The power of a sticker…

As the research around behavior change has shown, we humans often do the things we do, not for the benefits explicitly inherent in the activity itself, but for some other outside and still rational reasons.

We turn off the lights when we leave the room because it’s the norm or habit… “that’s what we do around home” – not because we calculate the energy savings as we contemplate leaving the room.  We run in races to set and meet a goal, be with friends, and maybe get a cool t-shirt (Maggie, I’m thinking of you!), not just because that’s the only opportunity to time ourselves and run a measured course.  And, as an anecdote from many years ago (still searching for documentation) – we recycle our old refrigerators, not for a $50 rebate but in exchange for a $10 gift card to the local ice cream shop.

Kids enjoying ice cream truck

Photo courtesy of kazzpoint0 via Flickr

Norms, habits, perceptions, goals, aspirations, and social pressure all contribute to us doing certain behaviors.  A new case in point from my own life:

For the past 7 days, I’ve done more yoga than I typically do in a single month.  You see…there’s a Spring Yoga Challenge going on at my studio (25 practices in 30 days), and I decided to take the challenge and devote myself to my yoga practice for the next month.

The thing is, I have to be honest.  When I think hard about it:

I’m doing it for the stickers.

There’s this sticker board, you see…  And maybe it’s like being a kid and flossing my teeth (I’m thinking of you, Mom…), but we get a sticker after every practice.  And the JOY, of peeling off the sticker from the paper, and putting it by your name is CRAZY REWARDING.

The positively colorful and compelling STICKER BOARD!

The positively colorful and compelling STICKER BOARD!

I didn’t even know until my 4th practice that there are RAFFLE PRIZES for those that complete the challenge.  Really…the stickers do it for me.

Maybe it’s the stickers, but behavior change research shows there’s probably more to this than a happy sticker board.  The Spring Challenge incorporates several “nudges” that research has shown help us change our behavior.

  • The sticker board  is a public and durable commitment – my name is listed along with several others, and our progress is marked next to our name.  It’s much harder to back down when you’ve made the commitment loud, clear, and visible.
  • There’s some social diffusion going on here.  Yoga instructor and my pal, Jonathan, gave me the necessary (even if silly) encouragement to sign up.  I’ve trusted him to lead me into new and strange poses and postures…so it makes sense I would trust him when he says I could/should try this yoga challenge.
  • Timing is not a motivator, but it didn’t stand in the way as a barrier.  Convenient, the Challenge started up right after my last running race, so I wouldn’t be disrupting any training schedule, and I usually turn to more yoga during a recovery period anyway.  (Just to note that timing can matter!)
  • Assisted handstand

    Individually strong… Collectively stronger!

    And, as I mentioned before in a previous post, IPY has a community that encourages certain norms…like doing the Challenge.  My other friends are doing it: Tariq, Monica, Rebecca, Gretchen, Michelle, Jessica…(just to name those I’ve seen most recently) …  And when you show up at Inner Power Yoga, you are always greeted with a smile, a name, some cozy fun chat, and a feeling that you really belong.

There’s community at IPY.  My name on that sticker board reminds me that I’m part of this community.  And in this community we (a bunch of us) are working towards practicing yoga 25 times in the next 30 days.  Pretty powerful stuff, huh?

Crow and extended crow pose

(Yea, this lasted about 3 seconds…)

I’ll keep you posted about my progress, but I have a feeling that even if I don’t complete the 25 practices, I still will have spent valuable time on the mat, deepened my practice, and gained all the benefits that come from a consistent yoga practice…  And maybe the stickers will end up in the recycling bin (however, remembered eternally by my camera phone), but the benefits will last far beyond this 30 days.

You see, it doesn’t matter if it’s stickers or almond butter, endorphins, feeling more confident about yourself, or just showing up because you want to see your friends…what matters is what we end up doing…the benefits will follow regardless.

Lesson: Don’t take for granted what will motivate and compel sustainable or other healthy (even if upside-down and extended) actions and behavior!

Note: Often folks learn about behavior change tools and strategies and they feel that their experience is therefore inauthentic or gamed.  I would argue that these types of structures and strategies are pervasive throughout our day, and we should be so lucky if they are part of and support healthy sustainable activity.  I am grateful for Ursula and the community she has created at IPY, and she created this fun game and challenge which just happens to nudge me (and probably several others) to deepen our yoga practices and dedicate some time to the mat.  There is nothing wrong with this, and I look forward to the fall challenge and many more after that!

