The Psychological Advantage

Business-Psychology-Learning-how-to-Make-your-Products-Stand-out-to-Potential-CustomersAccording to Forbes, 39.2% of psychology majors coming right out of college had an offer for a job somewhere. Of course, the knowledge and skill base of your average graduate is pretty variable, but it does speak to the utility of a background in psychology. Most companies, at some point or another, fall into a trap of the latest psychological-metric trend guaranteed to increase growth and productivity, or lend a hand to HR in order to hire the right folks.

However, let’s talk about using psychology to your benefit.

Watson and Skinner, the pioneers of behaviorism, taught us a lot about human behavior and how to understand behavioral contingencies. It was Skinner, however, who gifted us operant conditioning and a quick path to behavior modification that could yield actionable goal-setting (and adherence) behavior.

Alright, let’s back up.

That was a lot of jargon coming at your fast.

Understand the behavior. So what is that you are trying to do? Be accurate and honest here. Are you trying to write more every day? Do you want more conversions from your marketing campaign? Do you want to be more productive and complete more things on your to-do list? Whatever the thing is that you want to do, define it, and describe it well.

Salient, powerful reward. This is really the tricky part for program adherence. When we think of rewarding ourselves, we generally land on something that we could do without, or something we have a lot of ways to get. What you want to do is choose something specific, salient, and powerful; and by that I mean something that you couldn’t go through the day without. How about an example? A good friend of mine really wanted to finish the novel he had been talking about for a decade. The problem was: he didn’t make the time; and he lacked the discipline to stick to a writing schedule. He asked me what he could do differently since I am a productivity and discipline junkie. I asked what he did every day; he shrugged. As we were sitting over coffee, I noticed that he checked his phone a few times. I asked him what had captured his attention. Apparently, he had become addicted to one of those app games where you built little towns and went to war with other players. He explained that if he didn’t check in often, his town and little digital population would be decimated. That was the a-ha moment: I had successfully found what he couldn’t live without. The solution was simple. He would have to write a certain amount of words in order to check on his digital world. Lo and behold, the strategy worked because the reward was very clear.

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Volume. Behavior change takes time; as such, you will have lots of opportunities to fail (which is the currency of success), but, more importantly, you will be able to repeat the behavior-reward dyad enough times to truly turn it into a habit. The actual amount of time it takes for this kind of habituation varies based on psychological makeup, the task, the reward, and a host of other things. Some estimates put it as low as 10 days and more conservative suggestions put it at closer to eight weeks. Either way, volume is your friend; when in doubt, keep working that behavioral contingency.

Make the behavior as easy as possible to guarantee program adherence. Human beings like to complicate things. We want difficult explanations to simple problems, because we can’t imagine that the answer shouldn’t be multi-faceted and complex. You might talk about looking for a simple solution, but what you really mean is you want an easy answer, which is not the same.

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