Applying Nudge Theory To Make Better Decisions

Nudge Theory is an idea used in behavioural science, suggesting that positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions can influence a person’s behaviour without even realizing. Nudge Theory is used worldwide, where most of us have no idea it’s happening. The psychology behind it can be applied to any situation when looking for a shift in behaviour. It first became mainstream in Amsterdam, where authorities at Schiphol Airport had used small fly shaped stickers in urinals, so men had something to aim at. It influenced their subconscious behaviour, where spillages in the bathrooms reduced by 80%. 


nudge theory


Nudge Theory Applied


When applying a nudge, an individual is more likely to make a direct choice so the behaviour is triggered to favour the desired outcome. It’s known that human beings aren’t always rational, so the nudger will use techniques to alter one’s environment, so when your subconscious decision-making comes into play, the resulting choice is will be the most desired outcome. 


Nudge Theory In History


-McDonalds would famously ask if you would like to ‘supersize’ your meal, a tactic used to increase revenue. The opposite has also worked. A study set in a Chinese restaurant had waiters ask customers if they would like to ‘downsize’ their meal. 33% of the patrons downsized, reducing their intake by approximately 200 calories. 

-When hotels worldwide reduced their plates’ size in their restaurants, they had a 22% decrease in food wastage. Patron satisfaction remained the same, where they barely noticed the smaller plates. 

-The metro in Stockholm, Sweden, turned their stairs to look like piano keys. The idea encouraged those who took the escalators to give the stairs a go. Traffic on the stairs increased 66% and have been placed worldwide in cities like Melbourne, Istanbul and Milan. 


In The Workplace


With organizations seeking more productivity and employee engagement to increase happiness and wellbeing, simple nudges can go a long way in creating a comfortable environment. 

Boosting productivity: Creating an ’employee of the month’ program helps create engagement in the workplace and gives employees a chance to work effectively with rewards. 

Financial wellbeing: Employers can offer benefit options to help employees save money or send messages with their payslip as a reminder to put money aside for savings. 

Employee health: Organizations can incorporate the challenge of walking the most steps per day. The nudge improves competitiveness amongst teams and gives staff the tools to be more active. 


Our Health


Whether it’s food, exercise, procrastination, or other bad habits we succumb to, we can use self-nudging to improve our decision-making. 

Healthier breakfast: prepare a nutritious food choice the evening before. When you wake up, it will be the first thing you see and the effort to make something else reduces to practically zero. 

Exercising: team up with a friend or your partner so you can exercise together. Seeing others active can help you move your body more. 

Social Connection: Putting on a BBQ at your house and inviting friends over. The addition of food and other friends to the event helps create a social atmosphere and maintain solid friendships. The same goes for a relationship. A weekly scheduled date night with your partner keeps the relationship in good stead. 


Nudge Theory To Improve Our Life


By making small tweaks in how our options are presented to us, we can plug into our irrational decision-making brain and steer ourselves towards better decisions. Daniel Kahneman’s book, “Thinking Fast, And Slow”, gives a great insight into our behaviours, where they classify into two thought systems. System 1 is the subconscious mind, often the fast and erratic, and System 2, the slow, logical and thoughtful. Most of us stick with System 1 because we’d be mentally exhausted if we decide based on rational, slow and intelligent thinking. Nudge theory sets itself up to work well with our subconscious mind to create better decisions for ourselves.


How To Practice 


When starting, It’s far more effective to change something by 1% instead of 100%. The micro-changes add up to significant changes over time. The more you practice, the more you can take on more significant challenges. Bere practicing, ask yourself these three questions:

1. What behaviours do I need to change?

2. What is my current behaviour?

3. Decide which nudges to act on (the 1%) 

4. Be conscious of the initial results


Following on from these questions, you will need tactics. Here are a few strategies that help me when trying to make better decisions:


Manipulate the accessibility: If you’re deciding on a gym, find one that’s close to home or work, so when you’re driving your route, it makes exercising that little bit easier. 

Recognize delayed gratification: Rather than giving in to an impulse like junk food; take a break, have a full glass of water, and decide if it’s something you still want, or if you’d be satisfied with preparing a healthy dish (the glass of water is a great trick).  

Reframe: When the idea of going into work feels like a struggle, remind yourself of what the benefits are when showing up. Is it your colleagues? Or maybe it’s using your brain. The same goes for exercise. Remind yourself how it clears your mind and the calories you’re burning. A reframed mind can be a fresh one. 


Using Nudges


 For a nudge to be successful, it must a) decrease the effort required, so you’re using less willpower, and b) improve your motivation to act on a choice. Despite companies using nudge theory to increase revenue or politicians using it to improve their position, we can use nudges to live a more effective life. By recognizing our own behaviours, we can employ tactics to create better ones for ourselves. Happy nudging!