[00:00:19.4] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Science of Success. Introducing your host, Matt Bodnar.
[0:00:11.8] MB: Welcome to the Science of Success; the number one evidence-based growth podcast on the internet with more than three million downloads and listeners in over a hundred countries.
In this episode, we ask why you don’t follow through on the things that are most important to you? How can someone facing down mere down fail to follow essential health protocols? What causes people to self-sabotage? Why is it so hard to follow-up and follow through on your goals? We share the important lesson that it’s not about more information. It’s about finding the right pattern of behaviors and habits to match with your desired goal and building a scientifically validated process to make sure you actually achieve them. We discuss this and much more with our guest Dr. Sean Young.
Do you need more time? Time for work, time for thinking and reading, time for the people in your life, time to accomplish your goals? This was the number one problem our listeners outlined and we created a new video guide that you can get completely for free when you sign up and join our e-mail list. It's called How You Can Create Time for the Things That Really Matter Life. You can get it completely for free when you sign up and join the e-mail list at successpodcast.com.
You're also going to get exclusive content that's only available to our e-mail subscribers. We recently pre released an episode in an interview to our e-mail subscribers a week before it went live to our broader audience and that had tremendous implications, because there is a limited offer in there with only 50 available spots that got eaten up by the people who were on the e-mail list first.
With that same interview, we also offered an exclusive opportunity for people on our e-mail list to engage one-on-one for over an hour with one of our guests in a live exclusive interview just for e-mail subscribers. There's some amazing stuff that's available only to e-mail subscribers that's only going on if you subscribe and sign up to the e-mail list. You can do that by going to successpodcast.com and signing up right on the home page.
Or if you're driving around right now, if you're out and about and you're on the go, you don't have time, just text the word “smarter” to the number 44-222. That's S-M-A-R-T-E-R to the number 44-222.
Our previous episode was a bit different than a normal episode of Science of Success. We shared the incredible real-life story of the epic quest to see how the world's most successful people launched their careers. Including a wild journey of hacking the price is right, meeting Bill Gates and Lady Gaga in an epic five-year quest to study and learn from the world's top achievers.
This is a topic I've dedicated my life to and this fascinating discussion with our previous guest, Alex Banayan shines some new light on one of the most important questions of our lives; what was the inflection point that set massively successful people's lives on a different trajectory? If you want to discover what set the world's top achievers on their own unique and different paths, listen to our previous episode.
Now, for our interview with Sean.
[0:03:28.8] MB: Today, we have another exciting guest on the show, Dr. Sean Young. Sean's the Executive Director of the University of California Institute for Prediction Technology. He's previously worked with companies such as NASA and has spoken in forums such as the European Parliament. He's the author of the number-one Wall Street Journal bestseller Stick With It, a scientifically proven process for changing your life for good. His work has been featured across the globe. Sean, welcome to the Science of Success.
[0:03:56.1] SY: Thanks for having me, Matt.
[0:03:57.4] MB: Well, we're really excited to have you on the show today. To start out, I'd really love to dig into this fascinating idea that you talked about, which is that personal change in our current society we often think about people's inability to change as a problem of willpower, or a problem with the individual, but you say that that may not be the case.
[0:04:16.9] SY: Yeah, there are a lot of misconceptions we have about change and how people, how we ourselves or others can stick with things that we want to do. That's really what got me interested in this area and ultimately, writing Stick With It. There were a number of personal and professional things going on in my life back, I guess it's about 15 years ago now. I was a graduate student at Stanford studying psychology. I was working at NASA Ames and in startups and I was a musician. I have a music background.
There are a number of things going on that got me to question why don't people stick with things that we want to do? Ultimately, one of the most important of those issues was something very personal to me related to my family. I'm really close with my family. I'm extremely close with my brother. My brother has something called Crohn's disease, or a intestinal disease. He and I were in a band. I was up at grad school at Stanford, the band came up, we played a show. He after the show, couldn't go back home to Southern California with the rest of the bandmates. He was in too much pain.
I brought him the emergency room and it turns out that his intestines had burst. They said he was minutes away from dying. He almost died. Afterward, he was in the hospital there at Stanford for about two or three weeks recovering. They told them he's going to have to take daily medication. He was going to have to do other things to change his life. My mother and I who were there, we’re really pushing you got to reduce stress and meditate and eat better and exercise and all these things, which he said he would do a 100%. Ultimately, he did not end up doing those things.
