Archive | July 2014

You Are Not Late

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You Are Not Late

Can you imagine how awesome it would have been to be an entrepreneur in 1985 when almost any dot com name you wanted was available? All words; short ones, cool ones. All you had to do was ask. It didn’t even cost anything to claim. This grand opportunity was true for years. In 1994 aWired writer noticed that mcdonalds.com was still unclaimed, so with our encouragement he registered it, and then tried to give it to McDonalds, but their cluelessness about the internet was so hilarious it became Wiredstory. Shortly before that I noticed that abc.com was not claimed so when I gave a consulting presentation to the top-floor ABC executives about the future of digital I told them that they should get their smartest geek down in the basement to register their own domain name. They didn’t.

The internet was a wide open frontier then. It was easy to be the first in category X. Consumers had few expectations, and the barriers were extremely low. Start a search engine! An online store! Serve up amateur videos! Of course, that was then. Looking back now it seems as if waves of settlers have since bulldozed and developed every possible venue, leaving only the most difficult and gnarly specks for today’s newcomers. Thirty years later the internet feels saturated, bloated, overstuffed with apps, platforms, devices, and more than enough content to demand our attention for the next million years. Even if you could manage to squeeze in another tiny innovation, who would notice it?

Yet if we consider what we have gained online in the last 30 years, this abundance smells almost miraculous. We got: Instant connection with our friends and family anywhere, a customizable stream of news whenever we want it, zoomable 3D maps of most cities of the world, an encyclopedia we can query with spoken words, movies we can watch on a flat slab in our pocket, a virtual everything store that will deliver next day — to name only six out of thousands that could be mentioned.

But, but…here is the thing. In terms of the internet, nothing has happened yet. The internet is still at the beginning of its beginning. If we could climb into a time machine and journey 30 years into the future, and from that vantage look back to today, we’d realize that most of the greatest products running the lives of citizens in 2044 were not invented until after 2014. People in the future will look at their holodecks, and wearable virtual reality contact lenses, and downloadable avatars, and AI interfaces, and say, oh, you didn’t really have the internet (or whatever they’ll call it) back then.

And they’d be right. Because from our perspective now, the greatest online things of the first half of this century are all before us. All these miraculous inventions are waiting for that crazy, no-one-told-me-it-was-impossible visionary to start grabbing the low-hanging fruit — the equivalent of the dot com names of 1984.

Because here is the other thing the greybeards in 2044 will tell you: Can you imagine how awesome it would have been to be an entrepreneur in 2014? It was a wide-open frontier! You could pick almost any category X and add some AI to it, put it on the cloud. Few devices had more than one or two sensors in them, unlike the hundreds now. Expectations and barriers were low. It was easy to be the first. And then they would sigh, “Oh, if only we realized how possible everything was back then!”

So, the truth: Right now, today, in 2014 is the best time to start something on the internet. There has never been a better time in the whole history of the world to invent something. There has never been a better time with more opportunities, more openings, lower barriers, higher benefit/risk ratios, better returns, greater upside, than now. Right now, this minute. This is the time that folks in the future will look back at and say, “Oh to have been alive and well back then!”

The last 30 years has created a marvelous starting point, a solid platform to build truly great things. However the coolest stuff has not been invented yet — although this new greatness will not be more of the same-same that exists today. It will not be merely “better,” it will different, beyond, and other. But you knew that.

What you may not have realized is that today truly is a wide open frontier. It is the best time EVER in human history to begin.

You are not late.

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Quote of the Day

 

“Nobody can teach me who I am.” – Chinua Achebe

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HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS: SELL LEMONS. LITERALLY.

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HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS: SELL LEMONS. LITERALLY.

A crash course in entrepreneurship from an 11-year-old Turkish boy

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No kid wants to work in the summer. But while my friends were out riding bikes, my childhood holidays were spent in Turkey selling lemons door-to-door. Put your violins away. There’s no heart-wrenching story here about how I had to do this to survive. The truth is I was forced into it by my grandfather, a tireless and imaginative entrepreneur and a firm believer in tough love. The lemon business was his gift to me — though it sure didn’t feel that way at the time. Two decades later, I am still benefiting from the crash course in entrepreneurship I got from selling citrus door-to-door.

