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Designing Nudges to Build Sustainable Habits

A nudge, is simply defined as a push in the right direction, a way to influence behaviour and decision making of groups. This is the first interaction that you have when building a habit. In behaviour change, designing a good nudge is perhaps the most important step. Nudges have been used by advertisers and marketers for years to increase product sales. In the recent past, there have been some amazing examples of nudges designed for good. A popular campaign in London for example, encouraged smokers to stub their cigarette butts in one of two bins to support their favourite footballer, rather than choosing to litter the ground. A well-designed nudge does not take away options for the consumer, but rather it presents a new, more exciting option that feeds into some innate need of the consumer.

In order to build a good sustainability habit, it is important to build a good nudge or trigger for the behaviour. Some important factors to keep in mind while designing include – time, location, preceding event, emotional state and other people. Say your goal is to start living more sustainably and consume less. You could build a trigger for online and offline purchase decisions to reach this goal. If you know, you typically shop online after dinner when you are tired and in bed, browsing on your phone for some retail therapy, this tells you when and where you need to build a trigger to stop the purchase decision. Perhaps you could take that time to read a book or watch a new TV show instead, thereby reducing the chances of you making an impulse purchase. You could set up a phone call with a friend or family member at that time or set the time aside to talk to your partner or child. Recognizing the time and location for a bad habit is important.

Similarly understanding the preceding event and emotional state is important too. Are you making impulse purchases after dinner because you are bored, because you need a pick me up after the day, or some other reason entirely? If you are bored, picking up a hobby/class/TV show at the time can help change that and if you need a pick me up, you can find other free things that bring you joy to fill that time.

The last factor in designing a good nudge or trigger is other people that you surround yourself with. When trying to build a new habit, it is important to have someone in your life who will encourage you and help you stick to your goals. If you are trying to quit smoking and surround yourself with smokers, it will be extremely tough to quit. This is not to say that you must build new friendships overnight but try and avoid instances which will make it tough for you to stay on course. Explain to family and friends what you are trying to do how you would like them to support you on this journey and then find likeminded people who can guide you and provide the encouragement you need.

At the end the most important thing to remember is that change takes time and nudges should be designed in a way that the person who it is designed for still feels in control of making their own choices. It shouldn’t feel forced, but instead should work as the new normal. A good first step is to understand your audience and what motivates them beyond obvious things such as monetary incentives. Is it prestige? Is it the need to do something correctly? Or is something entirely different. Knowing this will set you on the path to developing a truly good nudge.

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