It really got me questioning – I mean first, it made me angry. It made me frustrated. I was so scared, because I had been right next to him when he almost died and now he wasn't following through with these recommendations that he said he would do, that he knew were good for him. Why was he not doing these things?
I initially was studying thinking is it something wrong with him? Over time from studying this from applying the research that I did in psychology, from applying it with technologies we've done, and over 15 years or so of time of studying and talking to experts, I found that so many people, really all of us have this same issue, where there are things that all of us in our lives or in our work say that we're going to do or want to do, but don't follow through.
We're often, we typically are taught to put blame on ourselves or on others for not following through at those things. We're told, if you want to be able to be more successful at work, just be like someone else who's more successful. We have examples of Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs in tech. Just become like them and read a book, or become the way they are, have the same routine that they do.
In medicine, I'm a professor in family medicine at UCLA. I'll talk with doctors and will say, I prescribed medication to my patients. They didn't take it. What's wrong with them? We're taught to become someone else, or put the blame on ourselves, or others if we don't follow through. What I've learned through this research over a number of years is that it's not about changing the person. It's just about changing the process.
All of that led to through the course of my own study and research doing this at UCLA as a professor and overseeing the Center for Digital Behavior and Institute for Prediction Technology, we've studied this research in our own work with patients within public health and I consult on the side and have done it with consulting with companies and startups, and even have applied this science that I've learned to my own life. Ultimately, Stick With It was my attempt to when people ask me these questions of what is the science spine of how to stick with things.
I took research from old classic research from psychology and distilled that, as well as cutting-edge research from our own group and others into packageable new material of how do we use the science of sticking with things.
[0:08:53.6] MB: Why is it that we don't follow through on the things that often matter most to us?
[0:08:58.1] SY: There are a number of reasons. One of them, we are taught to assume that people don't stick with, or just not educated enough. That's one thing we're taught. We're told, if you don't exercise, if you don't sell enough products, whatever it is, you just don't have enough information is what we're told. That's actually not really true.
In public health research, we know with smoking you can tell someone, you’re going to hit them over the head tell them not to smoke and why they shouldn't, but they just keep doing it. Education is not the reason why we don't. It's not lack of money. We're taught that if you just pump money into something and if you advertise the hell out of it and then people will keep buying it. That's not true.
We've learned what it really comes down to is that there are three different types of behaviors, or what I call A, B and C behaviors, or what stands for Automatic, Burning and Common behaviors. I can get into this in a minute later on. Not all behaviors are the same. We can't just – a lot of people talk about habits; just build habits and if you build good habits, you'll be able to do whatever you want in your life.
Well, habits are only a small part of the behaviors we do in our lives. Habits are unconscious things that we do. There's a science behind how you build habits and stick with habits, but what about the rest of all the different types of behaviors we do? Well, there are three different types of behaviors and there's a science and specific tools for how we change and stick with those behaviors. People are not incorporating that science of I call the ABCs of behavior and there are seven tools for how we change those ABCs.
[0:10:46.7] MB: It's a really interesting conclusion that not all behaviors are created equal and not all habits solve each behavior.
[0:10:55.3] SY: It's intuitive if we think about so many other things, but we don't think about that in terms of psychology. We’re all aware of physical forces in our lives, even if we haven't taken a physics class, we know that there are physical forces moving on an object. An airplane, we have to be aware of winds on an airplane and how it affects the winds and things like that to fly it safely, the aerospace engineers who make it, the pilots, everyone who's a part of it has to be aware of those physical forces that move objects.
There are actually physical forces, or there are behavioral forces that move people in certain ways too and we need to be aware of those behavioral forces. There are seven of them that I talked about in Stick With It. What it means is that just if you're using a toolkit and you can't use a screwdriver, let's say to hammer something down, there are specific tools, behavioral tools that we can use for changing different types of behaviors, because they're not all the same.