On Sundays, Grandpa and I would walk 2 miles in sweltering heat to the city market, where we’d negotiate a bulk rate on lemons. I’d carry them home, package them in reusable tissue paper (my loss leader) and then distribute them around my neighborhood by cart. In Turkey, lemon is a staple ingredient in almost every meal, so folks always needed to have fresh ones on hand. Sure, anyone could have taken the trip to town for their own supply, but here I was delivering right to their door, with a better price and nicer packaging. I quickly developed a loyal clientele who would wait for me to arrive.

Lesson One: Your first investment should be in your reputation

The success of any business is built upon two things: your product/service, and your reputation. My lemon customers taught me the vital importance of keeping your word. Over time, I became an integral part of my neighbors’ domestic rituals. Yeah, they relied on my lemon services but I also became known as a responsible, diligent and hard-working kid. I wore that reputation like a badge of honor. If I was late, my customers would be upset. If I didn’t arrive, they would worry about me. All this taught me the most important lesson of all: when people rely on you, you better be there.

It may sound obvious, but this commitment to unwavering dependability and follow-through has paid off in dividends in my later ventures. Previous behavior and relationships may play into your future success more than you think. When I raised funds to launch Payfirma, I was fortunate to receive significant investment in the form of personal cheques. These came in from investors who cited my history and reputation as their reason for taking a chance on me. In business, your reputation will always precede you. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. Start this practice from day one with everybody you engage with. Invest in your reputation early because it’s the most valuable stock you own.

Lesson Two: Know your customer and when to say “no”

Towards the end of the sale week, some customers knew I would have to start cleaning out stock to avoid profit loss due to spoilage. The gamble was to sell at liquidation prices or keep my lemons and risk a drop in quality. Knowing my clientele would inform my decision: if a certain neighbor was around who didn’t mind day olds, I might hold off. By engaging me in the lemon business, my grandfather was teaching me about people and by proxy, the art of negotiation. The point was not necessarily to turn a profit (although I did), but to learn how to negotiate with all kinds of people. Knowing what a person wants, their values, their expectations, is essential to success in negotiation.

You must also know what your breaking point is, when it is better to leave a deal on the table rather than undercut your own business. It’s hard to say no- especially as a startup. But I learned to do it with lemons, and it’s a crucial lesson for any entrepreneur. In my current business we’ve clearly identified our target market, but we still get approached by prospective customers who don’t fit in that model. I hate telling people to go to a different provider. But if we know that our services and their needs don’t match up, we don’t want to make a deal that won’t work for either party.

Lesson Three: Work ethic trumps all

These days everybody is launching a startup. The difference between entrepreneurs and the annoying guy emptily hyping the next big idea is execution. We know that 9 out of 10 startups fail. The key to success is knowing that failure is an opportunity to be better. In the dog-eat-dog world of Darwinian Entrepreneurship, survival of the fittest isn’t just about funding and influential friends, it’s about good old fashioned work ethic and tenacity. These less-than-glamorous qualities get lost in the media frenzy around a disruptive new product or the lifestyles of the rich and famous CEO. Techcrunch never covers the ulcer you get waiting for funding to come through and Forbes isn’t interested in a report comparing fluctuations in your blood pressure with your stock price. That doesn’t change the fact that behind every success story there’s probably a person who shed blood, sweat and tears to get there. Somebody who knows that “possessing an entrepreneurial spirit” is a fluffy way of saying “gets s**t done”.

I learned the value of work ethic early on by selling lemons in heat stroke-inducing weather with an unrelenting mentor cracking the proverbial “never give up” whip behind me. It may sound cliche, but the resentment I felt from missing out on playtime was soon replaced by the satisfaction of being a part of a successful venture. I never lost sight of that feeling and the intensity it takes to get there. It’s the reason why after being ousted from my first company, I started working on my next startup the morning after. My grandfather called it the honor of work, some know it aswork ethic. Whatever you call it, it’s vitally important to determine what hard work and success look like to you, what it takes to get there, and how it feels when you do.

