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The SUE Influence Framework© explained

By All, Behavioural Science Insights, Citizen Behaviour, Customer Behaviour, Employee behaviour, Personal Behaviour

The SUE | Influence Framework© is a powerful mental model we developed at SUE to analyse the forces that shape behaviour systematically. The framework will provide you with all the human insights you need to develop ideas for behavioural change. A deeper understanding of the forces that prevent people from change or boost behavioural change is essential to influence minds and shape behaviour. In this blog post, we explain the model step-by-step and illustrate it with lots of examples.

 

1. How does influence work?

For a complete overview of the essence of behavioural design, I want to urge you to read our blog “What is behavioural design“. For this blogpost, it suffices to understand that you need three ingredients for successful behavioural change: 

  1. Understand how people think and how they make decisions. (cognitive psychology)
  2. Know how you can analyse the forces that shape people’s behaviour (SUE | Influence Framework©)
  3. Learn how you can come up with ideas for behavioural change 

One of the biggest misconceptions of behavioural design is that it’s limited to this third ingredient. Think about all the persuasion techniques in the field of interface design and UX to boost online sales. Booking.com has turned these techniques into an art form

However, if you don’t consider what happens inside the human mind you try to influence, you can use as many persuasion tactics as you want; you’re not going to be successful. 

Let me illustrate this with an example: You can use all the scarcity, authority, social proof in the world to persuade me to make my next city trip with Flixbus. But as long as you haven’t addressed my (probably irrational) prejudice that travelling by bus coach will be a social nightmare, full of annoying people, my brain will stay locked for every attempt to change my behaviour.

Flixbus

 

2. The forces that shape behaviour

The best way to think of the SUE | Influence Framework© is to think of it as a tool that brings the dynamic forces to the surface that shape behaviour. With this framework:

 

You will understand why people do the things they do and what prevents them from changing their behaviour.

Understanding these forces helps you to spot opportunities for behavioural change. Only when you have armed yourself with these opportunities you can start to come up with ideas. 

To illustrate this with the example from above. Only when you consider that I have anxieties, doubts and prejudices that prevent me from travelling by coach will you have the proper insight to come up with ideas to influence my decision-making. You will ask yourself how we might take away the prejudice that cheap coach travel equals a social nightmare. 

If you want to design a successful strategy for behavioural change, you will have to work outside-in. You start with learning what happens inside people’s minds, and you adapt your intervention to this understanding. 

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The SUE | Influence Framework© has three parts, with a total of seven elements. We will delve into these three parts below.

  1. Part 1: Current and Desired Behaviour 
  2. Part 2: The Job-to-be-Done
  3. Part 3: Pains, Gains, Comforts and Anxieties

3. Current and Desired Behaviour 

The best way to think of behavioural change is that you need to have someone (or yourself) switch from a current to desired behaviour. This sounds obvious but is actually quite challenging. Because people need to stop doing the things they do and start doing something new. Stopping is hard because your current behaviour is full of comforts. You don’t need to think about it, and your behaviour is more than often driven by habits that are difficult to control. 

Furthermore, there are several difficulties associated with new behaviour too: Am I able to do this? Do I want it? Do I trust it? Do I get it? Can I afford it? What will others think of me? 

You immediately sense that, if you want to get someone from A to B, you will have to deal with several forces at work that lock us in our current behaviour and prevent us from switching to the desired behaviour. The SUE | Influence Framework© is nothing more or less than a tool to uncover these forces.  

4. The Job-to-be-Done

If you want to understand why people do the things they do, then the Job-to-be-done framework by Clayton Christensen is essential. In a famous Harvard Business Review paper, Christensen argues that people “hire products and services” for a job that arises in their life. Understanding the “job” or “task” is the key to understanding what motivate people to do the things they do. If you want to know how to get more people to buy milkshakes in a fast-food restaurant, you need to understand the job-to-be-done for which people would come in and “hire” a milkshake. In the famous lecture below, Christensen argues that most people who buy milkshakes at a fast-food restaurant buy them because they have a long and tedious drive to work. They want something to fill their stomach while keeping the commute interesting. The milkshake does this job better than any other product. It keeps you busy for at least 10 minutes, it doesn’t crumble all over you, and you can easily keep it in your hand while steering the car. 

