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Notes on Stick With It: A Scientifically Proven Process for Changing Your Life-for Good

I recently completed the book Stick With It: A Scientifically Proven Process for Changing Your Life-for Good by Sean D. Young. It's an excellent book I picked up after hearing Sean interviewed on the Art of Manliness podcast.
In the book Sean discusses a scientific approach for changing behavior – either your own or that of others (use wisely!). He talks about why most self-help books fail to bring about lasting change, and the SCIENCE model he's created that's been proven to work.
Below are my “cliff notes” on the book. Let me state up front that I have written, at times verbatim, passages from the book in these notes, though mainly it's my summarization of what was written.
I hope you find these notes useful, and I highly recommend you both listen to the interview with Sean, and pick up a copy of his book.

SCIENCE Model of Lasting Change

  • Stepladders
  • Community
  • Important
  • Easy
  • Neurohacks
  • Captivating
  • Engrained

Stepladders

Summary: Take really small steps and use the model of steps, goals and dreams.
Dreams
  • Take more than 3 months to achieve and haven't previously been achieved.
  • Remind yourself of your dream, but don't keep your focus here.
Goals
  • Long-term
    • Take 1-3 months to achieve.
    • Could take > 3 months but only if previously achieved.
  • Short-term
    • Take 1 week to 1 month to achieve.
Steps
  • Little tasks to check off on the way to a goal
Sweet spot: have goals that take one week to accomplish and plan steps that take fewer than two days.
To change behavior, focus on the day-to-day process, rather than the outcome.
Two important ingredients:
  1. Use the model to plan the right incremental steps, goals and dreams.
  2. Reflection: look back on successfully completed behavior and having a small celebration

Community

Summary: Be around people who are doing what you want to be doing. Social support and social competition foster change.
Communities
  • Composed of two or more people that create a social bond
  • Facilitate lasting change (if members are engaged)
Strong communities have a social magnet
  • Being part of a team on a joint mission, pulling each other together to keep working.
  • The magnetic force of the team overcomes individual inertia.
Methods of building social magnets:
  • Calling out a specific person or group of people (ex. Staying a video and tagging a person or group of people)
IMPORTANT: For a community to continue to have a lasting impact on people, there needs to be enough people in the community who are nurturing it to create a social magnet.
  • Seed the community with people who can be the mentors to those coming in (like in AA with sponsors)
    • For communities of five or less, everyone needs to build the social magnet
    • For larger communities about 15% of the people need to be building the social magnet
Six Ingredients for a Successful Community
  1. The need to trust.
    • Build trust by getting people to share personal information; start very small and ladder it up from there.
  2. The need to fit in.
    • Have a clear social norm so people know if they fit in.
  3. The need for self-worth.
    • Get members to feel good about themselves.
  4. The need for a social magnet.
    • Create a strong social magnet, or change the psychology elements until you have one.
  5. The need to be rewarded.
    • Reward members for good behavior.
  6. The need to feel empowered.
    • Make members feel in control of their lives.
    • Provide mentors and peer role models.
HOPE Studies Model
  • Understand the psychology of the group
    • Identify shared psychological characteristics – formulate a list of questions
  • Interview some of the people you're trying to reach
    • Get answers to the questions above
    • Ask psychological questions to find out how to best help them
    • Learn who they think is influential, how they like to socialize, what their preferences for community type are
  • Determine the type of community that's best to help address the issues identified
  • Find peer role models
    • The expert: influential experts (bloggers, scientists, doctors, successful entrepreneurs)
    • The celebrity
    • The messenger: find social butterflies who fit the bill and can spread the word
    • The homegrown role model (best): find people passionate on the topic who have been though it themselves (think AA sponsors)
  • Make it easy for the role models to be role models
    • Provide basic guidelines for what new members will want from them
    • Ask them to help promote (to an extent based on their schedule) the community
    • Teach them what we'd learned about the group we're trying to help
    • Provide materials like videos, websites and blog posts they can share with members
  • Once the role models have begun to open up and share with each other open it up to the target community
    • Immediately after you get your first visitors get some role models talking to them
    • The one initial goal for new visitors: get them to contribute something to the community within their first week of joining
      • Responding to a question, liking a post, commenting on a picture
      • This begins the process of stepladders and help the social magnet grow stronger
Ensure you are building a community around the right thing
  • Sam Adams: increase beer sales
  • Dos Equis: their ads