If mentorship is the act of leaving a legacy, I’m happy to impart my Grandpa’s advice on young entrepreneurs: dependability, doing your research and relentless hard work are the cornerstones to crushing it in business. That, and remembering that just when you think of throwing in the towel, behind every seemingly successful CEO there’s probably a sweaty, little 11-year-old with a cart full of lemons.

About the author:

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Michael Gokturk is the Founder and CEO of Payfirma, a multichannel payment processing company and cloud-based payment platform. A thought leader and relentless entrepreneur, Michael has grown Payfirma from the first company to deploy mobile payments in Canada into a scalable solution for debit and credit card payments online, in-store and mobile. Prior to Payfirma, Michael founded VersaPay, one of Canada’s fastest growing companies which he took public on the TSX. With over a decade of experience as a game changer in payments, Michael has appeared on the cover of Profit Magazine and been honored with numerous awards including Best Business Person of 2012 and membership in the Top 40 under 40. Michael is also an active angel investor, mentor and advisor in the startup community.

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Never Redesign Your Website Again – Really!

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CMO NETWORK 

Never Redesign Your Website Again – Really!

So, a design firm is hired, and many heated meetings and design iterations later, a fresh, modern-looking website is launched. Everyone breathes a big sigh of relief and goes back to business as usual… until the next big redesign.

This is how many, if not most, businesses do it, and according to conversion expert Chris Goward, it’s all wrong.

Why? Goward, the founder of conversion optimization firm WiderFunnel and author ofYou Should Test That, explains that website designs that are the products of committees are almost certain to be far from optimal in achieving business objectives – sales, leads, etc.

It’s not just the “committee effect,” long a bane of creative and effective marketing efforts. It’s that even smart people can’t always predict what design, headline, or copy will perform best.

website redesignEvolution, Not Revolution
Who’s the savviest marketer on the Web? My vote would go to Amazon.com, the biggest ecommerce firm by far. When was the last time Amazon launched a major website redesign? I have no idea, but their pages look to me about the same as they did five or ten years ago. Of course, they aren’t actually the same – many changes have occurred over the years.

In my podcast with Goward, I asked him about the “periodic redesign” approach. He commented,

It’s one of the biggest problems I find with companies today and it’s an antiquated process, the whole website redesign thing. That’s the “throw the baby out with the bathwater” approach. Part of my experience comes from the old days when I started in ad agencies and I saw what a terrible job most agencies were doing for their clients online at the time, trying to recreate a TV experience with Flash websites, and so on.

Ten years later not much has changed, there are still agencies out there producing terrible customer experiences by trying to create big idea concepts. That’s how WiderFunnel started, to create something different… thinking about how to measure the improvement that we could make on a continuous basis.

I think that website redesign is the next thing that’s going to fall, because there are so many risks in redesigning a website and doing the traditional “flip the switch” method of switching over to the new design.

Companies are creating thousands and thousands of changes when they do this “flip the switch” method, and they have no idea what impact each of those individual change is having on their end result, their conversion rate, their revenue, their lead generation, or whatever their goal is for their business.

They’re changing their headlines, their imagery, their call to action, their information, all this stuff all at once without any insight into what’s happening. [Edited for readability – listen to the podcast or read the transcript at Episode 13 – Conversion Optimization with Chris Goward.]

Of course, if a big design change is essential, even that can be tested against the current design to ensure that the business outcomes will actually improve.

Are you still seeing the sites you work with making sweeping, untested changes? Or are you seeing more of the evolutionary, testing-based approach? 

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Quote of the Day

“Like madness is the glory of life.” – William Shakespeare

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“I DON’T HAVE ANY GOOD IDEAS”

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“I don’t have any good ideas”

That’s a common mantra among those that say that they want to leap, but haven’t, and aren’t, and won’t.

What they’re actually saying is, “I don’t have any ideas that are guaranteed to work, and not only that, are guaranteed to cause no criticism or moments when I’m sure the whole thing is going to fall apart.”

And that sentence is probably true.

But no good ideas? C’mon.

Here’s a simple hack that takes whatever word you put in the seed box and comes up with a fresh game idea you’ve never had before. And it can do it over and over and over again. Pretty good ideas are easy. The guts and persistence and talent to create, ship and stick it out are what’s hard.