 

Job-to-be-Done thinking unlocks a deeper understanding of the human behind the customer.

A while ago, we discovered in a Behavioural Design Sprint we did for a health tech company that the real Job-to-be-done for people with diabetes is to live everyday life. They want to be reminded as little as possible by their disease. People with diabetes look at every product and service through the prism of this Job-to-be-done. The unconscious question they ask themselves is: Does this product help me to approach my Job-to-be-Done to live a care-free life in which I am bothered as little as possible by my disease? This insight was crucial because, until that point, our client always communicated to people as patients.

Case: Zoku Amsterdam

The founders of Zoku Amsterdam had given themselves more than two years to figure out how they could design the ultimate hospitality experience for people who needed to stay longer in a city because of their job.

 

Zoku Amsterdam - Hotel Room

 

The Job-to-be-done that Zoku took as the critical opportunity for their prototyping is that people want to feel at home. They want to feel part of the community of the city. And this experience is precisely what most hotels don’t offer you. Every hotel reminds you in everything of the fact that you’re just a passenger. Zoku designed the room with this Job-to-be-done in mind. The centrepiece of the room is a dining/working table, not the bed. Lunch and dinner at Zoku are to be consumed at a long communal table. You can invite your customers for meetings, and they have daily activities in which you can participate. More about Job-to-be-Done:

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5. The forces diagram

We already argued above that the biggest challenge with designing for behavioural change is that people need to stop doing things. Furthermore, they have all kinds of insecurities and discomfort about the new behaviour we want them to perform. We have also argued that the best way to motivate them to embrace new behaviour is to connect with their deeper goals in their life (called Jobs-to-be-done). 

The third and final component of the SUE | Influence Framework© is four dynamic forces that push people towards or pull people away from the desired behaviour. The Influence Framework works with these four forces: 

  1. Pains of the current behaviour
  2. Gains of the desired behaviour
  3. Anxieties, doubts, and other barriers to the desired behaviour 
  4. Comforts of the current behaviour

Force 1: Pains

Pains are what people experience as shortcomings and frustrations related to their current behaviour.

Pains are often the problems to which a behavioural designer designs a solution. Pain and frustration trigger a propensity or willingness for change. The better you can connect with people’s pain, the higher the eagerness to change their behaviour.

In our behavioural design sprints, we often discover that they reward you with their trust if you can articulate people’s pain quite well. They appreciate that you understand their world. Every populist in the world knows that people are not interested in what you want to do. They want to feel instead that you get their pain. It’s a meme in every sales training that the best salesmen sell pain.


Force 2: Gains 

Gains are the positive consequences that people will experience when they perform the new desired behaviour.

Whenever I stay at Zoku, I can at least work in my room if I want. I can eat healthy without having to go out. I can enjoy hanging around in the big co-working living room with my laptop. I can impress my clients with the view, etcetera. These are all gains you will experience if you book at Zoku. 

However, these gains only make sense relative to the Job-to-be-Done. You appreciate the Gain of the design of your room, the shared breakfast table, the healthy food kitchen and the co-working living room because they all contribute to the Job-to-be-done of feeling at home in the city you have to stay in for work. 

Important to remember: Always connect the Pains and Gains with the Job -to-be-done

 

Case: Pains and Gains and travelling by train 

I often need to travel between Amsterdam and Belgium. I have stopped taking the car, and I only go by train these days. My Job-to-be-done is to spend my time as purposeful as possible. The Pain of driving my car is obvious: I can’t answer e-mails, write blogs, or finish reports. I’m utterly exhausted after a six-hour drive, of which I regularly spend two hours in traffic jams (Belgium is a traffic jam inferno). The Gain of travelling by train is also apparent: Travel time equals working time. I can read, write, or answer e-mails. For travellers like me, a power socket and a little table for my laptop are worth a lot.


