Is there something you want but can't seem to accomplish? Behavioral economics can often provide effective solutions to the common problems, but discovering them requires us to view our problems differently.
At an early morning meeting the other day a colleague at work named Jennifer complained that she had the hardest time getting out of bed in the morning. "Every night when I go to bed I tell myself that I will get up as soon as my alarm goes off," she said, "But the next day I hit the snooze button five or six times! I don't know what more I can do."
"Redoubling your determination won't help," I said, "System 2 isn't the problem. Your rational thinking process is already convinced. You have a problem with System 1 which we must correct by changing your environment."
Of Two Minds
Systems 1 and 2 refer to the two ways all people think and decide--what science calls Dual Process Theory. System 2 is the conscious, explicit, controlled process. System 2 is rules based and rational. Jennifer's System 2 wanted to get out of bed.
System 1 is the unconscious, implicit, automatic process. System 1 uses a collection of short cuts--or, "heuristics"--driven by context and past experience to make snap decisions. Jennifer's System 1 wanted to stay in bed.
When the two systems agree, things go smoothly. But, when there's a conflict, as in Jennifer's case, problems arise. Every New Year's resolution is made by System 2 and broken by System 1.
Not only do the systems operate differently, they must be influenced differently too. To influence System 2 we provide information to change people's minds so they will change their behavior. Using this approach I might have reminded Jennifer of the benefits of getting up when her alarm went off; that she would get to work on time, be less rushed and stressed, etc. But, Jennifer didn't need further convincing. Her System 2 already wanted to get out of bed. She needed help with her System 1.
Influencing System 1 requires a different approach. Here we must change the context which alters behavior directly and the mind changes last. That's because when there is a conflict between our behaviors and our beliefs, we often reconcile it by adjusting our beliefs. We use System 2 to rationalize decisions already made by System 1.
Back to Bed
I asked Jennifer what made her want to stay in bed so we could identify the environmental factors we needed to change. She said, "Well, its so warm and cozy under the covers." Since all human value judgments are comparative, she was comparing the temperature under the covers with the cooler temperature of the surrounding room. That provided the first opportunity. "Okay," I said, "What else?"
"And then there's my sleep machine." "Your what!," I asked? "My sleep machine," she said. "It's an app on my iPad connected to my Bose radio that plays soothing white noise to help me sleep." "Clearly it's working," I said.
"And what happens when the alarm goes off," I asked? "I hit the snooze button and roll over," she confessed.
Okay, I said. Here is the three step plan that will overcome your System 1 objections to getting out of bed.
1. Purchase a programmable thermostat and set it to make your bedroom uncomfortably warm just before the time you want to get out of bed. By eliminating the disparity between the temparature under the covers and the temperature of the room, you eliminate an incentive to stay in bed.
2. Program your sleep machine to turn off before your alarm is schedule to sound. By turning off the sleep maching, you will deprive your System 1 of a cue that you strongly associate with sleeping, thereby giving you one less obstacle to overcome.
3. Finally, move your alarm clock to a place you cannot reach from your bed so you must get up to turn it off. We all have a default bias, a preference to keep things as they are. When you can turn off your alarm while in your bed, you will tend to stay in bed. Once you are out of bed, you will tend to stay out of bed.
Rise and Shine
Jennifer applied steps 2 and 3 (she didn't install a programmable thermostat) but that was enough. Those changes reduced the objections from her System 1 and allowed her rational System 2 desire to get out of bed to win the battle.
Is there something you really want to do, but can't? Your System 1 may be to blame. Consider the contextual/environmental conditions that may be preventing you from getting what you want and how you might rearrange them to achieve your goals.
Spread the fire. GS