Energy efficiency and behavior change struggle on…

For several years, I’ve been writing about, working in, or incorporating behavior change methods to encourage energy conserving behavior.

And I guess this post is to say: Don’t let up.  We haven’t gotten there yet…perhaps not by a long shot.

In our bag of goodies, we have new arsenal: thermostats that beg us to interact (such as Google’s Nest), smart meter interval data available at our finger tips (see Pepco’s My Account), home displays that happen on our phone (see the latest example in the news), and games among games to play with our family and community to encourage reducing energy.

A survey from KSVC, a marketing firm that appreciates the challenge of this task, has revealed that we’re not too far from where we were back in 2012.  Essentially they found:

“…higher utility bill is easier to cope with than the price of a solution.”

In other words, we haven’t made it harder to cope with a higher utility bill than implementing a solution (whether technological or behavioral).  “Energy efficiency” in the home is still a technology, not a state or category of behavior.

Still need time to turn this ship around... (by james_wheeler via flickr)

Still need time to turn this ship around… (by james_wheeler via flickr)

What energy efficiency means to us is:

  • 53% – Energy Efficiency means efficient products and/or technology.
  • 20% – Energy Efficiency means an expensive investment.
  • 16% – Energy Efficiency means conservation.
  • 10% – Energy Efficiency means not measurable savings.

Maybe it’s still about the words we use (as I noted from Dougherty’s work several years ago).  KSVC tried using the term “energy saving solution” and apparently we found that to mean something different:

  • 35% – Energy Savings Solutions means easy-to-implement, DIY tips.
  • 32% – Energy Savings Solutions means financial savings.
  • 23% – Energy Savings Solutions means conservation.
  • 8% – Energy Savings Solutions means immediate savings.

What does this mean for those trying to nudge greater energy savings out of our community?  We need to continue to find the most salient ways to approach the concept of conservation, find ways to ingrain behavior into habits, and continue to build the social norm by making the invisible visible and sharing stories about one another.  In other words, it’s back to the basics of community based social marketing.

Keep on, keeping on….

Read more about KSVC’s survey and their work at: http://www.ksvc.com/blog/2015/3/5/customer-perceptions-of-energy-efficiency-may-surprise-you

Getting your Game On for Energy Savings – SWSX Interactive repost

Race you to the energy efficiency line

A great article by the Rocky Mountain Institute, a Colorado-based  independent, entrepreneurial, nonprofit think-and-do tank, summarizes some of the innovations at the South by Southwest Interactive event.  I’ve mentioned “gamification” before, but his article really brings some concepts home and offers a great example of how gamification can be applied to transportation.   Continue reading

OPOWER: A Minnesota demonstration of feedback and norming

In 2007, bringing together the call to save energy and research on social psychology and behavior change, OPOWER launched a utility customer engagement platform that revolutionizes the way the average consumer relates to their energy bill.  OPOWER has made incredible advances in researching the power of Feedback and Social Norming through their platform, and Minnesota is actually one of their main testing grounds.  I participated in a webinar that included two OPOWER staff and Centerpoint Energy’s Conservation Improvement Program Manager, Todd Berreman and heard some very hopeful news.  Continue reading

BECC Day One: Game on! A lesson in gamification

Hello from Washington, DC!  I am at the end of my first evening at the Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change Conference.  I think I’ve died and gone to heaven–there are so many incredible people here, with so much experience, and who truly understand the task of changing culture and behavior to meet important environmental and community outcomes.

In the opening evening of the conference, early-arrivals gathered for a social desserts-only networking event.  I’ve already run into several individuals I only hoped to meet and have time to chat with here, and had a wonderful discussion with Cool Choices (see previous post) and a programmer from University of Hawaii about “gamification” for energy savings.

For our networking activities, we played different games, including “two truths and a lie” and even Charades.  As Kathy Kundt from Cool Choices pointed out in her opening talk, games are fun.  “Fun” isn’t necessarily how we’ve branded energy efficiency.  But games can bring that element to the work we value. Continue reading