Unfailingly, the beginning of each year starts with many resolutions – most of which will barely be around mid February. Our struggle to pursue what’s good for us serves as a powerful reminder of what behavioral or attitudinal change really takes to become real and sustained. But perhaps we can manipulate ourselves more effectively?
Social scientists and marketing researcher have been studying forms of manipulation for quite some time now. There are some interesting findings you can use to “manipulate” yourself in sticking to your resolution. One is based on the concept of the shaken self. While the “think positive” paradigm has its place, looking at our shortcomings and unfulfilled goals can be more effective in helping us reach our goals.
- One person is asked to write a short essay highlighting his healthy life habits. He does so. Afterwards, he’s offered a choice of two small rewards for his work: an apple, or a pack of M&M’s. He makes his choice and leaves.
- After that, another person is asked to write a short essay highlighting her healthy life habits. As she’s about to begin, the sociologist asks her to write it with her non-dominant hand. After she does so, she is offered a choice between an apple or a pack of M&M’s.
The second person is significantly more likely to make the healthy choice. Why is that?
In this study from Stanford, social scientists explore the effects of a “shaken self”: At its core lies our need to bolster our self-confidence. The act of writing about one of your virtues with your non-dominant hand induces a temporary state of lower confidence in the trait you’re writing about. The test subjects who wrote with their non-dominant hand tended to choose rewards that would bolster their self-image with regard to the virtue they were writing about.
So how does this help you or your team to do better in pursuing aspirations? Here are some keys:
- You are more likely to make an extra positive effort when you are in shaken state.
- So shake yourself. Personally – or if you wish to bring this to your team – collectively. Take the proverbial “look in the mirror”, use 360 tools, invite external feedback. Anything that grounds you in a reality less tainted by wishful thinking but by the reality of what you bring to your life and the people in it.
- Once you are shaken – considers what really matters to you now or in the future. List some options that you see to take action.
- Pick the option of your choice with a commitment to pursue it for a week/month/quarter.
- After that period, take stock, shake yourself, and reconsider your options anew.
- Make a new commitment for a limited period of time…
Many cognitive biases make us prone to manipulation – but we can also use them to manipulate ourselves to reach more effectively goals of our own.
Reminding ourselves of our shortcomings or off-target goals is not necessarily a downer. It can very well be rocket fuel to build tenacity of purpose.