[0:12:04.5] MB: Before we get into the different toolkits and how we should apply them to each of those behaviors, which I think is a great insight and a really thoughtful way of approaching this problem, I want to dig a little bit deeper into each of these as you call them ABCs of behavior. Let's start with the A, the automatic behaviors. Tell me what exactly are automatic behaviors and how do we notice or discover them in our lives?
[0:12:26.8] SY: Yeah. Automatic behaviors are things that like the name, we do automatically. We're not even aware that we're doing them. Let's say you and I are talking and you're – are you a New Yorker? You look like you're on the East Coast, right?
[0:12:41.2] MB: I'm in Nashville, but I used to live in New York.
[0:12:43.5] SY: You used to be in New York, okay. Well, so New Yorkers are – my family's from New York and New Yorkers are often loud and talkative and interrupt each other all the time. If I was interrupting you while you're talking, probably something that I'm doing and I'm not even aware that I'm doing. It's just, let's say something that I was brought up, or got used to doing. That's something that happens automatically. It's an automatic behavior. Automatic behaviors are because they're done automatically, there's a certain way and certain tools that you use for changing automatic behaviors.
B behaviors are burning behaviors. These are things where you're aware of what you're doing, but you feel you can't stop yourself. When you wake up in the morning, I mean, I don't know about you, but probably the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is I lean over and grab my phone and maybe I'll check e-mail, or check what time it is, or whatever it is. I can stop myself from doing it, but it's pretty difficult. It's just become – I wouldn't call it a habit, because it's not completely automatic, but it's difficult to do it.
We're conscious of what we want to do, but it feels we can't stop. Addictions, or the way we typically people talk about addictions not from a clinical perspective, but when we typically talk about addictions, we're talking about burning behaviors. Things like, just having to play video games, having to check your phone, having to check a text message, those are burning behaviors. Because we're aware of those, there's a different – slightly different set of tools for changing B behaviors an A behaviors.
Last, C behaviors are common behaviors. These are called that because it's actually the most common of all behaviors. Most things that we want to change are C, or common behaviors. Common behaviors where we're aware of what we're doing. We just often can't stick with it, because other things come up. Let's say, I want to be able to get more work done today. I was talking to someone yesterday and he called me and he was coming actually from a real estate investor background. He wanted to be able to be more efficient with his work. How does he avoid distractions that are coming up?
Often, if we’re working and our friends call us and say, “Hey, let's go out to dinner,” or some other distraction comes, we would just put our work aside and say, “I'll get back to it later.” That's a C behavior. It's often due to motivation, or other types of distractions. There's a different set of tools, or forces used for changing C behaviors than B or A. You can understand when people often say, right now there's this big emphasis on changing habits, well if you want to get yourself to go for a run every day, that's never going to be an automatic habit. You're never just going to put on your running shoes, go run around for a half hour, come back and not even realize that you did it. That's never going to happen. It's a C behavior, because we're at least a lot of the time that we go for a run, we're going to be aware of what we're doing. We need different tools for getting ourselves to do that.
[0:15:57.7] MB: Are common behaviors positive goals, things we’re aspiring towards, or the negative things we’re trying to avoid, or can they be both of those?
[0:16:05.9] SY: It can be both. You can imagine a common behavior could be I want to – like in the example I just gave, this person wanted – he’s a real estate investor. “I want to be more efficient with my time. I want to avoid distractions and focus more.” Those could be flipped around either way. It could be, “How do I avoid distractions and remove distractions, or how do I train myself to focus more?” The same thing, I want to be able to run more, or I want to stop eating junk food.
[0:16:35.2] MB: We have all these different buckets of behavior and there's also a toolkit that you've not necessarily developed, but brought to light and done some research around as well that you talk about the seven forces of behavior change that we can use to bring to bear on each of these different behaviors. Tell me a little bit about that.
[0:16:52.7] SY: A, B and C is I came up with that just based on seeing behaviors aren't all the same. The seven forces or tools for changing them, those are well-documented throughout psychological research, that there are a lot of different things that we can do to change people's behavior. I put these together in a framework called SCIENCE, where each one of the letters of the word ‘science’ represents a different one of these seven tools.
The acronym SCIENCE, I didn't call it science because you have to be a scientist, or you have to be a doctor or anything. It's just so that we remember these are rooted, like this podcast where you want to [inaudible 0:17:36.2] on science. These are rooted in decades of scientific research, as well as in more cutting-edge research.
