Behavior Change and You – and You, and You, and…

I had a lovely time in Sacramento and Napa, but I was actually in California for work. I attended the Behavior, Energy and Climate Change (BECC) Conference, and presented on two panels.

It was an amazing conference, one that I haven’t stopped thinking about. I’ve always been fascinated by why we do things, what prompts us to behave the way we do, and how we interact with each other, so this conference sort of blew my mind.

Keynote speaker Andrew J. Hoffman

Because of the focus of the conference, much of the talk centered on programs that encouraged people to do things like wrap their hot water heaters and install programmable thermostats. Curiously, the transportation panels focused on electric and hybrid vehicles, or biking and walking, but nothing in between like light rail. Surely getting people to ride the bus is better for the climate than all those SOVs?

People-Powered Presentations

The pre-conference workshop was an all-day event with Doug McKenzie-Mohr, a Canadian PhD who has coined the term “community-based social marketing.” This says that unlike information-based campaigns, which assume that people will change their behavior when they learn facts, people actually change their behavior based on their world view, which is framed by what they learn from friends and family. How much of  your news do you get from Facebook?

Doug McKenzie-Mohr

This social-based behavior was a theme that came up over and over. Basically, the message was that if you want to talk about climate change – don’t. And make is feel-good. Several presenters criticized Al Gore and the scare tactics of “An Inconvenient Truth.” Presenting climate change in dramatic facts and figures had the effect of overwhelming the public, and making them stick their heads in the sand. Talking about climate change automatically now makes people shut down, retreat, and avoid the topic.

Avoiding climate change?

Instead, focus on the individual and what impacts their personal life. Find people whom they respect and trust, and let those people model the behavior you want. Get individuals to make public, durable commitments to change – something that reminds them what they promised, and shows others that they did. Offer solutions, break down barriers, and make sure they understand the benefits. Help them create a social circle made up of people doing the desired behavior so they can support each other in good and bad times.

Making behavior change friendly!

As I listened to all of this, I thought about how I had started biking regularly, my experiences with Weight Watchers and healthy eating, and other areas of my life this type of behavior change has applied. In some ways, knowing all this makes me think it will be easier in the future to really make some personal changes stick.

Armed with this psychological warfare, I am already beginning to look forward to my New Year’s Resolutions. Maybe sharing them on my blog will make them public and durable, and I’ll be more likely to stick to them with the social network of this blog. I think it’s worth experimenting with, at least! Who’s with me for some behavior change?!


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