At least you know what’s holding you back. The good news is that those skills are available to anyone who cares enough to acquire them.

Quote of the Day

“Ideas come from everything.” – Alfred Hitchcock

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The “Just In Time” Theory of User Behavior

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The “Just In Time” Theory of User Behavior

I’ve long believed that the design of your software has a profound impact on how usersbehave within your software. But there are two sides to this story:

  • Encouraging the “right” things by making those things intentionally easy to do.

  • Discouraging the “wrong” things by making those things intentionally difficult, complex, and awkward to do.

Whether the software is doing this intentionally, or completely accidentally, it’s a fact of life: the path of least resistance is everyone’s best friend. Learn to master this path, or others will master it for you.

For proof, consider Dan Ariely’s new and amazing book, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone – Especially Ourselves.

Indeed, let’s be honest: we all lie, all the time. Not because we’re bad people, mind you, but because we have to regularly lie to ourselves as a survival mechanism. You think we should be completely honest all the time? Yeah. Good luck with that.

But these healthy little white lies we learn to tell ourselves have a darker side. Have you ever heard this old adage?

One day, Peter locked himself out of his house. After a spell, the locksmith pulled up in his truck and picked the lock in about a minute.

“I was amazed at how quickly and easily this guy was able to open the door,” Peter said. The locksmith told him that locks are on doors only to keep honest people honest. One percent of people will always be honest and never steal. Another 1% will always be dishonest and always try to pick your lock and steal your television; locks won’t do much to protect you from the hardened thieves, who can get into your house if they really want to.

The purpose of locks, the locksmith said, is to protect you from the 98% of mostly honest people who might be tempted to try your door if it had no lock.

I had heard this expressed less optimistically before as

10% of people will never steal, 10% of people will always steal, and for everyone else … it depends.

The “it depends” part is crucial to understanding human nature, and that’s what Ariely spends most of the book examining in various tests. If for most people, honesty depends, what exactly does it depend on? The experiments Ariely conducts prove again and again that most people will consistently and reliably cheat “just a little”, to the extent that they can still consider themselves honest people. The gating factor isn’t laws, penalties, or ethics. Surprisingly, that stuff has virtually no effect on behavior. What does, though, is whether they can personally still feel like they are honest people.

This is because they don’t even consider it cheating – they’re just taking a little extra, giving themselves a tiny break, enjoying a minor boost, because well, haven’t they been working extra specially hard lately and earned it? Don’t they of all people deserve something nice once in a while, and who would even miss this tiny amount? There’s so much!

These little white lies are the path of least resistance. They are everywhere. If laws don’t work, if ethics classes don’t work, if severe penalties don’t work, how do you encourage people to behave in a way that “feels” honest that is actually, you know, honest? Feelings are some pretty squishy stuff.

It’s easier than you think.

My colleagues and I ran an experiment at the University of California, Los Angeles. We took a group of 450 participants, split them into two groups and set them loose on our usual matrix task. We asked half of them to recall the Ten Commandments and the other half to recall 10 books that they had read in high school.

Among the group who recalled the 10 books, we saw the typical widespread but moderate cheating. But in the group that was asked to recall the Ten Commandments, we observed no cheating whatsoever. We reran the experiment, reminding students of their schools’ honor codes instead of the Ten Commandments, and we got the same result. We even reran the experiment on a group of self-declared atheists, asking them to swear on a Bible, and got the same no-cheating results yet again.

That’s the good news: a simple reminder at the time of the temptation is usually all it takes for people to suddenly “remember” their honesty.

The bad news is Clippy was right.

In my experience, nobody reads manuals, nobody reads FAQs, and nobody reads tutorials. I am exaggerating a little here for effect, of course. Some A+ students will go out of their way to read these things. That’s how they became A+ students, by naturally going the extra mile, and generally being the kind of users who teach themselves perfectly well without needing special resources to get there. When I say “nobody” I mean the vast overwhelming massive majority of people you would really, really want to read things like that. People who don’t have the time or inclination to expend any effort at all other than the absolute minimum required, people who are most definitely not going to go the extra mile.

In other words, the whole world.

So how do you help people who, like us, just never seem to have the time to figure this stuff out becase they’re, like, suuuuper busy and stuff?

