We go about our days with generally rational behaviour, but there are always those moments that seem a bit irrational (or at least go against what we think we want). How can we identify those points and how can we fix them?
Dan Ariely, author of the great book Predictably Irrational and student of human behaviour, shares how he approaches hacking social behaviour:
I think social scientists often work in an analogous way, though (of course) with nobler intentions. Let’s say that we social scientists want to look at a certain human behaviour, such as overeating at the cafeteria: we would start by examining the different steps that people take as they go through the cafeteria – looking at where the customers stand, what they see, who they see, what tempts them, how they decide what to take, where and how they pay, and so on. Next, we would try to identify possible points in the process that seem to encourage or enable overeating, and then try to come up with different ways to influence peoples’ decisions at these weak points.
For example, the weak point might be the location of the hamburger stand you pass on your walk when heading out for lunch, making it difficult to resist temptation when trying to lose weight. The idea is to provide a specific goal, look closely at the moments when certain behaviours try to mess with that goal, and then imagine what a solution would look like.
This is something you can do with your own behaviour. When you have a moment of irrationality in your life, pay attention to what’s around you. What’s causing temptation? What’s making you do what you don’t really want to be doing? When you record the problems specifically, you can start thinking about the ways you can minimise or remove them. This may seem simple, but that’s kind of the point. As Dan points out, “hacking” is about finding an absolute solution, but a simple one with available tools. Sometimes all you need is an easy fix, like taking a different route to lunch that doesn’t pass by that hamburger stand.
Social Hacking [Dan Ariely]