We can get into each one individually. The S stands for stepladders, C for community, I for important, E for easy, N for what I call neuro hacks, the next C stands for captivating and the last E stands for engrained.
Maybe a good starting point is to talk about stepladders. That one is first and it's also the simplest, not necessarily the easiest to implement, but it's the simplest idea. It's just the idea of let's do things in small steps. If you want to get yourself, forget others to continue doing things, then doing them in small incremental steps is helpful. What is a small incremental step? How do we know what that actually is?
There was a person I ran into. I was at the market and this guy was just – he wanted to run a marathon. He was telling me a story and he said he had been trained in army intelligence, so he was at the Language Institute in Monterey; really smart guy. Trained in Arabic language and at the institute, he – in high school he was a cross-country runner; ran 10 miles easily. In high school, studied at the language institute, went off to the military, served our country in Afghanistan and army intelligence. Came back after service and decides, “I'm going to run a marathon.”
I mean, if there's anyone who can run a marathon, it would be this person. Like I said, he had the training from run – he knew how to run from high school, from running cross-country, he was smart, he was motivated. I mean, he had routines down. The military trained him. He's already – you ask someone and they would say, “Yes, I'd put my chips on this guy that he's going to be able to run this marathon.”
He tells me, he gets to mile 19 and then he just collapses and he didn't make it. He said, “I didn't finish the marathon. I'm probably not going to run another one in the future. This was not a good experience.” What was it that didn't allow him to finish the marathon? Well, it turns out it's pretty simple. He didn't train for the marathon.
He had everything that we would say you need in terms of your personality, but he didn't implement this process. He came back and just thought, “I can run a marathon,” but he didn't gradually build up and regain his training. Really impressive actually how he got to mile 19, but he couldn't finish it.
That story is really intuitive and can we say, “Well yeah, obviously you should train for a marathon.” Many of us make those same mistakes in our own life and we don't do things that we don't plan things in small steps in our own lives. We may plan to work and sell a bunch of products and “I'm going to make a lot of money,” or, “I'm going to be extremely healthy,” or “I'm going to exercise every day this year.” This past year leading up to it, I exercised once a month. That's not realistic. We need to plan things in small steps.
How do what small is? It's different to different people what's a small step. In Stick With It, I created a figure called steps, goals and dreams. In that figure, I quantify what a small step is, what a goal and what a dream is. A dream is something that takes three months, or more. For me, running a marathon would be a dream. It's not that I can't do it, but I definitely would need to train for it.
A goal is something that takes about a month to three months. Then a step is something that takes a week, or less. Step, you could do today. If I've never run before, getting a pair of running shoes is a step. Just something that's very concrete and actionable. Oftentimes when I work with people on this, the first step that I do is I'll have them create a calendar. With that calendar, we will document for each day what are you planning on doing, and that helps break things out in two steps, goals and dreams for them. That's the idea of step ladders.
Then there are six other tools or forces that can be integrated. In general, the more of them that you use, the more likely you are to stick with things, but there is a figure and stick with it which will say which ones are most important for A behaviors, B behaviors and C behaviors.
[0:22:32.3] MB: I think it's so important to break your goals down into these small actionable steps. I really like the idea of the framework of looking at it from a week or less, one to three months and over three months. That's a really clear distinction that helps break down okay, how much activity am I going to have to do and how long are these activities going to take to accomplish? Making it easier to do, which is another one of the steps in the framework obviously, to really start creating progress.
[0:22:59.9] SY: Yeah. Easy is another really key. Easy is one that is key across all three of them. With easy, it's also another one that's simple to understand, but it's pretty difficult to implement. I had with easy, here's an example in my own life. I work at UCLA and I used to go to the gym on campus, the wooden gym center there. I would care about health. I was pretty dedicated. I would go every day. At a certain point, I stopped going to the gym as frequently. I just didn't go as often.
If I'm a data person, if someone was let's say, looking at tracking my steps, tracking my activity and they would have seen that I stopped going, maybe they'd make some attributions or judgments about me. Maybe they'd say, “No, he just got lazy. His work increased. He's older now he's too tired to go to the gym.” People could come up with all kinds of reasons, but what it ultimately came down to was I used to work close to that gym on campus and switched to where my office is now on – it's called Wilshire in Westwood. It's about a mile south of that area on campus.