Important

Summary: To ensure change lasts, make sure it's really important to you.
People have more success changing when it's important to them, and if it's important, then stepladders and communities can help.
The Big Three: Money, Social Connections, and Health
Money
  • Allows people to buy what they want
  • Makes them feel powerful and successful
  • Can make changes important enough so people radically change their behaviors
Social Connections
  • Really important to people
  • Make people happy
  • Can be more important than money in getting people to keep doing things
Health
  • If you feel you can improve your health through certain actions then you will take them
How do you make something important to people if it's not something they're naturally interested in?
  • Appeal to people's emotions, not their intellect
  • When something is important to people, they feel it and have a need to follow through with it
Create an emotional connection to you and your products
  • Get customers to believe in you by showing you're one of the biggest customers of the product you're selling
    • This gets clients to feel they can trust you when you say it's a good product
  • Tell customers stories about common mistakes people make; demonstrate how their assumptions are incorrect and they need to act differently
    • Make them factual and dramatic so they resonate with people and get them to feel the need for having the product
  • Teach them about products that can prevent the types of problems discussed
  • Keep the product message simple
Once a person buys in, use stepladders to keep them coming back.
  • Suggest they take a smaller step than what they want to do
Seeing your future-self can help you make long-term changes where the reward is far in the future.

Easy

Summary: Make it easy. People will do something if it's easier for them to do it than to not do it.
People want things to be easy for them to do; people enjoy things that are easy for them to do; people will keep doing things that are easy for them to do.
When barriers are in front of people they quickly stop doing something, so if you learn to remove the barriers you'll easily be able to keep doing things.
How to Make Things Easy
  • Control the environment
    • By creating an environment where it is not easy for people to disagree, people can be led to do almost anything. And vice versa.
  • Limit choices
    • When you give people a smaller number of choices, it becomes easier for them to make a decision to do something, and keep doing it.
  • Use a roadmap
    • People don’t have to think about how to get from point A to point B
    • Having an action plan make it easier, and more likely, that people will do anything.
    • Easy to do == More likely to do
Use the other forces
  • Use stepladders on steps, goals and dreams. Small steps are easier to achieve than goals or dreams.
  • Surround yourself with other people who are doing the same thing (community).
No matter how stupid something might seem, if it’s easy to use, people will use it.

Neurohacks

Summary: Our minds play tricks on us. Use these tricks to your advantage.
Change begins with action. Change your actions and the mind will follow.
People often decide whether to do something based on how they think of themselves.
If you want to be different start by being different, and that self-identity will make it a lot easier for you to be that person.
Neurohack: a psychological trick that gets someone to reset their brain by looking back on their past behavior.
Neurohacks get people to stick with things through two psychological processes:
  1. People convince themselves that since they aren’t forced to do something they’re doing it must be important to them. They then stick with that behavior to remain consistent with what’s important to them.
  2. People form an identity of themselves by looking back on things they’ve done in the past, and continue doing that behavior because it’s part of their self-image.
Behavior
  • Get someone to voluntarily take a simple action like visiting a website or registering on the site to gain access, and you can get her to think of herself in a different way. Her new identity make it more likely that she’ll increase her involvement.
  • Jump straight into someone’s fears by exposing them to what they fear, or at least a light version of it.
Body Movements
  • Getting people to move their bodies the way they do when they agree with something gets them to be more agreeable, and vice versa.
  • People’s confidence and self-esteem are affected by things as seemingly irrelevant as which had they use to complete tasks.
  • Instead of trying to control your thoughts, just make small changes in your behavior and your mind will follow.
Physiology and Emotions
  • People look to their physiological and emotional signs to learn who they are, what to think, and how to act.
  • The act of smiling causes you to rate an experience higher or something funnier, and vice versa.
Speech and Cognitive Neurohacks
  • Little changes in speech can affect how people think of themselves and what they do
    • “Please don’t cheat” vs. “Please don’t be a cheater”
      • The former is asking people not to do something, and the later is asking them not to be a type of person
  • Cognitive neurohacks let people learn about their behaviors by looking back at their thoughts. If they can change their thoughts they can change their behavior.
    • If people are able to focus while doing an activity they’ll enjoy it more
Getting choice buy-in (getting people to indicate they want something)
  • Give people a small number of choices and ask them to pick one of them; if it’s their decision and not yours they’ll be more likely to stick with that choice
  • The key is that people have to feel that they made their choice voluntarily
Creating chain links
  • Step ladders work because each step completed increases commitment to doing something.
  • Neurohacks are more successful if done at least a handful of times
  • People need to do something over and over for them to change their self-image

