December 31, 2018

Grooving on Too Much Stuff

After the gift-giving holidays – Hanukkah and Christmas – homes and apartments are bursting at the seams with more stuff.  Knick-knacks, novelties, gewgaws, tchotchkes, odds and ends of all sorts are crowding out space where the familiar stuff currently resides.

For most of us, parting with some old familiar goodies requires a change in behavior.  And if you want to make that change, there’s hope! This episode offers some behavioral science to help you with the process.

One of the biggest things you need to overcome is Status Quo Bias. This is the big hairy elephant in the room. We love to hang on to old stuff, in part because our default is to keep stuff, not get rid of it – that’s the status quo. Ridding yourself of old stuff to make way for the new requires overcoming this intensely powerful default. 

Priming. Begin your journey to unload stuff by opening up 3 or 4 bags or boxes and laying them in plain sight. You’re more likely to fill them if they’re open and ready to use than if you must fetch a new one each time you fill the previous one. Make the choice to give something away as easy as possible. 

Joint Comparison.  If you only look at one item at a time, you’ll find a good reason to keep it. Force yourself to compare two or three like items and to rid yourself of one of them. That way, you’re creating an environment where you might say: “This old cookie-sheet is in worse shape than this other cookie sheet and, since I haven’t used it in a year, I’ll give it away.”

Social Accountability. The best solution for cleaning out a kitchen, bathroom or garage to make way for newer things is to enlist the help of a trusted friend or relative. Ideally, they could become recipients for some of your gently-used items; however, the important thing is that having a comrade-in-arms will reduce the probability of assigning ‘save’ to items best identified as ‘give away.’

When/Then Statement. Use a commitment statement to orient your actions, such as, “When I get home from work on Friday night, then I’m going to set out my packing boxes.” And, “When I wake up on Saturday morning, then I’m going to start cleaning out my closet.”

Getting rid of stuff can be difficult, but when space begins to run short, you’re going to be forced to make some decisions. You want plenty of room for all the new stuff that you just received as gifts, don’t you? Then get started!

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During 2018, Behavioral Grooves published 44 episodes and expanded our viewers into more than 90 countries. To celebrate our successful first year, Kurt and Tim called out our ten most downloaded episodes from 2018. We hope you check them out.

#10. Behavioral Grooves #1: James Heyman, PhD. In this episode, we discussed research that James conducted with Dan Ariely, PhD while they were both at Berkeley.

#9. David Yokum – Science is Hard. David’s journey from the White House Insights Team to The Lab @ DC, to Brown University (to establish a center for applying behavioral sciences to governmental policies) is remarkable.

#8. Grooving on Cash vs. Non-Cash. For many years, we have been fascinated with why rewards that provide the greatest extrinsic motivation are NOT cash!

#7. Grooving on Applying Behavioral Sciences at Your Office. In this episode, we offer tips on how to put your behavioral science desires into action at the office. 

#6. Nudge-A-Thon with Dr. Christina Gravert. Christina discussed the difference between a nudge and a sludge in this fun conversation. Also, she established Impactually, a behavioral sciences firm with Nurit Nobel, to offer consulting and online classes.

#5. Caroline Webb: Having a Good Day. Our conversation with Caroline rambled from her terrific book to speaking at Davos to singing at Carnegie Hall and even Burning Man! What a life!

#4. Don’t Be Creepy – Data Transparency with Charlotte Blank. Charlotte is the Chief Behavioral Officer at Maritz, Inc., and we had a great discussion about how to use data appropriately.

#3. Grooving on Books: Our Top 10 Recommended books on Behavioral Science. We were pleasantly surprised to hear from so many listeners around the world who shared their own top 10 lists with us. 

#2. Michael Hallsworth: From MINDSCAPE to EAST. Michael’s discoveries of behavioral interventions that worked went hand in hand with many studies that demonstrated what didn’t work. This episode highlights both.

