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Think Small

The Surprisingly Simple Way to Reach Big Goals

By Owain Service & Rory Gallagher
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Think Small by Owain Service & Rory Gallagher

Think Small (2017) shows how small changes in the way we think and act can help us achieve big goals. Harnessing insights from behavioral science, the author sets out a seven-step program to help you make and stick to plans for improving your well-being. Whether your aim is to lose weight or to get ahead at work, this framework will help you get there.

Key idea 1 of 9

Behavioral science shows us that small changes in the way we act and think can lead to big changes in our lives.

Have you ever made a potentially life-changing New Year’s resolution – to quit smoking, for example, or to start running every morning – only to find that, come February, you’ve forgotten all about it?

It’s an all-too-common situation. But why do we have such difficulty persevering our big plans?

Well, we tend to think that we’ll pursue our aims with focus and thought, but the reality is that our minds are not always in a thoughtful and focused state. Distractions and temptations are constant, and, more often than not, we succumb to them.

Let’s say you’ve resolved to follow a diet that entails counting and controlling your calorie intake, day in, day out. Naturally, this requires a lot of focus – a level of focus that’s almost impossible to keep up. People face countless mental demands daily, from the pressures of a tough day at work to the stresses of raising children, so it’s no surprise that many dieters will, at some point, lose focus, give in to temptation and sneak in a snack.

So what can we do to stay on track and stick to our goals? Behavioral science has some surprisingly simple answers.

We can, for example, make use of the nudge theory, which suggests that small changes, when subtly encouraged, can lead to big results. Maybe you set your watch two minutes early to help keep yourself punctual. Or maybe you’ve joined a running group, harnessing sociability to stay motivated with exercise. That’s nudge theory in action.

Nudge theory often makes use of social norms – patterns in our peers’ behavior that we feel compelled to imitate.

For instance, one project, conducted by the UK government, tested the impact of social norms by adding a single line to the end of letters sent to citizens with outstanding tax debts: “most people with a debt like yours have paid it by now.” The result? Because people thought prompt payment was the expected behavior, they paid up quickly, generating hundreds of millions of pounds in taxes paid.

In total, behavioral science offers seven steps for nudging yourself toward happiness and achievement. And you’ll learn them all in the following blinks.

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