Now I would have to walk up there. It's hard to drive, it's hard to get up there and it was just much more difficult for me to get up to that gym and keep working out there. What I did, I changed gyms. Now when I go to work, I carry my gym bag with me and I switched to a gym that's right across the street from my work. On the way to the parking lot to my car, I have my gym bag on me and I have to walk past my gym. It's almost makes it that it's more difficult to just keep walking, than it is to hang it right in to the door and go to my gym. That's the way we can leverage easy to get ourselves to keep doing things.
[0:25:08.1] MB: I know snacking is another really good example. My own personal experience; if I don't have snacks in the house, I'll still do the ritual of going and looking around to the pantry and rooting around to see if there's anything to eat and then I just will walk back upstairs with nothing. If I have snacks, I'll do the same thing and I'll eat them.
[0:25:25.3] SY: Yeah, absolutely. That's something that definitely comes up a lot. I'll tell people get – they'll say, I'm eating chocolate late night. One of the things we do is let's clear your place of chocolates, so that doesn't mean you're not going to get it, but you'd have to go to the store and let's say, late at night to go get your chocolate. Then you're probably not going to do that.
I find religion pretty interesting, because religions have been around for such a long time and it's a good example of how we stick with things. A lot of religions are really good at implementing these things intuitively. For certain religions where people will go on fast, or there's certain foods that they're not supposed to eat, that's exactly what they do. There will be, let's say a week of time take Passover, I'm Jewish. People are told, “Clear your house of everything that you may eat that you're not supposed to be eating.” It's rooted in religion, it's rooted in spirituality and God, but there's a lot of psychology supporting it. Where if you clear those distractions, it'll get you to stay on the path and stick with things you want to do.
[0:26:37.8] MB: You also share a really great story of Joe Coulombe. I'd love to hear that and how that applies to making things easier.
[0:26:46.4] SY: Yeah. The story of Joe, this was an interesting one. He finishes up – gets his MBA from Stanford and then goes and works back in around 1960s and he goes to work for a grocery chain, grocery store chain. Then they ask him. They say, “Okay, go start your own –start this new chain of grocery stores called Pronto.” He starts it up, but he notices that at the time, there's another new chain of stores that's just taking over everything. This chain of stores is called 7-Eleven.
7-Eleven was open 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. So much time, it offered everything people wanted. Pronto started failing and it's not doing well. The owl wrecks all the chain that Joe was working for and said, “Okay, let's cut Pronto and we're bringing you back. We're done with Pronto.” Joe says, “No, I'm not going to do that. I'm going out on a limb and I'm going to make this work.”
He goes off on his own. He mortgages his house. He raises money himself, but still doesn't really know what he's going to do. How is he going to save this grocery store chain? He takes a trip to the Caribbean. While he's in the Caribbean, he's on these islands where you're just sitting there listening to music, you're listening to calypso and reggae, you're eating nice food and it's really designed as a luxury vacation spot, where you don't do anything.
They bring you your food, they bring you your drinks and you just relax. It's designed to make it easy for the tourists. That's where he gets his idea and he says, “I'm going to make it easy for the shoppers to be shopping at my grocery store.” In contrast to the trends of let's just offer everything possible to people, he decides, “I'm going to limit the amount of options people have. Instead of giving them 15 types of bread, I'm going to give him one or two high-quality bread options for wheat bread or for white bread. Instead of having 10 different types of mustard, I’m just going to give them a couple of choices.”
He does this for all the different products. His store ends up becoming a huge success. Not just picks up then, but it continues to exist today. The store that we're talking about is Trader Joe's, so named after Joe. That's why if you go to a Trader Joe's, they still wear their Hawaiian tropical shirts and have that same theme, because it was modeled after Joe and his experience in saving them.
[0:29:29.2] MB: It's a great story and it shows how much making things easy really impacts people's behavior. I'd love to look at neuro hacks. When I see that or hear that, it piques my interest. I'm very curious what it is, or what that even means.