#1: Leaving the Matrix: Annie Duke and insights on how you can improve your thinking! Author and poker player extraordinaire, Annie was a delightful guest offering great insights and great laughs. Note: Check out her mentor Lila Gleitman’s contribution to the English Dictionary!

Thank you all for a wonderful 2018!

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December 24, 2018

Sam Tatam: Smelling the Brand

Sam Tatam is the behavioral strategy director at Ogilvy in London. Sam helps his clients develop new ways to manage behavioral issues they have with their employees and customers.

We were introduced to Sam in San Francisco where he wowed us with his presentation about how applying behavioral science was like writing a song. Sam is an Aussie living in London and his references to songwriting and Jimi Hendrix were at the very least unconventional and instantly made him someone we wanted to meet.

Sam’s journey into behavioral science began when he chose to study clinical psychology over graphic design and was formalized when one of his managers recommended Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Tipping Point. Sam found it inspirational. Ironically, his work at Ogilvy has reunited his passions for both psychology and graphic design 

From a very early age, Sam indicated he believed in asking people the right questions over telling people what to do. He gave us examples of how asking the right questions allow people to respond authentically which got Sam thinking about how asking consumers the right questions could impact the data they gathered. He’s a regular Socrates for the 21st century!

Sam also shared a terrific story about leveraging social proof to increase hand washing among food-processing employees. Sam told us about plant employees who were not thoroughly washing their hands even with lots of reminders. But the GI Joe Fallacy was in full play as knowing was not moving the needle on clean hands. Ogilvy’s very clever solution was to put an inexpensive organic ink stamp on every employee’s hands before they started their shift, immediately before they were supposed to wash their hands. Once they were on the factory floor, it was instantly clear who DID and who DIDN’T wash their hands correctly. Social proof was an important element to increase the rate of proper hand washing, but providing a salient feedback loop for each worker was critical.

Like the hand-washing case where awareness was simply not enough, Sam shared some tips on implicit hiring bias that caught our attention: 1. Focusing on process over outcome can lead to higher-quality new-hires. And, 2. Exploiting the diversification heuristic – by slowing down and hiring for more than one position at a time – can bring significantly better new employees your company.

We were not surprised that Sam’s eclectic tastes in music bounce between Ronin Keating (from the Irish pop group Boyzone) for his recording of Alison Kraus hit for the Notting Hill movie: “When you say nothing at all” to Aussie bands including Powderfinger, and the great AC/DC. But he also called attention to UK-based singer-songwriter, David Gray.

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Will Leach is a marketer, econometrician and author whose recent book, Marketing to Mindstates, captured our attention before it was even published. His clever, behaviorally-focused marketing messages were provocative and we were excited to have him as a guest. 

Will’s book focuses on 4 key mind states: Activating a goal, priming the need, framing the choice and triggering the behavior. The book was written as a practical guide for marketers looking to integrate behavioral sciences into their work.

To lay the foundation for the book, Will relied on his experience at the PepsiCo SMART lab. There, they tested prices, planograms, promotional messages and packaging on real-life consumers in a simulated shopping experience. There his curiosity was peaked about why people do what they do. He discovered gold in books like Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, and in Tory Higgins and Heidi Grant Halverson’s book on regulatory fit, Focus. (Both are recommended reading!)

In his years following PepsiCo, Will has taken on some very cool clients and introduced us to Phil Kusak, the founder of Wicked Crisps. Will and Phil worked on the development, branding and marketing of a healthy snack food targeted at Millennial Mom’s leveraging the regulatory fit model. Will was struck by Phil’s caring approach to the people in his organization by modifying machines at Wicked Crisps to accommodate the special physical needs of his employees. We were pleased to be introduced to Phil’s work, as well, and hope you support his wonderful work.

Before we signed off, Will shared three tips with us: 1. Set goals. It’s important that our first step be to actually set and own the goal.  2. Manage regulatory fit. Will reminded us of the importance of making decisions frictionless.  3., Use behavioral triggers. Together, these tips help tell the mind what to do and when to do it.

