Low Spoon Living

Practical tips for navigating daily life with low energy, executive function challenges, and disabilities

The nudge theory

The nudge theory: how can it improve your life at home?

Have you ever walked by a bowl of fruit on your counter and grabbed an apple instead of a sugary treat? Have you stuck a reminder note about taking your medication on the bathroom mirror and actually remembered to take it? 

These little changes in your environment that guide your behavior positively are examples of “nudges”.

What is the Nudge Theory?

The nudge theory was popularized by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein in their 2008 book “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness”. Their key insight was that positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions can influence behavior more effectively than rules or direct instruction.

A nudge is a small tweak to how choices are presented that guides people towards a certain decision. The nudge doesn’t take away any options or use force. It just makes one option seem more attractive. For example, placing healthy foods at eye level is a nudge towards better eating habits. People can still choose less healthy options, but they’re drawn towards the visible foods. Nudges take advantage of human tendencies in order to steer behavior while maintaining freedom of choice. The concept draws on research in psychology, behavioral science, and neuroscience.

Nudges work because human decision making is imperfect. We are influenced by things like cravings, having to use less effort, stress, and forgetfulness. Thoughtfully-crafted nudges can help our brains perceive and process information in ways that lead to beneficial choices. They appeal to our tendency towards instant gratification and desire for efficiency.

Examples of Nudges

Here are some classic examples of nudges in action:

– Placing certain foods in prominent and convenient locations in cafeterias and grocery stores. This increases their visibility and consumption.

– A famous example of the nudge theory was a restaurant room in Sweden painting a housefly in men’s urinals to “aim” at. This improved neatness and reduced spillage. 

-Changing registrations from opt-in to opt-out. Participation rates drastically increase.

-Offering smaller snack packaging, as people tend to consume however much is in a package.

-Making stairs and pedestrian routes more convenient to use than elevators and escalators. This promotes physical activity.

As you can see, nudges do not have to be complicated to work. Small tweaks can lead to surprising changes.

How to Use Nudges for Household Tasks, Self-Care and Healthy Eating

The great thing about nudges is that they are simple to implement in your everyday home environment. With some awareness and creativity, you can design nudges to help yourself and your family.

Some practical examples

Keeping cleaning supplies in the shower so you can give it a quick clean while you are showering

Jars of healthy snacks in easy to reach, see-through containers

Key holder at the front door to hang keys up as soon as you get home

Rubbish bins in every room

Laundry hampers where family members get changed 

Coffee table organiser / remote holder

Keeping healthy food at eye level where they’re easily seen

Nudging Yourself to Do Chores

Household chores are the bane of many people’s existence. We put them off, forget about them, or try to rush through them.

Here are some nudges for making chores a bit less painful:

Make cleaning supplies visible: Keep cleaning supplies and tools like sponges, disinfectant wipes, brooms, and mops in plain sight. You’ll be more likely to spontaneously tidy up when you see them.

Add reminders: Post reminder notes, whiteboard lists, or calendars with cleaning tasks that need to be done regularly. Being reminded reduces the chance to procrastinate.

Link tasks: Couple a chore you dislike with one you find tolerable to encourage completing both. For example, wipe kitchen counters while waiting for the kettle to boil.

Make it obvious: Hang cleaning gloves right by the door so you are nudged to do a quick clean when arriving or leaving the room.

Make it fun: Play upbeat music to clean to, or do chores with an audio book or podcast on to alleviate boredom.

Encouraging Daily Health and Self-Care Routines

It’s easy to let our own health and self-care slide down the priority list when life gets busy. But consistent daily actions like taking medications, exercising, and getting ready can greatly benefit our physical and mental wellbeing. Nudges can keep us on track with routines:  

Visual reminders: Place pill bottles, vitamins, or supplements somewhere obvious like next to the coffee maker. Use phone alarm reminders, whiteboard lists, or notes on the bathroom mirror for remembering daily tasks.

Reduce effort: Have exercise equipment visible and accessible in your living space. Lay out workout clothes the night before. Apply stickers to mark levels on water bottles for drinking goals.

Make it appealing: Get attractive organizers to store medications neatly. Upgrade to luxurious hair and skincare tools to enjoy using them.

Eliminate extra steps: Purchase medications or supplements in blister packs rather than bottles to eliminate the step of pouring them out. Subscribe to meal kit delivery services that include measured ingredients to simplify cooking healthy recipes.