[0:29:41.5] SY: Yeah, neuro hacks is the idea that we can – in our brain, we're wired to do things a certain way. Things are ingrained in our brand. For that reason, a lot of people feel like, “I can never change. This is just the way I am. This is who I am and that's it.” Neuro hacks is counter to that. Neuro hack says that's not true. The science says that's not true.
There are actually things we can do that can be a switch that just turns on or off parts of your brain metaphorically, turns your brain to be able to do things that you never were able to do before. We're typically taught – conventional wisdom will say and motivational speakers will say if you want to do something, just visualize it, imagine you can do it and you can do it. Just keep your mind focused and you will be able to do it.
People keep finding that as much as they try to visualize things, as much as they try to stay on point thinking about something, it just doesn't always work. What we've learned in research is that it's actually the opposite. If you want to get yourself to stick with doing something, it doesn't start from the mind, it doesn't start from you telling yourself, willing yourself, “I want to do this.” It actually starts from behavior. It starts from changing your behavior. Then your mind will follow.
There's some cool research studies behind this. There's one where people were split into two different groups and they were – both groups were told they were going to listen to a series of advertisements. These were product type advertisements to get people interested in the product. Half of the group was told – they were put in one area and told, “I want you to move your head up and down.” Imagine your chin moving down and then up, down and then up.
The other half of the group was told, “I want you to move your head side to side.” Imagine moving your chin left to right, left to right. Then afterward, they were asked – each group was asked, how much do you agree with what you heard about the advertisements, about the products? Turned out that the group who was told to move their head up and down said that they agree with the advertisement more than the group told to move it side to side.
Now the only information they were given was just move your head in this direction, or that direction; up and down, or left and right. What actually was happening was that the group who was told to move their head up and down, they realized either subconsciously or consciously that this is the action that we take when we are approving of something, when we are saying yes.
There was a lot of probably subconscious activity going on, where we observe our own behavior and we say, “Well, if I was nodding, it must mean that I agree with the advertising,” and that's why they were more likely to agree with it. That's an example of how neuro hacks is used and can be used and that it's actually our behavior that resets our mind and gets our mind to change things.
There a number of different examples there. There are some cool ones in there. I've actually applied this. I give an example in Stick With It of how I applied it on our German Shepherd lab puppy at the time to get her to be a better listener.
[0:33:16.9] MB: I'm so excited to tell you about our sponsor for this holiday season, the incredible organization The Life You Can Save. I'm sure you get overwhelmed by the countless giving opportunities out there. You feel confused, frustrated and unsure about what the best thing to do is.
When that happens, you often end up making scattered donations to a smattering of random charities with no idea of the real impact you're creating on people's lives. That's why I love The Life You Can Save. You know the focus of the Science of Success is on being evidence-based. The beautiful thing about The Life You Can Save is that they focus on evidence-based giving, finding, selecting and curating the most high-impact donation opportunities, so that you don't have to do all that hard work.
You can start giving right now by visiting www.thelifeyoucansave.org/success. That’s thelifeyoucansave.org/success. They've already done the homework and they have an incredible, well-curated compelling list of hugely impactful giving opportunities, where your donation will be high-leverage and cost-effective.
Our hearts, relationships and networks often guide our giving. The resulting donations usually do some good, but rarely as much as we’d like them to do. The Life You Can Save makes it so that you can easily navigate how to make your charitable giving go much, much further. While you may not be as wealthy or successful as Bill Gates, yet you can still have an enormous impact on the lives of people living in extreme poverty. They can experience dramatic improvements in their lives for much smaller donations.
Visit thelifeyoucansave.org/success to find out more and make rational evidence-based charitable gifts this holiday season.
[0:35:27.4] MB: It reminds me of one of my favorite applications, or principles of this which is that action creates motivation and not the other way around, right? You've ever had the experience of cleaning – you start to clean your desk or something like that and then suddenly, you wake up 20 minutes later and you start – done all the stuff and been really productive. I've had that same experience that our behavior shapes the way we perceive it and it's often reverse of what people think it is.
[0:35:52.2] SY: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, there are not just our behavior, but in the words, there's research behind the words that we use, actually shape our behavior as well. For example, there was a study done – a friend, colleague graduate, friend of mine while we were in grad school and he did this study looking at how do we get people to keep voting and does language influence that?