You do it by showing them …

  • the minumum helpful reminder
  • at exactly the right time

This is what I’ve called the “Just In Time” theory of user behavior for years. Sure, FAQs and tutorials and help centers are great and all, but who has the time for that? We’re all perpetual intermediates here, at best.

The closer you can get your software to practical, useful “Just In Time” reminders, the better you can help the users who are most in need. Not the A+ students who already read the FAQ, and studied the help center intently, but those users who never read anything. And now, thanks to Dan Ariely, I have the science to back this up. Even something as simple as putting your name on the top of a form to report auto insurance milage, rather than the bottom, resulted in a mysterious 10% increase in average miles reported. Having that little reminder right at the start that hey, your name is here on this form, inspired additional honesty. It works.

Did we use this technique on Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange? Indeed we did. Do I use this technique on Discourse? You bet, in even more places, because this is social discussion, not technical Q&A. We are rather big on civility, so we like to remind people when they post on Discourse they aren’t talking to a computer or a robot, but a real person, a lot like you.

When’s the natural time to remind someone of this? Not when they sign up, not when they’re reading, but at the very moment they begin typing their first words in their first post. This is the moment of temptation when you might be super mega convinced thatsomeone is Wrong on the Internet. So we put up a gentle little reminder Just In Time, right above where they are typing:

Then hopefully, as Dan Ariely showed us with honesty, this little reminder will tap into people’s natural reserves of friendliness and civility, so cooler heads will prevail – and a few people are inspired to get along a little better than they did yesterday. Just because you’re on the Internet doesn’t mean you need to be yelling at folks 24/7.

We use this same technique a bunch of other places: if you are posting a lot but haven’t set an avatar, if you are adding a new post to a particularly old conversation, if you are replying a bunch of times in the same topic, and so forth. Wherever we feel a gentle nudge might help, at the exact time the behavior is occurring.

It’s important to understand that we use these reminders in Discourse not because we believe people are dumb; quite the contrary, we use them because we believe people are smart, civil, and interesting. Turns out everyone just needs to be reminded of that once in a while for it to continue to be true.

Written by Jeff Atwood

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HOW MANY TWEETS IS TOO MANY?

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As Community Managers, we’re constantly trying new things. Whether it’s a new network or a new CTA, experimentation is in the job description. Unfortunately, we, as Community Managers, are also really busy. Trying new things can be daunting, especially when you have a strict plan to hit your numbers. But, that shouldn’t deter you; The risk is often worth the reward. How do you know what works, what doesn’t, or what could be better? Test.

The Question: How Many Tweets Is Too Many?

downloadI’m not sure where I heard it, maybe it was a conference or a blog post, but at some point it was put in my head that Tweeting a lot can really peeve your community. Now, I wasn’t sure what “a lot” really was. Does that mean I should only tweet once a day? Or once an hour? I kept Tweeting and my numbers continued to improve. The community didn’t seem to mind, there was no negative feedback or slump in engagement. In fact, my key metrics got better. Much better. So, I decided to formally test if my frequency of tweeting affected my engagement, engagement per tweet, and site traffic.

The Experiment: Testing Tweet Frequency

To test the effects of Tweet frequency, I Tweeted for one week in 15-minute increments, and another week in 30-minute increments. I ran this test in December, and again in January. I pulled all the data from each week using the Simply Measured Account Report and Google Analytics, put it all into Excel, and compared the weeks side by side. Sounds good, right?

The Experiment… Again: Back to the Drawing Board

I presented my findings to my team, confident about the results. But our Conversion Manager, former analyst, Nate, poked some serious holes in my logic. See, after 5pm on a business day, my Tweet frequency would change. I only Tweeted in 15 or 30 minute intervals between 6am and 5pm, but my reports pulled for the full 24 hours. My sample set wasn’t specific enough. So, I went back to the drawing board. I adjusted my samples, pulling data only from within business hours, and what I found was really telling.

The Findings: Tweet Your Heart Out!