Captivating

Summary: People keep doing things if they're rewarded with things they need.
People will keep doing things if they feel rewarded for doing them.
The reward needs to feel just as powerful as it would feel if the person were actually in a cage yearning to get out or get fed.
  • People need to feel that the reward they will get is so powerful that they'd be willing to keep doing something
Find something that is a captivating reward for the individual
  • Look at what is important to the person or group of people you're trying to reach
  • Money? Social environment and approval from peers? Self-improvement? Self-esteem? Health?
How to make something captivating
  1. Make doing the “right thing” fun.
  2. Use the carrot instead of the stick.
    • Fear is not an effective long-term strategy as it causes avoidance.
  3. Don't assume money is the best reward.
    • People don't need rewards for things they already find rewarding.
  4. Forget using education by itself.
    • Appeal to people's psychology and emotions to get them to keep doing things.
  5. Make the activity itself rewarding.
    • Simply handing out rewards does little but encourage temporary compliance
    • If adding gamification…
      1. Emphasize intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivators
      2. Consider the “players'” motivations for playing
      3. Foster collaboration, creativity and learning over competition
      4. Provide both individual and team feedback to combine the key elements of social capital, self-esteem, and fun
Two types of captivating fixes
  1. Quick Fix
    • The immediate reinforcement people need for doing something
    • People need to get it quickly after they start something
    • The reward needs to be appropriate to keep people doing something
  2. Trick Fix
    • Intermittent reinforcement
      • Gradually taper off the rewards
      • Provide rewards when they aren't expected
        • Casinos let people win occasionally, when they least expect it, resulting in a higher rate of addiction

Engrained

Summary: Do things over and over. The brain rewards people for being repetitive and consistent.
Engrain: the process the brain uses to create lasting change
The secret to making things engrained is based on repetition: repeating behaviors, especially if it can be done every day, in the same place, and at the same time. It teaches the brain that it needs to remember the behavior to make it easier to keep doing it.
Engraining causes people to favor things that are familiar.

Putting it All Together

Not all behaviors are the same. There are different types. Each type of behavior requires a different set of forces to change it.
The difference between behaviors and how to treat them lies in this: the extent to which people are mindful of their behavior – or realize what they're doing at the time – and therefore are able to stop it. The behaviors are either done consciously or unconsciously.
The difference in which forces to use depends on people's awareness when they're doing something they want to change and how capable they are of changing it.
Generally, the more conscious thought goes into a behavior the easier it is to change.
Three Types of Behavior
Note: more asterisks means the force is more important to use)
  1. Automatic
    • Something people do without conscious awareness
    • Examples: biting your nails
    • Forces to apply
      1. Stepladders
      2. Community
      3. Important
      4. Easy ***
      5. Neurohacks *
      6. Captivating *
      7. Engrained ***
  2. Burning
    • A feeling of having an irresistible urge, or burning, to do something. They are thoughts that feel impossible not to act on. They are almost, but not quite, automatic.
    • Examples: checking email right after waking up, video game addition.
    • Forces to apply
      1. Stepladders *
      2. Community *
      3. Important *
      4. Easy ***
      5. Neurohacks **
      6. Captivating **
      7. Engrained ***
  3. Common
    • Things that people do repeatedly and consciously, at least part of the time they're doing them. These are the most common behaviors people try to change. They are not as engrained as automatic or burning behaviors, and they don't cause obsessive thoughts like burning behaviors.
    • Examples: going to bed early, exercising more frequently, eating healthier.
    • Forces to apply
      1. Stepladders **
      2. Community ***
      3. Important **
      4. Easy **
      5. Neurohacks *
      6. Captivating **
      7. Engrained **
Using the SCIENCE Model of Lasting Change
  1. Identify the behavior you want to change or create
  2. Identify the type of behavior it is (A, B or C)
  3. Apply the forces needed to create or change that type of behavior

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