How to motivate yourself to change your behavior | Tali Sharot - Deepstash
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Brief Summary

Brief Summary

This TED talk discusses the limitations of using warnings and threats to change behavior. The fear induced by warnings often leads to people shutting down and rationalizing instead of acting. People tend to seek out positive information and ignore negative information, which can make them resistant to warnings. Sharot's research found that people tend to change their beliefs towards a more positive opinion, even if it's not supported by evidence. Understanding how people process information and beliefs can help individuals and policymakers create more effective behavior change strategies.


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"The science shows that warnings have very limited impact on behavior...warnings and threats never work, but what I'm saying is, on average, they seem to have a very limited impact. And so, the question is: why?"



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Warning & Threats

Warning & Threats

Warnings and threats are commonly used to scare people into changing behavior. When you induce fear in an animal, the most common response you will see is freezing or fleeing; fighting, not as much. And so, humans are the same. Research shows that warnings have limited impact on behavior because humans tend to shut down and try to eliminate negative feelings when scared. 

Rationalizations and avoidance are some common reactions to fear-inducing messages.


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Rationalizations & Avoidance

Rationalizations & Avoidance

Rationalizations and avoidance are some common reactions to fear-inducing messages. People tend to seek positive information and avoid negative information. 

Rationalizations can make people feel more resilient, while avoidance can lead to a boomerang effect. This behavior is evident in people's stock market activity, where they check their accounts more frequently when the market is high and avoid checking when it's low. This behavior is common as long as people can reasonably avoid bad information.


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Belief Change

Belief Change

People tend to avoid worrying about negative events that might happen in the future. People tend to change their beliefs towards a more desirable opinion when given positive information, even if it contradicts their initial beliefs.

People of all ages take in information they want to hear more than information they don't want to hear. Kids and teenagers are the worst at learning from bad news, and the ability to learn from bad news deteriorates again around midlife. Vulnerable populations, including kids, teenagers, and the elderly, are the least likely to accurately learn from warnings.


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How to Motivate with Less Fear Inducing

How to Motivate with Less Fear Inducing

Three ideas to motivate people to change their behavior  with less fear-inducing message:

  1. Social Incentives
  2. Immediate Rewards
  3. Progress Monitoring


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Social Incentives

Social Incentives

Social incentives can influence behavior. People care about what others are doing and want to conform.  There is a signal in the emotional center of the brain that can predict how likely someone is to conform based on the opinion of others.

The British government used this principle to encourage tax compliance by highlighting that "nine out of ten people in Britain pay their taxes on time". This simple sentence increased compliance by 15% and brought in 5.6 billion pounds.


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Immediate Rewards

Immediate Rewards

The second principle is immediate rewards, which we value more than rewards in the future. People tend to choose tangible and certain rewards in the present over uncertain rewards in the future.

However, studies show that giving immediate rewards for actions that are good for us in the future can help us form habits and lifestyles that benefit us in the long term.

This principle can be used to encourage behaviors such as quitting smoking and exercising regularly.


245 reads

Progress Monitoring

Progress Monitoring

The third principle is progress monitoring, which involves focusing people's attention on improving their performance.

The brain is better at efficiently processing positive information about the future than negative information. Highlighting progress rather than decline can be more effective in getting people's attention and motivating them to change their behavior.

For example, if someone wants to quit smoking, highlighting the positive effects on their health and athletic abilities could be more effective than emphasizing the negative effects of smoking.


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Fear is not an effective motivator for behavior change. Positive strategies that focus on gains and progress are more effective than threats.

The human tendency to seek progress can be capitalized on to motivate behavior change. There is no one-size-fits-all solution and that communicating risks is still important.

Positive strategies such as social incentives, immediate rewards, and progress monitoring can be used to motivate behavior change in ourselves and others.


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Fear is not an effective motivator for behavior change. Positive strategies that focus on gains and progress are more effective than threats. This idea shares the three principles.


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