Website Visits
Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 2.44.18 PM
After compiling the data from both weeks, I found that Tweeting in 15-minute increments increased traffic by 31% and engagement by 89%.
Engagement Per Post
Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 4.05.50 PM
The most interesting finding was the changes, or lack there of, in engagement per post. This was shocking because the natural inclination would be to assume that the more you post, the more spread out engagement will be and, thus, the lower your engagement per post will be. But, engagement per post barely changed between the two. In fact, 15-minute increments even averaged a tiny bit higher (1.4%).
Total Engagement
Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 2.41.04 PM
Total engagement was the least surprising disparity to me. It stands to reason that when I Tweeted twice as much, total engagement followed suit. My one fear was that there’d be a diminishing return as followers got sick of constant updates, but that didn’t prove to be the case.

What We Learned
Aside from the obvious findings about Tweet frequency, this test led me to tons of other findings. For example, when I segmented our engagement and traffic for exclusively between 6am – 5pm, I saw how much was occurring after business hours. Stacking more tweets, more powerful CTAs and richer content in the evenings could potentially drive our numbers up even further. Our audience is not only receptive during the day, but they’re actually tuned in all the time. Perhaps it’s because of the space we work in; social media geeks seldom turn it off. In the future, this is something I will definitely be able to capitalize on.
Conclusion
One thing that you probably shouldn’t do after reading this blog post is automatically start tweeting more. Just because it worked for me, doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you. Every audience is different; some will respond better to seeing your handle pop up in their feed multiple times a day, while others won’t. But what I strongly recommend you absolutely do after reading this post is run this test for yourself! The best way to find your sweet spot, is to test, test, test!

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The Best Way to Change Your Habits?

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The Best Way to Change Your Habits? Control Your Environment

There’s just one way to radically change your behavior: radically change your environment.

—Dr. B.J. Fogg, Director of Stanford Persuasive Lab

Most of us would like to think that our habits follow our intentions.

The truth is that one of the mind’s chief functions is to spot and utilize patterns as shortcuts, in order to process the multitude of information we observe each day.

We are more reliant on environmental triggers than we’d like to think.

 

In one study conducted on “habits vs. intentions,” researchers found that students who transferred to another university were the most likely to change their daily habits. They also found those habits easierto change than the control group because they weren’t exposed to familiar external cues.

This mirrors research on the stimulus control theory, or the effect of a stimulus on behavior. Techniques involving stimulus control have even been successfully used to help people with insomnia.

In short, those who had trouble falling asleep were told to only go to their room and lie in their bed when they were tired. If they couldn’t fall asleep, they were told to get up and change rooms.

Strange advice, but over time, researchers found that by associating the bed with ‘It’s time to go to sleep’ and not with other activities (reading a book, just lying there, etc.), participants were eventually able to quickly fall asleep due to the repeated process: it became almost automatic to fall asleep in their bed because a successful trigger had been created.

Perhaps we are more like Pavlov’s dogs than first imagined. If you take a look at studies published in books like Mindless Eating, it is scary to see how small cues can greatly impact our behavior:

If you use a big spoon, you’ll eat more. If you serve yourself on a big plate, you’ll eat more. If you move the small bowl of chocolates on your desk six feet away you’ll eat half as much. If you eat chicken wings and remove the bones from the table, you’ll forget how much you ate and you’ll eat more.

Good to know, but is it possible to use triggers like these in order to encourage ‘good‘ behavior?

Using Your Environment to Change Behavior

Since we know that discipline is built like a muscle—and can likewise be worn out—environmental changes might be useful in getting ourselves to do difficult tasks regularly.

Below I’ll outline some of my favorite methods found through the academic literature, as well as some personal tests conducted by myself and others.

1.) Task association. Reading is an integral part of good writing. When writing for the web, this becomes somewhat of a first world problem: you’re always a click away from that next great source of inspiration, so it can be hard to stop consuming and start getting things done.

One method I’ve used to combat this, that comes right out of the stimulus control research, is to strictly associate an ‘outlet’ with a specific task.

In other words, when I sit down to use a particular piece of tech, I can only do a single designated task. For me, it looks like this:

contextual-clues

I’ve found that training myself in this way has worked just as well as with those salivating canines—I have less of a problem getting interrupted because I know desktop = writing, and there should be no emails or random articles on the screen.