Force 3: Comforts

Comforts are the routines and habits that get people to stick to their current undesired behaviour.

It’s not that I wouldn’t like to work out more often. And if I’m honest with myself, I do have the time to go to the gym in the morning. My only problem is that I have too many bad habits that stand in the way: I want to wake up slowly. I need to have breakfast. I need to bring my toddler to school (and she adores not cooperating). By the time I dropped her at school, my window of opportunity to go to the gym is closed. It’s already late, my stomach is full, and my mind is already at work. 

You could argue that everything is in place for me to start working out. I desire to have more energy and lose a couple of kilos (my JTBD). I feel the pain of not being fit. I know how much I enjoy the feeling of being healthy (gain), and I only have to walk 200 meters to my gym, so I can’t blame it on an inability to get there. As the co-founder of SUE, I’m pretty free to decide how I run my schedule (no anxieties). I can’t break through my comforts/ habits. What works for me is that my gym organises a 10-minute abs workout every hour. If I can make it in time to join this 10-minute class, I will probably stay a bit longer.


Force 4: Anxieties 

Anxieties are fears, doubts, prejudices and other barriers to the desired behaviour.

Anxieties could be all the things that prevent you from changing behaviour Anxieties could be related to: 

  • The desired behaviour: Too complicated, too hard, too socially uncomfortable, etc. 
  • The supplier: can I trust this supplier? 
  • My own capability: I’m not sure if I can do this or if it matches with my self-image. 
  • My environment: I don’t know what my significant others will think of this behaviour

Taking away Anxieties are often underestimated in a strategy for behavioural change. However, they form a crucial piece of the puzzle. Sometimes taking away anxiety is the last puzzle piece needed to turn an intervention into a success. Like in the Flixbus example I wrote about earlier: taking away my fears and prejudices towards coach travel and address the most critical force between me and the desired behaviour. 

Case: De Porsche Pitch

In The Perfect Pitch, a book by advertising legend Jon Steel about the art of pitching, the author shares the story of a pitch his agency won for the Porsche account. The killer insight that got them to win the agency competition was that advertising doesn’t need to persuade Porsche drivers. It needs te to convince non-drivers that Porsche drivers are not cars for men with a middle-crisis. They called it the “asshole factor” of a Porsche driver. Taking away these anxieties and prejudices towards the Porsche driver became the most genius advertising strategy ever for the brand.

Want to shape behaviour and decisions?

Then our two-day Fundamentals Course is the perfect training for you. You will learn the latest insights from behavioural science and get easy-to-use tools and templates to apply these in practice right away!

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6. Working with the SUE | Influence Framework©

 The Influence Framework helps you to build empathy for your target audience. Our Behavioural Design Sprints always kick off with five or six interviews. If you interview five or six people from the target audience, you will be able to fill in your Influence Framework©. For a proper Behavioural Design interview, there’s only one simple rule of thumb:   

Past behaviour never lies

When we conduct interviews, we always try to map human journeys. What we’re looking for is how real humans think, feel and behave. How does a successful journey look like? What about a failed journey? Why did people fail? What made them feel uncertain or uncomfortable? Why didn’t they do the things they wanted to do?  