Nudging Your Family to Eat Healthier

As parents, we shape our children’s attitudes and habits around food from a young age. The way we present food choices and structure mealtimes teaches them what and how to eat. Nudges can encourage kids to eat healthier without feeling forced:

Lead by example: Children are heavily influenced by parents’ eating habits. Make healthy choices yourself and narrate them positively.

Offer, don’t restrict: Rather than banning treats, nudge healthier options by placing them prominently while making junk food less visible.

Control portions: Dish out smaller servings onto plates rather than serving family-style out of large containers.

Make it convenient: Chop veggies and fruits so they are ready to grab and eat. Keep washed, sliced produce at the front of the fridge. Have healthy snacks like nuts readily available in clear containers.

Get creative: Shape food into fun shapes with cookie cutters. Give dishes catchy, descriptive names. Let kids design healthy sandwiches and wraps themselves. Add color with fruits and veggies.

With persistence and creativity, you’d be surprised how effective simple nudges can be for improving nutrition. The key is making healthy choices easy and routine.

Creating Effective Nudges

Not all nudges produce the desired actions. For nudges to work best, consider these tips:

Understand decision patterns: Observe where, when and why you make certain choices. This reveals the best places to introduce nudges.

Choose high traffic spots: Locations that you pass by frequently like entryways or the kitchen are prime real estate for nudges.

Make nudges noticeable: Bright colors, odd placements, or intriguing objects grab attention better than boring signs or reminders tucked away.

Simplify messages: Brief, clear nudges work best. Avoid complicated instructions that require much thought.

Use sensory appeal: Sights, sounds, smells and touch can all be used to cue actions. For example, pleasant scents boost motivation to clean.

Leverage laziness: The easiest path will be chosen most often.

Use multiple nudges: Combining several reinforcements like visual and auditory cues creates redundancy in case one is overlooked.

Establish habits: After consistent nudging establishes a pattern, the behavior becomes automatic and no longer needs a nudge.

Common Questions About the Nudge Theory 

Why do nudges work?

Nudges work because of flaws in human decision making. We take mental shortcuts, act on impulse, forget things, get distracted, underestimate time, and succumb to temptation. Clever nudges that accommodate these quirks guide us to better choices without the need for sheer willpower.

When should you avoid nudges?

Towards unethical, illegal or dangerous actions:
-By manipulating emotions or exploiting weaknesses
-Without transparency or consent

Nudges should aim to improve wellbeing while preserving autonomy. They should empower people rather than control them.

Do nudges really work long term?

Yes, nudges can produce lasting positive habits when applied correctly. The consistent reinforcement of nudging makes behaviors more automatic over time. Even after nudges are removed, people continue desired actions through habit, not because they consciously remember nudges. 

For example, placing recycling bins next to rubbish bins can change the public’s waste disposal habits by making the right choice easy and obvious. This can effectively ingrain the habit to recycle even when there is no easy recycle bin in easy access. The nudge can produce durable change.

How are nudges different from incentives or penalties?

Incentives like rewards or penalties (like fines) obviously influence actions too. But unlike nudges, these work by a different motivation. 

A nudge is meant to be seamless, while incentives and penalties are overt. A nudge preserves freedom of choice, while incentives and penalties actively restrict choices to promoting a specific behavior.

So painting a fly in urinals is a nudge, while charging people for not properly disposing waste or rewarding them for doing so are incentives or penalties.

Can I nudge myself?

Absolutely! “Choice architecture” need not be imposed by someone else – you can design nudges for yourself. As you know your own tendencies best, you can create highly tailored nudges. 

Simple nudges like motivational wallpapers on your devices, reminders, visual trackers, and rearranged furniture allow you to “nudge” your future self positively. Experiment until you find what works for you.

Putting Nudge Theory Into Practice

With some attentiveness and experimentation, nudges can help overcome many everyday challenges:

Procrastination and forgetfulness around chores
Building better health and self-care habits 
Reducing consumption of junk food and increasing healthier eating

The beauty of nudges is that they are simple, discreet and preserve freedom of choice. When designed thoughtfully, they can produce impressive behavior change and establish lasting positive habits.

So pay attention to your tendencies, triggers and motivations. Then look for all the ways you can introduce just-right nudges into your environment. With small tweaks, you’ll be nudging yourself and your family towards better decisions and actions each day.

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