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THE WHOLE HUMAN
A psychotherapist explains the 5 stages of changing your behavior
By Katherine Schafler
Aug 17, 2018
Wait, just thinking about changing is a stage of change? That’s how you start to change — by thinking about it without doing anything?
The idea that just thinking about what you want to change is an actual stage of change is so rational and obvious after the fact (of course you need to think about what you want to change and how you want to change it before you actually do it), but in the midst of contemplating change most people encounter this sentiment:
All I do is think about changing X and talk about changing X but I don’t actually do it.
This creates stuckness and a negative self-fulfilling prophecy.
You tell yourself over and over again that you’re not someone who does anything to change, you just think about it a ton, and then you become someone who doesn’t do anything to change and who just thinks about it a ton.
Breaking that cycle starts with a deeper understanding of what the process of change actually looks like.
Deliberate change comes in 5 stages:
You’re not even thinking about changing. An example of this is a woman who’s dating a man who isn’t great for her, but she’s having fun dating him anyway. She doesn’t think he’s not great for her, she doesn’t think he’s a bad or incompatible choice. She’s just enjoying being around him.
In this stage, it’s likely that a few things have happened which have catalyzed some thoughts around whether you should change something. Using the prior example, the woman might have noticed a few things about the man she’s dating that she doesn’t like. She might be starting to ask herself questions like, Where is this going? … What am I doing? … Well he’s really great at X but not so great at Y … Why am I putting up with this? … Is he enough for me? … Am I really happy with this situation?
You don’t actually change anything in the second stage.
You basically just think about what your life would be like if you continued doing the exact same things, what your life would be like if you decided to change and the ways by which that potential change might occur.
This is when you’ve decided you want to change and you go into preparation mode.
You might ask around about how other people have successfully changed and announce to others that you’ve decided to change in order to hold yourself accountable to it. You might read books or blog posts on change, you might make purchases for yourself that make it easier to enable and stick to the change you want (cough, lululemon, cough).
The action stage is marked by actual behavioral changes.
This is the stage that most people associate with change because it’s the stage that’s most visible.
In our example, this is the stage where you have the tough conversation and you break up.
A crucial and often overlooked stage.
It can take so long to realize you need to change ‘for real’ as well as to take the actionable steps to change, that by the time you get to the maintenance stage it’s easier to think the tough work is behind you.
Ironically, this is the stage that often requires the most support.
Relapsing (i.e. going back on your decision to change) is usually a natural part of this stage that is misinterpreted as failure.
When you have support through the maintenance stage, you learn to prevent, examine and explore your relapses, mining for the loopholes that you then begin to tie off.
With the exception of pre-contemplation, all the stages of change require a great deal of work, attention, time and energy. Thinking is included in this work. It’s hard to encounter conflicting thoughts about what you want and then reconcile the dissension.
Figuring out what you really, truly want can be challenging enough — implementing and maintaining the changes you’ve decided upon can be even more so. #5 of my ten tenets especially applies here, and if it applies to you, recruit support.
Katherine Schafler is an NYC-based psychotherapist, writer, and speaker. For more of her work, join her newsletter community, read her blog, or follow her on Instagram.
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How Behavioral Economics Could Help Reduce Credit Card Delinquency
JULY 26, 2018
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With U.S. household credit card debt at an all-time high of more than $1 trillion, delinquent payments can be more costly than ever. For companies, delinquencies can mean massive collection costs and write-offs of entire accounts. For consumers, delinquency can mean late fees, increased interest rates, downgraded credit scores, the loss of vehicles or homes, or even bankruptcy, despite their intentions to bring their accounts current by making a payment large enough to satisfy their credit card balance. Recent research indicates that simple modifications of automated phone prompts provide an inexpensive way for companies to help consumers make good on their intentions, benefiting both parties.
My colleagues Daniel Mochon and Dan Ariely and I collaborated with a large North American store that offers credit cards, aiming to study how to get recently delinquent customers to pay at least a portion of their balance. These are customers who have just missed paying at least their minimum payment and are therefore considered one month delinquent. Most credit card companies, including our collaborating card company, use interactive voice recordings (IVRs) — large-volume automated phone calls — to remind early-stage delinquent customers to pay. This assumes that there are only two groups of delinquent customers: those who are unable to pay and those who simply forgot. To take care of those who forgot, a short automated reminder is thought to suffice: “[Customer name], you have a past due amount. If you have already paid, press 1. If you are going to pay within the next three days, press 2. If you want to speak to an agent, press 3.”