In 5 or 6 interviews, you’ll get a clear idea about the Jobs-to-be-Done, the Pains and Comforts of their current behaviour and the Gains en Anxieties of the desired behaviour. It can also be gratifying to interview extreme users. Experienced people can tell you a lot about Jobs-to-be-Dones and gains. People who are struggling can teach you a lot about pains, comforts and anxieties. When you have mapped out these forces, you can spot opportunities for behavioural change by asking yourself these five questions: 

  • How might we help people to achieve their goals? (Jobs-to-be-Done)
  • Can we come up with solutions that solve pains or frustrations that people experience (Pain) 
  • Can we break into an existing habit? Or do we need to change a problematic habit? (Comfort)
  • Which anxieties, doubts, prejudices, and other barriers do we need to take away? (Anxiety)
  • What could be the psychological value that we can create for people (Gain)

More about this topic: 

 

7. Examples

  • The best way to think about the success of Uber and Lyft – aside from a nearly unlimited supply of cheap investor capital – is that they successfully eliminated all the pain from the taxi experience. Not knowing when your car is going to arrive, not being confident about whether the cabbie will rip you off or having to negotiate about the price. They brilliantly help you to achieve your job-to-be-done to experience the city. An Uber-Gain is that you never have to worry when you go out: You order an Uber when you leave the club, and within 5 minutes, you’re back on your way home.
  • Airbnb is a much more gratifying way to experience new places. This is the ultimate traveller Job-to-be-done. The pain that is associated with hotels is that they’re anonymous. They make you feel like an outsider-tourist. The Gain of AirBnB on an emotional level is that you can feel at home abroad. This feeling gets even strengthened on a functional level: Since you do your cooking and supermarket shopping, you can feel what it is to live like a local. There are some anxieties Airbnb needs to take away, like whether the place is as good as advertised (that’s why they always demand professional pictures). A relatively new anxiety is the worry that the neighbourhood might be sick and tired of Airbnb tourists.

7. The ethics of Behavioural Design

We have argued above that a successful behavioural design strategy consists of three ingredients:

  1. A deeper understanding of human decision-making.
  2. Understanding the forces that shape behaviour.
  3. Using principles from the science of influence to come up with ideas and interventions for positive behavioural change.

The SUE | Influence Framework© is a powerful mental model for understanding why people do what they do and what prevents them from changing their behaviour. It is also the best guarantee that a strategy for behavioural change will be human-centered.

Behavioural Designers always ask themselves what they can do to help people become more successful at what they do or help them overcome their anxieties or help them break bad habits.

Suppose you take your time to build empathy with your target audience, and you use the Influence Framework to analyse their behaviour. In that case, you will always spot opportunities to design positive choices. 

PS: The mission of SUE is to unlock the potential of behavioural science to help people make better decisions in work, life and play. We use this mission as our guiding principle for everything we do. We’re very conscious that behavioural design can be a ‘dark wisdom’ and that those who master it are often the ones with the worst intentions. We don’t want to be naive that people will abuse this knowledge to manipulate people. Still, we firmly believe that the world would be much better off if we can inspire more people with a better understanding of how influence works and do positive things with this knowledge. Please check out our Behavioural Design Ethics Toolkit here.

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How do you do. Our name is SUE.

Do you want to learn more?

Suppose you want to learn more about how influence works. In that case, you might want to consider joining our Behavioural Design Academy, our officially accredited educational institution that already trained 2500+ people from 45+ countries in applied Behavioural Design. Or book an in-company training or one-day workshop for your team. In our top-notch training, we teach the Behavioural Design Method© and the Influence Framework©. Two powerful tools to make behavioural change happen in practice.

You can also hire SUE to help you to bring an innovative perspective on your product, service, policy or marketing. In a Behavioural Design Sprint, we help you shape choice and desired behaviours using a mix of behavioural psychology and creativity.

You can download the Behavioural Design Fundamentals Course brochure, contact us here or subscribe to our Behavioural Design Digest. This is our weekly newsletter in which we deconstruct how influence works in work, life and society.

