The Power of Small Changes

All it takes is a little nudge.

No one wants to be called a nudge. In case you needed proof of this, let us turn your attention to trusty, which defines the noun form of the word nudge as “a person who pests.” Ew. Can we not bring pests into this?

What we often overlook, though, is that there is another way to use the word nudge — as a verb, and one that means “to touch or push gently,” according to Merriam-Webster. This take on nudging is explored in the most recent episode of one of our favorite podcasts, The TED Radio Hour. The episode is called, well, Nudge, and it explores the shocking power of small changes in the way that we act and speak to each other. Tweaks that seem minor have been proven to have massive results in all kinds of outcomes, and while the examples detailed in the episode are at a much larger scale than the things we encounter in our own lives, it’s encouraging to see that there’s real strength in baby steps. Those cheesy sayings about starting small? They might not be so cheesy, after all.

In this episode, the TED Radio Hour brings together an addictions specialist, a highly respected psychology professor, the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, and two behavioral economists. While it would be impossible for us to sum up their brilliance in a matter of a few sentences — these people are seriously smart, and we would totally recommend a deep dive into the podcast itself if you want to learn more — we feel pretty confident that even a sneak peek into what they had to say will get your wheels turning on the power of the nudge. Here are a few of our key takeaways:

  • It’s easier to push people in the right direction when you stop telling them what to do and start encouraging them to pay close attention to themselvesAddictions psychiatrist Judson Brewer speaks to the importance of mindfulness in helping smokers quit their unhealthy habit. Smokers who were treated with mindfulness — who were encouraged to tap into their own bodies and really pay attention to how they felt when they needed to smoke and what the actual experience of smoking felt like — are twice as likely to give up cigarettes as those smokers treated simply with medication and reminders that smoking is baaaaad, he says. This is Exhibit A for nudging — a real world example of what happens when we reframe the way we think about people and behaviors and (in this case, at least) encourage others to do the same.
  • A growth mindset is all about semantics. As kids, many of us got used to hearing how darn great we were. “You’re so smart!” “You’re so great at soccer!” “You’re an amazing artist!” It felt good to hear that, huh? Even now, we think back on the praise of our childhood and feel a little ego boost. (Thanks for that, Mom!) While we’re all about positivity here at bulldog, we were fascinated by psychology professor Carol Dweck‘s thoughts on the importance of believing that you actually have room for improvement. Kids whose parents and teachers say things like “I love seeing how hard you’re working!” or even “Not yet!” are less likely to be frustrated by challenges, because they don’t feel a crushing pressure to be good at something all the time. Nudge-y changes to the way we talk to each other about strengths and challenges can help all of us get more confident moving out of our comfort zones… and even more comfortable with — gasp! — failing.
  • Thanks to nudge, solving big problems is often a lot easier than you think. You’ve probably heard a lot about the movement to bring more women into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. The gender gap in these industries has been well-documented, and people much, much smarter than we are have been working to solve that discrepancy for years. Reshma Saujani — founder and CEO of Girls Who Code — speaks to a refreshingly manageable approach to the problem, and it all comes down to access to technology for young girls. “It’s a nudge that can have massive consequences,” she says. “This is the big secret. You can convert girls pretty quickly. You just have to show them what [technology] is and what they can do with it… You can close the gender gap in our lifetime. It’s absolutely possible and doable.” Thanks to nudge, apparently!
  • Thinking of something as a choice can often make it more complicated. Behavioral economist Sendhil Mullainathan uses his daily workout as an example of this itty bitty mental shift. Ever since he stopped thinking about going to the gym every morning as a choice, it became way easier for him to actually do it. He goes to the gym every day because… well, because he goes to the gym every day! Like most of us, he says that if he gave himself a choice in the matter every day, he probably wouldn’t get out of bed for a sweat session nearly as often.

Do you see what we mean about baby steps? About the very real chance that, simply by making a small adjustment to the way you think or talk about something, you can massively change the way that that something plays out in your life? How cool is that?

If you want to reach a goal or make a change, bulldoggers, start small. Start with a nudge!

When has a nudge made a big difference in your life? Tell us more on Facebook + Twitter!

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Featured image: Kamil Manka/Unsplash; lights image: Bruno Nascimento/Unsplash


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