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Carrots and Sticks, Streaks and Nudges

Nudges change our behavior, but what behavior are we changing and why?

My Apple Watch has daily, weekly, and monthly fitness goals built-in. I wish it had “Vacation Mode” or “Rest Day.”

My Kindle rewards me with a digital badge for reading daily. I wish it had a “I read off-line today” button.

Corporate 401(k) accounts are beneficial to nearly anyone who can get them. I wish they had a “Sign me up now, I’ll make contribution adjustments later” checkbox.

These all offer undeniable benefits: moving more, reading more, saving more – but the default setting doesn’t often account for the human element.

We are not machines in a system, we may not get 30 minutes of exercise every day, or turn the page on a few electronic pages, or have the wherewithal to plan for retirement at the hiring desk. The default settings were designed with good intentions, but the practicality of the nudge isn’t universal.

My Kindle reading streak ends if I read a paperback book rather than an ebook one day. Does the benefit stop?

A day of physical rest has benefits, too. But those are not considered by the Fitness app.

One size does not fit all.

Look for the carrots (rewards) in your life and what motivates you. Similarly, look at how the stick (the cost or perceived punishment) changed your decisions.

Streaks and nudges are subtle but powerful ways to change behavior. But we must be aware of what behavior we are changing and for what purpose.

All the best,


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