Have a habit that you want to change? Or maybe you are trying to change the behavior of people at work? Or you want to change the behavior of people coming to your blog or website? If you read any of the research on habits you will find that habits are hard to change. (I’ll do a separate post on that shortly). You can change habits, but it takes a lot of work. Or maybe not?
Have you seen the video on the musical stairs? Many of you probably have. If so, watch it again before reading on, and if you haven’t then you’ll enjoy it. I believe that there are some lessons about habit change in the video:
Shortcuts to changing habits — I’ve been thinking about that video and I am thinking that there might be ways to shortcut all the work it takes to change a habit, or at least jump start the process. Based on the video here are 3 ideas I’ve come up with:
Make it fun — When you are changing a habit, you substitute a new habit for the old one. To jump start this process, make the new habit fun. It will probably need to be a lot more fun for it to even begin to be enticing.
Make it a surprise — People like surprises (as long as the surprise is pleasant or fun). Research on the brain shows that surprises capture human interest and attention. There is also research to show that things that are unpredictable elicit activity in the parts of the brain that anticipate rewards. If you surprise people you will therefore get their attention, and prime them to think that what comes next might be pleasurable (Berns, McClure, Montague, 2001).
Use a crowd — In my book, Neuro Web Design: What makes them click? I have a chapter on social validation. The research in this area shows that people are influenced by the behavior of others. When they see lots of people doing something they will tend to join in.
The musical stairs in the video had all three elements. Having stairs that look like a piano and make piano sounds is fun, and also a surprise. On top of that, everyone else was using the stairs… and there you have it, people are ready to use the stairs.
We don’t know if this use the stairs habit would sustain, or what happens when you take the musical stairs away. But next time I am choosing a new habit to try and replace an old habit, I’m going to pay attention to the factors of fun, surprise, and social validation.
And for those of you who like to read research:
Berns, GS, McClure, SM, Montague, PR (2001) Predictability modulates human brain response to reward. J. Neuroscience 21(8):2793-2798
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