Read Real Books!


Over the past few months, I’ve learned more and more about behavior. What drives us to do the things we do? How do I get someone to take a certain action?

The field of behavior design is growing. Leading companies are applying science to almost every design feature. LinkedIn is a great example – they perform all manner of tricks to get the users to provide more information.

Here’s one example: you get an email that shows who has viewed your profile -> you click to see the full list -> LinkedIn shows you where you rank among your connections -> LinkedIn offers tips to have you increase your profile views -> most of these tips involve adding more information to your profile -> LinkedIn is able to make money off of this information by selling premium services to recruiting and other professionals.

Behavior happens when three things come together: motivation, ability and a prompt. LinkedIn’s email serves as the prompt. The site makes it extremely easy to add information and LinkedIn motivates you by playing to our desire to be noticed.

So what am I doing with my understanding of behavior design? I’m moving a lot of my activities offline. One change is in how I read. I’m starting to read real books! (I’m also changing more of what I read, but that’s for another post). I used to think that my kindle app was provided for huge efficiency gains. I could read on any device. I could copy/paste text to a word doc with notes. I could listen to the audio version while driving.

These are all valid points. The connectivity of smart devices allowed me to do all these things. BUT, it also allowed for distractions that would take my attention away from reading. In addition, have you ever tried to highlight a passage and make notes on an e-book? Sure – there are features that allow for this behavior, but I find it much easier to do this with a real book.

If you’re interested in getting more out of your reading, I’d recommend you check out some of Ryan Holiday’s methods. He’s written a great blog post titled THE NOTECARD SYSTEM: THE KEY FOR REMEMBERING, ORGANIZING AND USING EVERYTHING YOU READ.

You are free to choose what devices you use, but know this – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc all employ some of the smartest people on the planet who are working tirelessly to keep you using their products. If you want less distractions, you should consider moving more of your work offline.

The benefits of transparency

This past Tuesday, I spent the day surrounded by the leading thinkers and doers in the field of behavior design at the Design For Action conference in DC.

One of the most insightful talks I heard was from Michael Norton, a professor at HBS. His talk covered Transparency and Trust – How organizations—from companies to governments— can gain the trust of their key stakeholders (from customers to constituents) to increase both buy in and buying.

I’ll recap two anecdotes that Norton shared and then add some of my take aways

Anecdote 1

Norton shared a story about a locksmith who started out his career like many of us. He wasn’t very good at performing tasks quickly. He would fiddle, cuss and sweat until he got the got the problem door open. His customers would observe his work and assume that it was hard, and then happily pay him $70 for unlocking their door.

Over time, he became a master locksmith. He could now open any lock in a matter of seconds. He was much faster. His true hourly rate had increased dramatically. Only there was a problem. His customers couldn’t see his skill and experience and therefore they felt ripped off for paying $70 for only a few minutes worth of work.

To combat this, the locksmith slowed things down. He would spend time getting out all his tools and explain what he was doing to the customer. Remarkably, his customers were happier when he took longer.

A website analogy to this is Kayak. Try running a search for flights on the site and you’ll notice that Kayak shows you flights in real-time as the search engine returns results. Norton has run tests on a site that only shows the final results. Satisfaction and purchasing improves when the work is shown. Even if it takes longer to show the results.

kayak screen shot

Anecdote 2

Norton has worked with another large organization that has a transparency problem. The government. He shared a some shocking figures that relate to transparency.

According to the figure below, high percentages of people respond “No” to the question, “have you ever used a government program”, when they are actually beneficiaries of a government program.

Take for instance the GI Bill. 40% of those surveyed that have used the GI Bill say they have never used a government program. This blows my mind.

The government is providing trillions of dollars of benefits, but those receiving the benefits do not know it.

Norton approached the problem transparency with the city of Boston by helping citizens to visualize the work the city was doing. This site has been popular and helped create transparency.

Source: How Government Can Restore the Faith of Citizens -

Source: How Government Can Restore the Faith of Citizens –

Takeaway #1

Showing is always better than telling. This statement is obvious, but we are all guilty of telling. A company tells it’s employee it values them. We tell our customers we  care about their needs. We tell others at work we are working hard. We tell someone we love them.

Transparency is about showing. Telling is easy, but showing is hard. I once set up a live video stream of my team (a group of actuaries). I can’t think of things that are more boring than watching insurance product development, but many people loved the stream. It brought a whole new level of transparency to our work. You could actually see us collaborating and working hard. What can you do to show not tell?

Takeaway #2

Visualizations can be powerful storytellers. We are working with our kids to help them see what goes into keeping our house running (99% done by my amazing wife). We’ve started with a long list that shows who performs each task. I hope the takeaway is “wow. Mom does these 84 things and I only have to do these 4 things. I am getting a great deal.” While I don’t have high hopes that this produces the desired change, the city of Boston is a encouraging example. If the city of Boston can use a simple website to improve the perception of government, perhaps our family can use transparency to change the perception of chores.

How can you use showing (not telling) for good? Are there ways you can improve transparency?