You can also use task association with environments. Your ‘office’ should be a place where you work; I learned that the hard way when I initially ended up placing too many ‘fun’ things in my home office.

It turned it into this nebulous location that wasn’t always associated with work. Instead, start assigning certain locations with very particular activities.

Picking a location outside the home is often the most effective. Have writing to do? Head to a local library or coffee shop and that place will become associated with ‘writing time’.

2.) Reduce or increase friction. Your environment can also be tweaked to make certain tasks more difficult or easier to do. As Stanford psychologist B.J. Fogg is so fond of saying, tough habits stick when you can simplify the behavior:

Goals are harmful unless they guide you to make specific behaviors easier to do. Don’t focus your motivation on doing Behavior X. Instead, focus on making Behavior X easier to do.

In an earlier article on building good habits I briefly refer to this as eliminating ‘ah-screw-its’, or those moments which make you want to abandon a task. You can also intensify these ‘ah-screw-it’ moments, however, if you are looking to prevent yourself from performing a bad habit.

Habits are the brain’s way of simplifying the movements required to achieve a given result, so using the environment to increase friction really is the best way to influence your own behavior. Fogg has another humorous insight on this (that is confirmed by research!):

Since your willpower is such a fragile thing, instead focus your energies on making undesirable habits harder to perform.

When it comes to reducing friction, the most universal example is to apply the ‘hit the ground running’ mindset to your toughest habits.

I pack my gym clothes in a bag the night before and place them right next to my door. On cold days, I even place my jacket on the counter-top by the door. By again designing for laziness, I eliminate all possible excuses by getting things ready when my willpower is high (aka: the night before, when I don’t have to go to the gym).

Want to floss every day? Best to not hide your floss in a cabinet, put it out in where it can’t be missed, such as by your toothbrush. Want to stop watching so much TV? Take the batteries out of your remote and put them in a kitchen drawer.

The examples could go on forever, but the lesson here is that instead of trying to force habits on yourself, spend effort on making good habits easy to engage in, and bad habits difficult to engage in.

3.) Using contextual cues. According to research on implementation intentions, it’s easier to make a habit consistent if it’s built off of an existing chain.

In other words, Task X becomes easier to perform regularly if it is ALWAYS preceded or followed by Event Y.

Here’s an example — I have a ‘shut down work’ ritual every day at 6:30pm. Following this event, which happens every day, I clean my house (not top to bottom, just ‘maintenance’).

Because Event Y happens at the same time every day, it was easy to build on the second task, because there was a trigger I could rely on… every single day, without fail.

Try scheduling tasks for consistent parts of your schedule: coming home from work, during/after your lunch break, as soon as you wake up, etc.

Applying the ‘as soon as you wake up’ technique to my own life, I read literally the minute I jump out of bed. Although I love reading, I often have a problem getting started, but this trigger has made it easy for me to accomplish the 1 book per week goal I’ve set for myself.

This process was found to be even more effective than ‘motivational materials’ in multiple studies on goal achievement, including this one illustrated by James Clear, which showcased how participants who used implementation intentions (knowing where and when they would exercise) ended up following through far more often than those in the control group.

Intentions

4.) Routinize with systems. Few things happen overnight. Success is most often the result of consistent execution of a single habit, so perhaps it’s no surprise that research suggests having too many choices is the enemy of long-term goals.

In other words, having ‘options’ makes consistent behavior harder to maintain. I like Ramit Sethi’s take on this via the ‘tripod of stability’, or the practice of routinizing some important aspects of your life to maintain consistency, but being more aggressive with the rest of your decisions.

The classic financial example is saving vs. spending: instead of relying on willpower to save money, take away the decision altogether by having automatic withdrawals from your paycheck into an IRA and/or a savings account. This allows you to spend with less worry, since the system has taken care of stability for you, by withdrawing money before you even see it.

President Obama may choose to only wear blue and grey suits, but perhaps you can pair down your decisions by setting up routines like: “I can only have meat and vegetables for dinner.”

That small systematic change can have a measurable impact alone because it will compound (not unlike your savings!) if done over time. As this great article on the Harvard Business Review would put it:

Identify the aspects of your life that you consider mundane, and then ‘routinize’ those aspects as much as possible. In short, make fewer decisions.

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