Science of behavior change

Science of Behavior Change – #7 Podcast of the Week

Welcome to the seventh blog post of: Podcast of the Week. Thanks for reading this post! If you have not yet: please check out the other Podcast of the Week blog posts: link. This blog post is about the science of behavior change.

Why do I recommend this podcast episode?

Do you have to cope with the difference between your present self and ideal self? I certainly do. My ideal self works out every day, but my present self rather sleeps or watches TV. It can be hard to set boundaries. This is a constant struggle, to be the best version of yourself. I recommend this podcast episode because it sheds some light on the science behind this phenomena. In my opinion it is important to look at science because it is evidence based, opposed to experience based. I rather believe in evidence from thousands of consistent case studies, in opposition to experiences from one individual. That is why I recommend this episode.

Bridge the gap

The ultimate goal is to bridge the gap between your present and ideal self. But most of the time we don’t get here, we get stuck in existing behavior. We procrastinate the things that get us ahead. This podcast episode is an interview with Katy Milkman, she will share the science of getting from your present self to ideal self. Katy reveals why your strategy is essential to making lasting change, also how we can pick the right one for our circumstances.

Katy Milkman on the science of behavior change

One of the Top 10 of Behavioral Scientists you should know according to Forbes. She is the James Gerard Dinan Professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, she is also host of the Choiceology podcast about behavioral economics. She is author of: How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be (as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases). The book goes into further depth, it illustrates how to identify and overcome obstacles that stand in the way of change. In summary, this blog post will give an introduction of key concepts, the book is the next step.

The podcast episode, the science of behavioral change

Afford Anything podcast

Once again I recommend a podcast episode from the Afford Anything podcast. This show is run by Paula Pant. She interviews experts from many fields about decision-making, productivity, mastering your career, money and life. Her articles and podcast episodes revolve around mastering money to set yourself free, by adjusting your behavior. Here you can find links to the other Afford Anything blog posts:

What are the key takeaways about the science of behavior change?

In every podcast of the week blog post there are key takeaways. These are the most important lessons that I have distilled from the science of behavior change. I do this with help of the podcast host, Paula Pant. Because she always formulates her own key takeaways at the end of every episode. You can find her notes here: Episode notes by Afford Anything.

1. Concrete commitment

If you want to take action it works well to hold yourself accountable. You can do this by asking a friend or family to be your referee. The action needs to be specific and time-bound. By example: I am going to do my financial administration on the sixth of June, between 13:00 and 14:00. Making the action this specific will create a cue, it will become a commitment to yourself.

You can set this up for different desired actions, to create a system. So you can create a workout schedule with a friend with recurring dates. It is important to automate as much as possible in this, to create little friction or manual actions. This will have a higher chance of getting the desired outcome, in comparison to vague commitments. If you fail to do the action, your referee will hold you accountable. It can help to attach consequences to the commitment, by example a fine; you will have to transfer 10$ to a specific charity for not exercising. This will help hold yourself accountable.

2. Science of behavior change Tactics

Some science backed tactics discussed in the episode. These are tricks you can apply to get the desired behavior. You can pick and choose them to build your own strategy.

Temptation bundling

This is a method researched by Katy Milkman. You could describe as a carrot on a stick. It basically is linking the action you want to do, to the action you need to do. Most of the time this applies for tasks that are important but not urgent. Like working out, cleaning or learning new skills.

By example, you could bundle listening audio books to working out. You would only allow yourself to listen when you are exercising. It could also be something more subtle, like only putting scented candles on while doing financial admin. By doing this, you can get the short term fulfilment while sustaining long term benefits. You can really customize this trick to your liking. Personally I always listen to podcast episodes while doing household chores. This works surprisingly well.


This is a method mostly used by companies, they force it upon their employees. To learn them something, or change their behavior. The company I work for uses gamification to raise awareness about cyber/physical security. I can do quizzes which reward me with points, these can be compared with other colleagues on a leaderboard. According to Katy this delivers mixed results if imposed top-down. It could work if you set it up yourself, with a group of friends or family. There are plenty of apps around today to do this. Personally I use the app Strava to gamify my exercise, this adds a competitive/social component to my workout. In summary, a trick that helps me to be more active.


If a desired action can be automated, do it. By example, automatic savings. According to Katy automatic saving plans are 40% more effective than manual ones. This is one of the reasons the Pension Protection Act was rolled out in the US (2006). It defaults employees in a company pension, to stop contributing they have to opt-out. This dramatically increased contributions. The auto-contributions make it easier to escalate as well, because you get used to it quickly. It can also help to automate billing, simply because you can’t forget it. In conclusion, automate what you can. If you can’t automate it, use concrete commitments to create your own system.

3. Tailor your strategy

As Katy points out in the interview. The biggest takeaway: it depends on the pain what is most effective. Every person has their own set of barriers. It is important to pick the right science based tactics. This requires a lot of thinking, to match the tactic to the problem. Then you can start to stack habits and pick and choose tactics that fit you. Applying the science based tactics is a lifetime practice. At times of disruption in your life this can be challenging. Think about job loss, death of a relative or illness. Therefore it is important to recreate your thinking if circumstances change, this requires awareness. In times like these it can help to step back, refocus and reevaluate your tactics. So they stay aligned with your current goals.

4. Learn from and teach others

It can help to look at people around you for role models. People that are like you but a few steps ahead. You can learn a thing or two from famous people, by example; watching interviews with Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger (one of my hobbies). But their advice only goes so far, because their lives are far from ordinary. Therefore most likely completely different from your life. Famous people can motivate you to improve yourself. But to get more actionable/personalised advice it can help to look for role models closer. The people you see on a daily basis, that you admire for their qualities. You can cherry pick behavior that you like and simply copy/paste tactics that they apply.

Furthermore, it can also help to ask feedback from these role models. This way you can learn and improve your own weak points. I have experienced this as extremely difficult at first, because you have to reflect on your behavior. But it provides a treasure of insight on your own blind-spots, asking for feedback will get progressively easier the more you do it. In my opinion this process of self improvement is never ending. At some point others will start to see your strengths, which you have developed through self improvement. You can become a teacher, while still learning from others.

How does the science of behavior change relate to Know Act Invest?

The science of behavior change is related to all phases of Know Act Invest. The combination of tactics can help you formulate your own strategy, by creating awareness about your current behavior and desired behavior (Know). They will help you take desired actions that will get you closer to your ideal self (Act). The Invest part is when you start stacking your new habits to create your own system of desired behavior.

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Want to learn more about the Science of behavior change?

Then I recommend Katy Milkman’s book: How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be (as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases) This blog post provided you with information to start changing your behavior. The book is the complete guide with more detailed information.

Further Reading

Katy Milkman website

Episode notes by Afford Anything

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