VIDEO – How I started doing 70+ pull-ups a day

Habit Definition

In the video above, I outline how I use BJ Fogg’s method for developing habits. Last year I could barely do 1 pull-up, and now I do about 70 a day.

Before I dive in deeper into habit creation, let’s talk about what a habit is. Nir Eyal tells us that “a habit is when not doing something causes a bit of pain.” When I first read this sentence, I had to re-read it a couple of times to make sure I understood. Let’s try some examples.

Example 1: You are at the dinner table, you get a text message. You try to keep electronics away from the dinner table. You resist the urge to check the message. What do you feel? Probably a small bit of pain. Your brain is wondering “what does it say?”

Example 2: You are in a long line at the grocery store. You reach for your phone, only to realize you left your phone in the car. What do you feel? A small bit of pain.

Examples 1 and 2 are habits that I have. Not doing them causes me a bit of pain. You have to view your habits in this light. I might tell people that I have a flossing habit, but do I feel pain when I skip a night? Absolutely not. Therefore I do not have a flossing habit.

Habit Creation

So how did I create my pull-up habit. I followed Fogg’s tiny habits method. I discussed this in the previous post, but this is how I went about it for pull-ups.

1. Think of target behavior – for me it was doing more pull-ups. I’ve always been told that pull-ups are a great form of exercise. Plus, I felt that being able to do 5-10 pull-ups is a good indicator of overall fitness. For you it could be doing squats, drinking more water, using your iPhone less, etc. Remember, it’s much easier to do more of something (pull-ups) than less of something (using my iPhone)

2. Select a trigger event to target the behavior – Since a habit requires no thought, something has to cause the behavior. This is the trigger. To find a good trigger, make sure it’s easy to do the behavior you select in #1 after the trigger. For example, if your habit is to take a sip of water after you send an email, you need to make sure that you have water on your desk. If you have to walk 5 minutes away to a water fountain, you’re not likely to perform the behavior.

It also helps if the trigger even happens several times a day. The formula is AFTER (trigger event) PERFORM (simple behavior). So the more times your trigger event happens, the more frequently you are performing the behavior.

For my pull-up habit – At the time, there was a small gym right beside the bathroom closest to my office. So I decided to make going to the bathroom my trigger event (to be more specific, washing my hands was the trigger).

3. Pick a tiny behavior – I could have said that AFTER (I go to the bathroom) PERFORM (10 pull-ups), but this would be too hard. Habit’s always start small. For me, I could do 3 pull ups without too much effort, so I decided to start there. If you want to develop a habit of working out every morning, start by just putting on your clothes every day for a week. If you want to develop a flossing habit, start with one tooth. The secret to BJ’s method is that the behavior has to be small.

4. Create a reward – all habits provide some sort of reward. Think about how you feel when you pull out your phone to check Instagram – there’s a tiny emotional reward you experience. Again, the reward starts small and grows over time. BJ recommends a fist pump or affirming that you did this right. I go for the fist pump – that used to be the reward. Now the reward for me is a bit deeper. I feel better when I actually go a do my pull-ups. I still do the fist pump – out of habit! I was out of town this past weekend at a retreat center and I thought about pull-ups every time I went to the bathroom. I went search all over the retreat center for a decent pull-up bar. I finally found a cross beam that I could do a few pull ups on.

Definition. Check. Method Check. Create Habits – Go

Do you have some habits that you want to create? Do you want to learn more about these methods? I’d highly recommend going through BJ’s Tiny Habits course. I’d also love to hear about the habits you are trying to create and answer any questions you might have.

Now it’s time for me to do some pull-ups.

4 Tips for Creating Habits

Have you ever been jealous of highly productive people? I know I have. You think, “how does she get so much done?”

I’ve come to the conclusion that highly productive and effective individuals have better habits than the rest of us. They have many more good habits then bad habits. This got me thinking, “how do I create good habits?”

It turns out that creating habits is not all that difficult. If you want to go through a course and learn what I’ve learned, you should check out BJ Fogg’s tiny habits course. It’s well worth your time.

If you are interested in creating new habits, it’s important to keep some things in mind:

  1. It needs to be easy to do. For me, I’m not attempting to write 1,000 words a day, just 100. If you want to develop a habit of practicing the guitar daily, start with just 3 minutes of practice, not 30.
  2. It needs to be something you enjoy. It’s almost impossible to create a habit doing something that you hate doing. For example, it is going to be very difficult for me to create a habit of waking up at 5am.
  3. Find a trigger that will signal to you it’s time to perform the activity. Good triggers are things like, “after I open my laptop in the morning, I will…” or “after I use the restroom, I will…” or “after I finish breakfast, I will…” After a few days, you will get in the routine and recognize that after you perform (insert trigger) you need to (insert activity)
  4. Celebrate accomplishing your task. It can be as simple as a small fist pump, or saying “I’m awesome!” We know that habits are driven off of triggers and rewards. A fist pump or the pleasure you get from seeing a chain of “X”s on a calendar are good rewards.

So get started building some healthy habits – and share any habits you have made. In my next post, I’ll show how I used this to develop a habit of doing pull-ups. I’m now doing about 60 pull-ups a day – it works!