Our musical discussion had a very eclectic mix to it. We talked about how Will grew up with the sounds of Motown – Aretha Franklin and Bill Withers and he even uses the song Lovely Day as a prime for getting up in the morning. But once he moved to Texas, he realized that the prettiest girls listened to George Strait, Pat Green, and Robert Earl Keen. It always starts with a girl!

In our grooving session, we discussed the importance of the ethical application of these tools. The application of regulatory fit and the use of behavioral triggers can be very powerful, and we recommend careful consideration before implementing them.

Every year, millions of people make resolutions at the start of the new year and researchers indicate that 91% of those resolutions are sunk by the end of the second week in January.

In this grooving episode, we highlight 10 tips on how you can keep your New Year’s resolutions and how you can manifest an even more amazing version of the already-wonderful YOU. To do so, we’re providing 10 tips and hacks that can help you maintain your resolutions and achieve your goals. We are also taking this medicine to make our own new year’s resolutions more successful! Let’s do it together so we can all stay on the resolution bandwagon!


The Ten Tips Are:

Make it emotional. Don’t create a resolution that is completely rational and lacks emotion. Make sure that you engage an emotional trigger and find the larger meaning.  People often talk about SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) and for good reason: because they work and the key piece in SMART is that they are relevant

Adopt your future self as your present identity – “I’m not losing weight, I’m being the healthy, active person that I want to be” – bring your ideal future self to today. Start talking about yourself and referring to your lifestyle today as if you were already living your I’ve-succeeded-with-my-resolution self.  

Start small. The first level of starting small is to keep the number of resolutions small – no more than three! You’re destined for failure if you have a dozen resolutions to try to adhere to. The second level is to break down larger goals into manageable chunks – what are the behaviors that you need to do each week/day/hour that will make you achieve your goal.

Tie triggers into current habits to make the modifications you need to adopt the new behavior.  A good way to do this is to use when ______, then _______ statements. “When I go to brush my teeth, then I will pick up the dental floss.” Research indicates we are three times more likely to do the desired behavior if we tie it to a trigger from our current behavior.

Remove friction. Once you’ve uncovered what might derail you, use if _____, then ______ statements to help figure out what to do when derailments happen. “If I feel like not going to the gym, then I will rely on my commitment to get three visits in this week.” Add friction to things you don’t want to do (move the Oreo cookies to the basement) and reduce friction for things you want to do (put your workout shoes at your bedside before you sleep).  

Enlist Social Support. It’s best to have three kinds of people that can help you on your journey: the cheerleader, the coach, and the referee. Build a small group of people to hold you accountable and reward them for focusing on accuracy, not just warm feelings.

Measure your progress. It could be as simple placing check marks on a diary or to use an app to automate the process. Measure at a rate that is appropriate for the behavior change you’re undertaking: use daily or weekly measures for shorter-term resolutions and weekly or monthly for longer-term resolutions.

Reward your progress. If you’re set milestones along the way, make sure you reward yourself as you achieve these milestones. Don’t hold all your rewards until the very end. These rewards can coincide with the way you’ve broken down your resolution into smaller parts. And they need to be the right kinds of rewards. 

Give yourself a break. We are human, not machines and the world is complex. Not everything will go as planned. It’s ok to not be 100%, but “don’t miss twice,” as James Clear says. One of our biggest biases is to underestimate how much time any given task will take. Don’t punish yourself for missing a date – just do the work.

Make it fun. Be intentional about laughing and enjoying the process of the change you’re in. When things don’t go as planned, laugh it off and learn from it. Share your hardships and successes with your social networks. Laughing releases endorphins in the brain that cause you to feel less pain and anxiety, which actually makes you more resilient and happier.



The resolution solution: Longitudinal examination of New Year's change attempts, by JC Norcross at the University of Scranton. Or Forbes article titled “Just 8% of People Achieve Their New Year's Resolutions. Here's How They Do It.” 

Atomic Habits,” by James Clear.