Or maybe, you’re just curious about SUE | Behavioural Design. Here’s where you can read our backstory.

sue behavioural design

Six rules for designing your happiness

By All, Employee behaviour, Personal Behaviour

If there is one thing we as humans all want more control over, it is our own happiness. Thousands of self-help books have been written, bought and earmarked. Maybe one of the pieces of advice you have come across is this quote: ‘You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with’. From a behavioural science point of view, this is intriguing, as behaviour is strongly influenced by context. We all act and react to what happens around us. Can we learn from behavioural science what kind of people we must surround ourselves with? How can we influence our context to trigger behaviours that make us flourish as human beings? Or to go beyond this: How do these insights transfer to a business context? Can it help create better performing teams and more motivated talent? This blog post will give some answers from a Behavioural Design point of view.

Happiness: The five people you hang around with

You probably have heard or read it before that we as humans are hard-wired as social animals. When we grow up, we learn the values, norms, and desired behaviours by looking at others and adapting to them. We feel better when we fit in a group. We prefer inertia, but one of the key motivators for us to spring into action is when our group is threatened by another group. That’s why the ‘creating an enemy’ tactic is so vital in getting people on your side in, for instance, winning political votes. At one point or another, we all have been influenced by social proof to buy, book or belief something. From a happiness point of view, this also has a strong effect on us. You could say that:

Our quality of life equals our quality of relationships.

However, there is this interesting paradox. At the same time, we all live in an identity economy. We are constantly searching to answer that one question: ‘Who am I?’ and we repeatedly do and say things to establish our identity. This is not surprising as most of us were raised for autonomy. It is a merit to be independent, make our own decisions, have self-motivation, and have high expectations of our ability to direct our own lives. Happiness isn’t an option anymore; it is a mandate or almost a right to be.

You probably have been looking for ways to be happy yourself once or twice. If that’s the case, I better put it to you straight: behavioural research has shown that looking for happiness has no use at all. Reading all those self-help books, turning inwards, and searching for your inner purpose: Won’t do the trick. This doesn’t mean we cannot be happy; we simply must first understand ourselves a bit better. We need to understand the psychology of happiness.

Designing happiness: predicting our happiness

If we want to be happy, one of the first things we need to look into is our ability to predict what makes us happy. Let me ask you a question: Suppose you won a lottery, and 1 million euros are transferred to your checking account. Now imagine a completely different scenario. This time you had the unfortunate experience to be involved in a traffic accident that made you paralysed from the hips down. After a year, if I ask you what is your level of happiness? Is it the same in both scenarios or is one higher than the other? I suppose, you think your happiness level will look something like this: as a fortunate lottery winner you picture yourself being far happier than as a unfortunate paraplegic.

What if I tell you these are the wrong data? Daniel Gilbert PhD, professor at the Harvard Department of Psychology, researched this, and these were the correct data:

There was hardly any difference in happiness levels after a year. This was a profound insight into the psychology of happiness. Daniel Gilbert discovered that we all have a psychological immune system that helps us handle setbacks and prevents our happiness from being negatively influenced. It shelters us from the worst effects of misfortune.

This is important as this study has shown that we are not good at forecasting our responses to emotional incidents. We typically overestimate how long we will be unhappy after a negative incident, which, in turn, affects our behaviour and decision-making. According to Daniel Gilbert, PhD:

We underestimate how quickly our feelings are going to change in part because we underestimate our ability to change them; this can lead us to make decisions that don’t maximise our potential for satisfaction.

You can see how this may affect our happiness, or as Daniel Kahneman, PhD, who conducts research on decision-making and wellbeing, said:

What people tend to do is either avoid decisions, or they build in securities by over-relying on freedom of choice. If you have more options, this gives us the feeling of having more room to escape. However, behavioural research has also shown that having more options tends to have adverse effects on the quality of our decision-making. We often tend to pay more for more options, but this is a waste of money from a happiness point of view.

Designing happiness: what makes us happy?

But there is more. We now know that we are not good at predicting our happiness, but that doesn’t tell us what makes us happy. Behavioural science has something fascinating to say about this, too, as we have another psychological mechanism know as hedonic adaptation, also known as the hedonic treadmill. It refers to the human inclination to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.