In one group, people were questioned and told to say, “I vote.” In the other group, “I'm a voter.” One, the action of I vote and the other, the noun or the identity of I am a voter. Then they later followed up to see in which group would people be more likely to vote. Turned out that having that I am a voter, assigning that identity to yourself, people were more likely to follow through and actually do it.
It's by doing this behavior, or by thinking of yourself as the type of person who does something and that's exactly what happens when you do it, if you – after this, I'm going to go for a swim and I go swimming every day, I think of myself as a swimmer, because I go swimming every day, and that gets me to keep swimming. Whereas, if I just told myself it's important for me to swim, it's less likely to get me to do it, than just taking the action and having that change my brain and make me realize, “I just went for a swim. It must be important to me. I must be able to do this and I can keep doing it.”
[0:37:34.2] MB: Another great example you had of a neuro hack from the book was changing your password.
[0:37:39.0] SY: Yeah. This was a story – this was taken from someone else, where he had been going through a rough time. He was a designer by trade at work and he had just gone through a divorce and he was not feeling in the best place. He was feeling depressed and down. He just didn’t feel like going to work and he would go to work, but and he decides, “I need a change. I need a way of changing my life.”
What he did is as he's sitting there and that familiar screen flashes on his computer saying, “Okay, it's time to change your password,” he decides, “I'm going to use my password to just change myself to save my life here and get myself out of this drag, this funk.” He changes his password and he changes it to something that says, “4giveher.”
By typing this word 4giveher every day, he now had to get himself to think of her, type that he was forgiving her. After doing it, it was difficult at first because it reminded him of her, reminded him of his discomfort and sadness, bitterness. As he kept typing 4giveher he realized, “I haven't changed my password to something else. I've been able to stick with this.” Ultimately, he was with not very much time, he was able to forgive her, move on. He's remarried now. He's just changed his life around and he continued with this.
He was a smoker and said, “I'm going to now change this – use the same neuro hack principle for getting myself to quit smoking.” He changed his password to quitsmokingforever. Overnight, he stopped smoking and his – last time that I checked with him, he still had not been smoking at all.
[0:39:46.3] MB: I also want to talk about rewards and whether or not they work to create behavior change.
[0:39:53.3] SY: Yeah. Rewards definitely work to create behavior change. Rewards are really important for getting people to stick with things they want to do, or we want others to do. Oftentimes, people either simplify it, or they misunderstand. They don't go back to the source of where the idea of rewards came from.
We know rewards work, but that's where gamification came about and it was a few years ago everyone was talking about, let's gamify this, let's add game mechanics. Turns out, it works for some people and it works sometimes, but you can't just – it's not a panacea. Why not? What's going on here?
Well, the old research on rewards which showed rewards work, they were based on training animals, like cats or rats. They'd have rats in a cage, or cats in a cage and then they would – the animal would push a lever to be able to get out of the cage. When it did, it would get rewarded, it would get some food.
Now imagine you are in a cage, someone trapped you in a cage and you're just sitting there you can't get out. You find a way to be able to get out and then they give you some food for it. Now that's pretty much one of the best feelings you could ever have. I had this morning, I lost my wallet and I’m like, “Where the hell's my wallet?” Then I found my wallet and it was such a great feeling of finding your wallet, finding my wallet.
Now imagine that just a hundred times more where you're trapped and you're able to get out, that's a real reward. The research was based on that type of feeling. If we reward people with that type of feeling, it'll get them to just be addicted to doing things and do it over and over again. Rewards definitely work, but we need to figure out which types of rewards are best suited for which individuals and when.
In the captivating chapter and that's why we call it captivating, because you can't just use any reward. It's got to be one that's truly captivating. We have a short list of what those are in Stick With It that talks about what's important for people.
[0:42:16.4] MB: I know that in the book you have a much more detailed framework or analysis for this that goes a lot more in-depth. For listeners who want some quick hits or ways to just take what we've talked about today and apply it, if you looked at the seven forces of behavior change and you look at the three types of behavior, what would be your recommendation for the one, or two most impactful strategies for each of the different behavior types?
