Why Do We Change Our Behavior? The 3 keys to why we humans behave the way we do

You likely have some habits you would like to start or stop doing. (And many things you wished others would start and stop doing too 😉). 

But why do we sometimes change our behavior without any struggle? While other times we strain with all our might – yet can’t seem to get ourselves or others to change?

I’ve found 3 factors that explain why we humans behave the way we do. We are most likely to do things that are:

  • Absorbing
  • Rewarding
  • Effortless

Together, they form the word: ARE. This acronym hold the three keys to how we can change anyone’s behavior – including our own.  

Absorbing

Absorbing means how much of one’s attention the action occupies. The harder the action is to ignore, the more absorbing it is. (Eg your smartphone vibrating loudly with an incoming call). 

Rewarding

Rewarding means how attractive the reward of doing the action is. The more tempting the reward – and the fewer negatives that come with it – the more rewarding it is. 

Effortless

Effortless is about how much energy one must expend to get the reward. The less energy it takes to gain the reward, the more effortless the action is. 

Any action we have taken, we did it because it absorbed our attention, and the reward seemed attractive enough to be worth the effort

To influence someone’s behavior, we just need to examine how absorbing, rewarding, and effortless the action is and then tweak each of these factors. Let’s look a case study. 

Case study: Getting a 6-year-old to clean their room every week

Absorbing
Cleaning the room is likely going to be the last thing on a child’s mind. Some possible tweaks to make it more attention-absorbing are:

  • Agree that the room will be cleaned every Thursday at 16:00. Then set a speaker to auto play The Clean up Song on Spotify at this time. 
  • Schedule a weekly “pre-cleaning snack” at 15:30 every Thursday (combining a reminder and with some parent-child quality time!)

Rewarding
It’s always a good feeling when things are clean. But this won’t likely be a strong enough reward for a 6-year-old. Some suggestions to make it more attractive are:

  • Make cleaning into a game – eg throwing the stuffed animals into their holders and counting score – to make it more fun.
  • Act as a role model. Clean every week yourself to 

Effortless
Cleaning might be one of the most dreaded activities there are – especially for kids. Two possible tweaks to make it more effortless are:

  • Only require them to clean their desk the first 3 weeks. Once this has become a habit, add one new cleaning task at a time, until they are cleaning the entire room themselves. 
  • Help them with the first cleaning task to make it less daunting to start. 

 

Whenever you struggle to change influence someone’s behavior, see how you can make the activity more ARE: Absorbing, Rewarding, and Effortless. 

When an activity that scores high on all three, it’s nearly impossible not to do it! 

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