How to Have a Good Day,” by Caroline Webb.

Large Stakes and Big Mistakes,” by Loewenstein, Gneezy, Mazar & Ariely.

Tiny Habits,” by B.J. Fogg.

 “Thinking in Bets,” by Annie Duke.

In this episode, we spoke with Dr. Michael Hallsworth PhD, the Managing Director of the North American Behavioral Insights Team. We met up with him at his office in Brooklyn which gave the audio a bit of an echo-chamber vibe.

Michael was an early member of the UK’s Behavioral Insights Team. Along with Paul Dolan, Dominic King, Ivo Vlaev, and David Halpern, Michael created MINDSPACE in 2009 and later, the EAST model. Both are mnemonic tools for remembering key elements of behavioral science.

To ensure that everyone is comfortable with the MINDSPACE and EAST models, we recommend this link to an overview from the Behavioural Insights Team: The paper is brief, informative, easy to read and offers one of the best explanations on how to apply behavioral insights we’ve read. However, in quick recap form, the mnemonic MINDSCAPE stands for:

Messenger. We are heavily influenced by who communicates information

Incentives. Our responses to incentives are shaped by predictable mental shortcuts such as strongly avoiding losses

Norms. We are strongly influenced by what others do

Defaults. We “go with the flow” of pre-set options

Salience. Our attention is drawn to what is novel and seems relevant to us

Priming. Our actions are often influenced by sub-conscious cues

Affect. Our emotional associations can powerfully shape our behaviors

Commitments. We seek to be consistent with our public promises and reciprocate acts

Ego. We act in ways that make us feel better about ourselves


EAST is an updated and simplified version of MINDSPACE. EAST is a powerful tool because it is so easy to remember and it stands for:

Easy. Harness the power of defaults; reduce the ‘hassle factor’ of taking up a service; simplify messages

Attractive. Attract attention; design rewards and sanctions for maximum effect

Social. Show that most people perform the desired behavior; leverage the power of networks; encourage people to make a commitment to others

Timely. Prompt people when they are likely to be most receptive; consider the immediate costs and benefits; help people plan their response to events


Michael is a relentless researcher. He never fatigues of testing new ideas or recycling old ones and he’s open about situations where replications of his earlier studies worked well and not so well. His candidness about his successes and failures, when it comes to replicating results, is a breath of fresh air in the scientific community. To highlight this fact, we discussed how changes to the format of the letter used by the British tax authority to collect taxes from delinquents generated great results. However, when he applied the same approach to collect dues in Albuquerque, New Mexico with a different audience, the formality effect failed miserably.

Michael shared his observations on framing, political systems, confirmation bias and motivated reasoning. All are prominent in the world today, increasing our need to pay attention to them and to be aware of their effects on our decisions and behaviors.

He also shared two tips on how to prepare to conduct a study. He teed these two up in a fashion that was highly intentional, so we recommend following his direction if you are interested in conducting a study of your own.

  1. Pay attention to details as the human condition (and our world) is complex
  2. Ask for written predictions from the experts prior to collecting data – hindsight bias is a powerful effect


We also discussed how Michael came to play piano “quite late” as a child because, unlike many kids who are thrown into piano lessons, he volunteered to study the instrument. Quite simply, he loved music and still does. He still plays a bit today at holiday gatherings and when he’s in close proximity to a piano. Also, he introduced us to a band neither of us had heard of - Okkervil River. A very chill Americana band out of Austin, Texas.

That led us to discuss Texas bands and Texas music festivals in our Grooving Session. We remind listeners of 3 great Texas-born songwriters, Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaugh, and Buddy Holly and discussed how the festival known as South by Southwest (SXSW) has become a highly commercialized event in Austin. Is it still fun, entertaining and rewarding for music fans? Certainly, but it’s become a corporate marketing event and is a bit overwhelming for those hoping to the next musical superstar in a small saloon.

We hope you enjoy our discussion with Michael Hallsworth, PhD.


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