[0:42:43.3] SY: Yeah. Like I said, first it's important to figure out is something an A, B or C behavior? The simplest thing I'd say, so ideally people go out and get the book, or look at the figure from the book and use it that way. Just off the cuff here, so easy is would be most important for A and B behaviors. There's the example of if I feel there's digital addiction and I can't keep my phone away from me, then just making it easy by avoiding that distraction, put your phone, set it aside for a certain amount of time, put some controls on it, so that you can't check e-mail except for the first 10 minutes of every hour and things like that. That'll make it easy for us to stick with things we want to do.
C behavior, then I would say stepladders and community are most important. We didn't go into community, but community is the idea that social support and competition and other people that that really gets us to stick with things. Also stepladders; so if there's something that you want to do and it's not working, or you've been wanting to do something and it's just not working, start with stepladders. Like I said, one of the things, one of the first things I often do with people is create a calendar and break what you want to do down into steps, goals and dreams.
What's something that you can do today that will move you toward that dream of accomplishing what you want to continue doing three months from now? Put together a calendar, go do that thing you want to do today. Then no matter how small it might seem, be proud of yourself. Reflect back on that achievement, congratulate yourself in whatever way you can reward yourself, whether it's hanging out with friends, or a drink, or doing something you enjoy doing. Congratulate yourself after doing that thing today. That's a good way for people to just get started immediately.
[0:44:44.6] MB: For listeners who want to concretely implement and execute these, what would be the first action step that you would give them to begin?
[0:44:54.4] SY: Yeah. I'd say make a calendar. First step one would be figure out. Is the behavior you're trying to change, is it in A, B or C behavior. Then second, go use that figure, look at the figure and stick with it and identify the seven forces needed for changing that type of behavior. That's the first thing to do. Then most likely, what's going to happen next will be the second thing will be create a calendar for how you can start doing that over time.
[0:45:26.6] MB: For listeners who want to find you, find the book, etc., online, what's the best place for them to do that?
[0:45:32.0] SY: Yeah. You can go to my website seanyoungphd.com. On Twitter, I’m SeanYoungPhD. Also, the book is available online on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, your local bookstore. The other thing I'm a researcher, I'm a medical school professor, I'm an academic, I went into this area because I want to make an impact in the world and really enjoy working with people and helping people.
What I tell people on these podcasts is that thanks again Matt for having me and I'd love for the listeners if you have a question, if you want to connect, reach out to me, I love hearing from people and getting more feedback and connecting with listeners.
[0:46:16.7] MB: Well Sean, thank you so much for coming on the show sharing all this wisdom and knowledge. Great framework for thinking about how we can really create meaningful behavior change.
[0:46:25.9] SY: Thanks for having me, Matt.
[0:46:27.5] MB: Thank you so much for listening to the Science of Success. We created this show to help you our listeners master evidence-based growth. I love hearing from listeners. If you want to reach out, share your story, or just say hi, shoot me an e-mail. My e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s M-A-T-T@successpodcast.com. I’d love to hear from you and I read and respond to every single listener e-mail.
I'm going to give you three reasons why you should sign up for our e-mail list today by going to successpodcast.com, signing up right on the homepage. There are some incredible stuff that’s only available to those on the e-mail list, so be sure to sign up, including an exclusive curated weekly e-mail from us called Mindset Monday, which is short, simple, filled with articles, stories, things that we found interesting and fascinating in the world of evidence-based growth in the last week.
Next, you're going to get an exclusive chance to shape the show, including voting on guests, submitting your own personal questions that we’ll ask guests on air and much more. Lastly, you’re going to get a free guide we created based on listener demand, our most popular guide, which is called how to organize and remember everything. You can get it completely for free along with another surprise bonus guide by signing up and joining the e-mail list today. Again, you can do that at successpodcast.com, sign up right at the homepage, or if you're on the go, just text the word “smarter”, S-M-A-R-T-E-R to the number 44-222.
Remember, the greatest compliment you can give us is a referral to a friend either live or online. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave us an awesome review and subscribe on iTunes because that helps boost the algorithm, that helps us move up the iTunes rankings and helps more people discover the Science of Success.
Don't forget, if you want to get all the incredible information we talked about in the show, links transcripts, everything we discussed and much more, be sure to check out our show notes. You can get those at successpodcast.com, just hit the show notes button right at the top.
Thanks again, and we'll see you on the next episode of the Science of Success.