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.
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.
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!)
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?
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!