However, we know from many other domains of life that people can have the best of intentions but fail to follow through on them. For example, many of us intend to save more money, live a healthier lifestyle, or start working on our taxes early instead of at the last minute. But life gets in the way; we procrastinate and end up not doing what we intended to do. My colleagues and I thought that this might also be true for some of the delinquent credit card customers. So we tested two separate modifications to the baseline IVR to see if they would help overcome this type of inaction in the case of recipients who indicated they would pay within the next three days.
Our first modified version added an interactive menu level that asked call recipients to select a concrete timeframe within which they would make their payment during the ensuing three days: “If you are going to pay within the next 24 hours, press 1” and so on, continuing through 36, 48, and 72 hours. We expected this intervention to prompt deeper mental engagement that would help them remember their intention.
Our second modified version added yet another interactive menu level right after this new one. Call recipients were asked to take a personalized pledge: “[Customer name], you have committed to pay [total amount due] within the next 24 hours. Press 1 to confirm your commitment to this pledge.” The idea was to strengthen call recipients’ sense of commitment to their expressed intention.
Over nine months we randomly assigned a small subgroup of the company’s early-stage delinquent customers, around 50,000 people, to one of the three IVRs. We found that compared with the baseline IVR, the prompt with the concrete timeframe increased customers’ likelihood to pay by 2.26 percentage points and led them to pay 0.23 days faster. Adding both the concrete timeframe prompt and the pledge increased the likelihood by 2.54 percentage points and the speed by 0.51 days.
What does this mean in dollars? The people in our small subgroup had a mean total amount due of $142. Some 15,000 indicated they would pay within the next three days. If all 15,000 had received the IVR with the timeframe prompt and pledge, instead of the baseline IVR, the improvement in response would have translated into an increase in immediate revenue of more than $56,000.
When scaled to a credit card company’s entire customer population, these interventions could result in significant revenue increases. Moreover, additional customers become delinquent every day, increasing the long-term revenue benefits of such interventions. In addition, they cost little, they scale easily, and they reduce more-costly later-stage collection efforts, which can include letters, live agent calls, and collection agency fees. Meanwhile, consumers benefit from avoiding the costs associated with debt delinquency.
These results demonstrate that even simple, minimal prompts delivered through automated, high-volume IVR calls can bridge the intention-action gap that so often prevents people from completing beneficial behaviors. Asking people to express their intentions more precisely about when they will act and to take a pledge could work in areas ranging from tax compliance to medication adherence to students’ procrastination on assignments. More generally, the results affirm that applying behavioral insights has great potential for increasing economic and individual well-being at low cost, as the recent work of Daniel Kahneman, Steven Levitt, Cass Sunstein, Richard Thaler, and others has shown.
Nina Mažar is Professor of Marketing and Co-Director of the Susilo Institute for Ethics in the Global Economy at Questrom School of Business, Boston University, and co-founder (with Dan Ariely) of BEworks, a behavioral economics consultancy.
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What Makes Us Cheat? Three Classic Experiments from Behavioral Economics.
Over a year ago by SIMON OXENHAM
Dan Ariely, the psychologist who popularised behavioral economics, has made a fascinating documentary with director Yael Melamede exploring what makes us dishonest. I’ve just finished watching it and it’s something of a masterpiece of psychological storytelling, delving deep into contemporary tales of dishonesty, and supporting its narrative with cunningly designed experiments that have been neatly reconstructed for the film camera.
Below are three excerpts I selected in which Ariely and his co-authors walk us through some of their most thought-provoking experiments and discuss their implications, reproduced here with the permission of the filmmaker.
The Matrix Experiments
Most people cheat a little bit, cumulatively this low-level cheating dwarfs the economic impact of those who cheat a lot.
The Human Capacity for Self-Deception
Most people believe they are somewhat better than average; not only is this statistically impossible, but also even when we know full well that we are cheating, we’ll still fool ourselves into believing otherwise. Our self-evaluation remains distorted even when our own money is at stake, a principle known as the optimism bias.
Whether or not we cheat has less to do with the probability of being caught, than whether or not we feel cheating is socially acceptable within our social circle.
For more of the above, I recommend watching Ariely’s film – (Dis)Honesty – The Truth About Lies, which includes more experiments from behavioral economics described in detail, along with some fascinating case studies from professional cheaters: athletes who’ve been caught doping, bankers who’ve been jailed for insider trading, and partners caught stepping out on their significant others.
Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of the film from the producers.
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