the increasing pervasiveness of personal technology. It’s high time we started doing with our digital devices what well-mannered men did with their fedoras. We need a digital hat rack.
It seems that whenever people meet in person these days, they do so while separating their attention between the people in the room and the devices in their hands. Somehow, it has become socially acceptable to digitally masturbate in each other’s company. You might say, “but I’m taking notes or responding to an important request!” No you’re not, you are digitally dicking around.
My talk at the Silicon Valley Quantified Self Meetup at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
The two most important slides:
Full slide deck here – Knowing Your Behavior Type – Quantified Self meetup
NOTE: If you are reading this over email and you don’t see the video, click here.
My wife put our daughter to bed, brushed her teeth, and freshened up before bed. Slipping under the covers, we exchanged glances and knew it was time to do what comes naturally for a couple on a warm night in Silicon Valley. We began to lovingly caress–but not each other, of course. She began to fondle her cell phone, while I tenderly stroked the screen of my iPad. Ooh, it felt so good.
If our nightly habits were any indication, we were having a love affair with our gadgets instead of each other. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones substituting foreplay for Facebook. According to a recent study, fully one-third of Americans would rather give up sex than lose their cell phones.
Fortunately for my wife and I, we learned how to end our liaisons with gizmos and successfully reclaim our lovelife. However, technology continues to change many of our most intimate behaviors and the story of how we broke our technophilia illustrates a method to break any number of habits we’d be better off without.
CUCKOLD BY THE INTERNET
First, we took a look at the problem and realized it was bigger than our sex lives. As technology becomes more pervasive, it is also becoming more persuasive. The result is products so seductive that they are increasingly difficult to resist. We are forming habits with unintended consequences and new bedroom practices are symptomatic of technology evolving faster than we are. The confluence of increased access, greater sharing of personal information, and at higher transmission speeds, has created the perfect storm of addictive technology.
Here’s the gist:
- The rising interest in the science of designing behavior has also sprouted dozens of competing, and at times conflicting, methodologies.
- Though the authors often flaunt their way as the only way, there are distinct use cases for when each method is appropriate.
- Behavior modification methods fall into four distinct types: amateur, expert, habitué, and addict.
- Each behavior type requires the use of the appropriate technique to be effective. Using the wrong method leads to frustration and failure.
Everyone suddenly seems interested in messing with your head. Gamification, Quantified Self, Persuasive Technology, Neuromarketing and a host of other techniques offer ways to influence behavior. At the heart of these techniques is a desire to change peoples’ habits so that behavior change becomes permanent.
Here’s the problem: Until now, the explosion of methods for changing behavior has been a hodgepodge of author-centric noise. Reading all of the books, blogs, and blowhards can leave one confused by their seemingly conflicting advice. Pundits push their methods as cure-alls. For example, some argue that earning badges and leveling-up can inspire the clinically obese to become slim again. They can’t. Others claim that being good at anything requires strict goal setting and performance objectives. It doesn’t. The goal of this article is to help you identify which of the different techniques would be most effective for each type of behavior change.
Note: I’m proud to have co-authored this post with my good friend Charles Wang. Charles is a co-founder of LUMOback, a former classmate, and an accomplished psychiatrist. He brings a great perspective to the art of Behavior Engineering.
Here’s the gist:
- Forming a new habit requires a unique set of techniques.
- Training to become an expert has a completely different methodology than becoming an amateur.
- Using the wrong technique will doom your good intentions.
Today’s top selling books are about how to acquire world-class skill. Daniel Coyle’s, The Talent Code looks at how deliberate practice is required to achieve greatness. Joshua Foer shows us how we must smash past performance plateaus to be any good. Worse, Tim Ferris’s 4-Hour series is doing for hipsters what crash diets do for teenage girls, making promises of quick transformations.
These authors’ methods work. Yet, they are all dead wrong. They focus on techniques used by the very best in a field. But what about the other 99% of us? I bet your goals sound a lot more like, “I wish I could lose a few pounds” or “I’d like to save money”, rather than “I want to win the U.S Open” or “I wish I was a billionaire”.
But authors focus myopically on the techniques used by notable greats, because we all assume the great ones have discovered a secret, which if we only knew, would ensure our success as well. Implying you know this secret sells a lot of books. But there are no secrets, and what makes a Steve Jobs or a Michael Jordan is not going to help you lose that spare tire around your waste.
When we look at successful entrepreneurs, it may appear that they spend their lives relentlessly driving towards a singular goal. We assume the path to success was a straight shot, lined with mile markers throughout. In fact, it wasn’t. Entrepreneurs make it up as they go. The nature and uncertainty of entrepreneurship favors those who can quickly find the most efficient path, regardless of where the crowd may be headed.
Finding the optimal path, that is, doing only the stuff that matters most and quitting the rest, is paramount to an entrepreneur’s success. In this final post in my three-part series on the lessons and parallels of running a business and running as an athlete, I’ll be taking a look at why quitting is as important as commitment.
Lesson 3: Quit to win
Every week, I meet with entrepreneurs who are lit up with passion for their business. Typically, when I am asked to advise someone, I will ask what the top issue is that I could help him or her with. True to form, they begin to describe their social media plan, followed by a description of the slides in the investor presentation they will inevitably make. They would be hard-pressed to omit the amazing code they are in the process of building and the great feedback received from a PR agency they met with, and on and on. Invariably, and quite clearly, there is a lot on their mind.
“Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.”
- Warren Buffet
If you’re like most people, you have a New Year’s resolution in place and you may have even stuck to it so far this year. Good for you! Realistically though, you’re going to fail. How long have you said you really should get in shape, or lamented the need for more quality time with family and friends? The fact is, despite the most earnest commitment, resolutions just don’t work.
We make well-intentioned goals, with the false belief that we just lack commitment and motivation; that all we need is a good kick in the ass to get us going. This couldn’t be farther from the truth, so please stop being so hard on yourself. There are better ways to achieve your full potential, with minimal headache.
First, realize that the key to success at pretty much everything comes down to creating productive habits. A habit is defined as a behavior that happens almost involuntarily. I define a“productive habit” as a behavior that gets you what you want in life automatically, without you really trying.
But productive habits don’t just appear out of thin air. They are created by assembling a chain of individual behaviors, like a string of pearls. These individual behaviors, over time,change our daily actions and in turn, our lives. Productive habits move us to our full potential, morph us into the people we want to become, and ultimately give us the life we want.