3. On That Annoying Sound Cars Make When You Don’t Wear Your Seatbelt

What's right isn't easy.


But why?

In many cases, doing the right thing means doing the hard thing. 

It's staying to fight in the Battle of Hogwarts. It's speaking out against a government that isn't looking out for you. It's flossing.

It's a truth universally acknowledged that doing The Right Thing may take something out of you: effort, time, money, your reputation. For many it costs more: their freedom, their lives.

That shit's legit. And not what I mean tonight.

Here's what I mean.

Dan Ariely is a behavioral economist. I've read and enjoyed one of his books, Predictably Irrational, so much so that when I saw he was offering a small online course on behavior (and it was like $30 instead of the $100 it currently is on Udemy) I snapped it up. I'm a sucker, but it worked.

In one of the modules, he talks about how, if you look at the data, giving people information -- even if it's a lot of useful information -- doesn't get them to change their behavior. You can tell people that wearing seatbelts will save their lives and the lives of others in case of an accident. You can come up with tear jerker ads about how your family will miss you when you're gone. But they aren't going to do it.

So what eventually made people wear seatbelts? That annoying sound your car makes when you don't.

That's it.

When I heard it, I was like oh my gosh, that's right. 

People aren't wearing their seatbelts for safety. They're not wearing their seatbelts to be noble. They're doing it because it's just easier than listening to BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP.




* Also again would like to reiterate that barraging people with information doesn't get them to change their behavior!

Because abundant research shows that people who are simply given more information are unlikely to change their beliefs or behavior, it’s time for activists and organizations seeking to drive change in the public interest to move beyond just raising awareness. It wastes a lot of time and money for important causes that can’t afford to sacrifice either. Instead, social change activists need to use behavioral science to craft campaigns that use messaging and concrete calls to action that get people to change how they feel, think, or act, and as a result create long-lasting change.

- SSIR.org


What if instead we ask: how can we make doing the right thing easier? 

As in, how can we engineer and design people's experiences so that the desired behavior -- the right/good/necessary behavior -- is as easy and natural and as pain-free as possible? And therefore more likely to get done?

We're people! We're wired to avoid things that hurt us. And yet we blame people for when their humanity takes over and they want "the easy way." Duh they want the easy way; I do too! 

Just because some right things are inherently difficult, doesn't mean all of them have to be. Things don't have to hurt to be virtuous.

A few suggestions (that could totally be used for evil, but #trust):

Make people look good. Then use that cognitive dissonance in your favor.

What if virtue could feed the ego? 

The super specific example is my sister's thesis. She's addressing the stigma society has against people who use drugs by creating a clothing line. But checkit: she's using really good design and quoting rappers' lyrics and it has a really solid can't-argue-with-that message.

I got so excited because I was like, yo, people are going to wear this! It looks good, and it'll make them look good.

People are psychologically hardwired to be consistent. By that, I mean, people's future actions will most likely be consistent with past actions, because inconsistency feels icky. That's cognitive dissonance at work, and people will do what they can to not feel that dissonance.

(I took this up in college so I can't remember the actual source I sourced my knowledge from, but it was my favorite topic and here's a Wiki article on it. The moment I learned of the term "cognitive dissonance" I used it so much because it turns out that shit's everywhere.)

She'll have already engineered a past action: buying and wearing a super cool shirt you should get one when she releases it. 

Now, when she asks people to do something, thanks to cognitive dissonance, they'll be like: You know what, I bought this shirt. And if I bought this shirt, that means I must believe in this cause. And because I believe in this cause, I will Do That Thing.

Give them something for it.

One of the online entrepreneurs I follow held a fundraiser to build schools. 1,000% I would have gone, "Oh that's so nice of her!" and scrolled past that email --

-- if she didn't tell me I'd get access to her otherwise super expensive e-courses with a small donation.

I had no plans of giving $10, but I did, and we can pretend I did that for the children.

Also: she raised more than 100% of her goal, so.

Remove the friction.

I don't like the gym. I am still thus far clueless as to how people can go multiple times in a day and say they love it. Like, don't you guys.. feel.. pain.. or.. 

But I signed up for a year, because 

a) I need to, and

b) it's three floors down from my office.

Since the office moved to that building, the gym has now been really easy to get to. Too easy. I can leave work at 6:00 and be there at 6:02, and that's if the elevator is slow or I decide to take the stairs. 

I don't have an excuse. 



There I am.

Tryna be healthy.

I guess.

    Make the ask specific. Bonus points if it's small.

    The Earth Hour people were on to something. People wanted to "save the world!" but "save the world" is such a ... like .. wow, the world. 

    And then they said, "You know what, just turn off your lights for an hour." They got millions of people to participate, because all they asked was the flick of a switch.

    (Though whether or not the campaign did the planet good is debatable.)

    It doesn't have to be for the right reasons.

    Y'all, I legit freak out when I hear that stupid seatbelt beep.

    In the end, it doesn't matter whether people wear their seatbelts because they think it'll keep them safe or because they want to shut their car up already -- the important thing is they wear their seatbelts.

    (Then they're free to say they did it for the good of mankind, et cetera et cetera.)


    A quick thought on feelings.

    I think they can come last. 

    I mean, I'd love to change people's minds about a cause I truly believe in. I'd love it if they felt about these the way I did.

    But I look at myself and be like, huh, there are some causes out there that a) are totally legitimate and important, but b) I don't really... have... too many feelings on? Not that I don't care, but, okay, yeah I guess they're really not in my Radar of Things I Personally Care About.

    But whether or not people care can come after moving them to start acting in a way that helps and stop acting in a way that hurts. 

    Emotion can drive behavior, but they don't necessarily have to. There are other ways to get people to Do The Thing.

    In thinking emotions are a requirement, sometimes efforts get wasted on trying to convert the way people feel about an issue, instead of getting them to do something about it. And isn't getting people to do something about it the point?

    Feelings can come later.

    P.S. Also some emotional reactions aren't malicious at all; we could have just been brought up differently from the way we know the world should be now. Sometimes it's natural, say to feel uncomfortable around someone you were brought up to dissociate with. But even with that unconscious reaction, you now know better so you now do better. Despite the ingrained weird feelings. Like, that for me counts more. Yafeel?

    This entry is part of #TheDailyWrite. You can view all the entries here.