How To Tip Behavior In Your Favour

Dozens of people shared this article with me this week.

13 people quit email as part of a week-long experiment. They became more productive, less stressed, and much happier.

Judging by it’s popularity, the message resonates. But those sharing the article probably won’t act on it.

Isn’t that strange? People share advice they don’t follow. The majority won’t see the discrepancy here.

The problem is the same problem facing any of you trying to get your audience to do anything.

Actions that have a big impact aren’t driven by single messages.

Actions that have a big impact are driven by a combination of personal beliefs, social norms, habits, and the environment (and a little genetic luck).

If you have enough influence over each one of these, you tip behavior in your favour.

Good stories about benefits is great for changing personal beliefs. But personal beliefs alone don’t change behavior. You also need to show who else they know is doing it, prepare the environment, and build a new habit (or routine) of doing it.

If you want to change behavior, work on multiple levels that influence behavior.

Provide persuasive stories of similar people who have quit email and seen the results. Ensure these people explain their emotional state before they performed the behavior and what drove their decisions. This will increase the level of empathy.

Next solicit a firm commitment from a group of people (who know each other) to only check email once a week beginning on a specific date to create the social norm.

Now create a tool or some system that will lock them out of email or report to the group if they dare log in. Make the environment conducive to that behavior.

Finally have them make a note of their anxiety and productivity levels before and after the behavior to feel a sense of reward and build the habit.

If you focus just on writing persuasive messages, you’re likely to be disappointing. Your chances of changing behavior are far higher if you can work on multiple levels at once.


  1. Bo McGuffee says:

    I love this. I’m a strong proponent of working on multiple levels at once, with an understanding of how they all interrelate. When it comes to bringing about change, the sum of the overall effort is truly greater than the individual parts. Of course, in order to put all that together, you have to have a solid idea of what it is you are trying to do.

    Fwiw, the book that really helped me to understand how it all worked together was Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change.

    Thanks, @richard_millington! This is a great example of how that unfolds in a practical situation.

  2. Sam says:

    Great article

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