The nudge is a technique devised by Nobel Prize winner Richard Thaler used by governments and other organisations to change people’s behaviour in a simple, low-cost way. It was originally applied in behavioural economics, but nudges are now used in a variety of fields to lead people toward desirable conduct without actually forcing them to do anything.
Right now, for example, medical professionals have observed that obese and overweight people are more likely to suffer serious consequences if they become infected with Covid-19. In response, the British government is nudging lazy folk to persuade them to get off the sofa and into gyms and sports grounds. They are banning television advertisements for fast food before the watershed and reminding people that little changes can make a big difference in the long run.
For the last three months, I’ve been using three nudge-based apps on my telephone to prod me into adopting new habits and behaviours to improve my personal and professional life. The first of these is called ‘Streaks”. It’s absolutely simple, but it works. You set yourself up to twelve daily goals (they don’t have to be daily and can be more or less frequent). The app nudges you to work toward your goals. I have set mine to remind me to spend ten minutes on admin tasks twice a day, tidy my refrigerator, clean my teeth three times a day, drink ten glasses of water, apply sunscreen, take my vitamins, and walk the dog. As you build up streaks and keep them going, these little changes soon become ingrained habits that improve your life.
Everyone needs enough sleep to stay healthy and perform well at work. One app that can help you to make rest a priority is Sleepwatch, which tracks how long and how well you are sleeping. Taking data from your smartwatch or fitness band, it shows the percentage of the night you were sleeping deeply or lightly, tracks your heart rate and provides interesting information. All this is presented in an easy-to-understand graph on your smartphone. My sister installed the app because she was concerned that she was not sleeping at all (her husband is a snorer). Still, she rests more easily because she knows she is actually sleeping far more than she had thought, removing the associated stress.
Last but not least, is an app advertised everywhere on TV and the internet which nudges you into making positive changes to every aspect of life. Noom tracks calories in and out (it synchs with your smartwatch) and gives you endless psychological tips and tricks to help keep you on track to achieve your weight, fitness and life goals.
Of course, it doesn’t work for everyone, but these nudges are certainly sending me in the right direction.