You can compare it to a treadmill as even if a runner is running, he (or she) stays at the same place. If you do something you love or like the joy you get from it levels out. We all return to our happiness baseline. The mechanism helps us cope with unpleasant experiences but it also is a killer for joy. Happiness doesn’t last.

Maybe, you are now a bit discouraged if you can indeed design a happy life. You can. If there is one element that drives our happiness that researchers found repeatedly, it is curiosity. When we are open to new experiences, when we cherish the unknown, when we are inquisitive, it has been shown that we tend to hover above the happiness baseline for a more extended period. We can even shift our baseline a bit upwards.

Designing happiness: the freedom security paradox

This brings us back to the paradox we started out with our innate need to be socially connected and independent. This paradox starts to make sense when we want to design our happiness. Esther Perel once said we all have two human needs: security and freedom. You could say we all balance between change and stability all the time. You need your freedom as it drives that so much needed imagination, playfulness, curiosity. However, it is much easier to change if you can jump of a stable foundation of people who are committed to your wellbeing.

It is also much easier to be curious if you are inspired by interesting people. In fact, if we get disconnected from people, we can experience all forms of stress: despair, sadness, exhaustion, confusion. Just think back at the Covid lockdown; these were all emotions people have genuinely experienced and suffered from. This leads up to a fascinating Behavioural Design challenge:

How can we design behaviour that makes us feel connected, curious, and playful?

This is also where our personal happiness and work happiness come together: the same behavioural interventions can work for both. In both situations, you are a human in a relationship with other humans. Losing the other is losing yourself.

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Designing happiness advice 1:
Create an interdependent context.

Maybe the most critical shift we need to make is a shift in our context. We need to design a context that is shaped for inter-reliance or inter-dependence. Make it okay to be dependent on each other. You can be playful and imaginative if you are not afraid that you will be judged. If you can rely on each other this creates collective resilience sparking the willingness to try new things. To accomplish this, you need to design for psychological safety. This is a shared belief held by team members (or partners) that it is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.

Research has shown that this builds team efficacy, learning and performance. But psychological safety also helps to establish stable relationships. It creates the courage to speak up no matter how you feel about yourself, you will open up about your struggles, and it helps you take a step toward what you want. It also helps you propose new plans and experiment together. Some tangible behaviours that lead up to psychological safety:

  • Be understanding: Summarise, use language like ‘Do I understand it correctly that you want.
  • Avoid blaming: Don’t say: ‘Why did this happen?’ or ‘Why did you do this?’, but ‘How can we make sure to make this better next time?’
  • Avoid negative: Don’t use negative words; it creates an interpersonal culture of rejection.
  • Manage speaking time: Making sure everyone can speak in an equal amount.
  • Explain decisions: you don’t need to have a democracy in everything, but it helps to explain a decision.
  • Be engaged: Make eye contact, don’t use phones in conversations, be present.

Designing happiness advice 2:
Surround yourself with complementarity.

This is where the five people that you surround yourself comes in. If you look back at the first intervention, you can imagine that:

Interdepend roles create strength.

So, look around those five people. Are they different from you? Do they complete you? Do you get energy from them, or do they suck the living daylights out of you? It maybe feels safer to hang out with like-minded people, but it can be very inspirational to talk and meet with people with different experiences and opinions. Some tangible behaviours:

  • Plan a meeting with someone who has a different opinion.
  • Make a list of the five people who could compliment you and schedule meetings with them.

Designing happiness advice 3:
Have a prototyping mindset.

What holds us back from being curious is the lack of courage to do new things. We know from behavioural science that it is crucial to believe in yourself. If you don’t have confidence, you struggle in your relationships, and you don’t feel very happy at work, you don’t cope well with stress, which causes you to lack motivation or energy. On the other hand, research has shown that having confidence can help you set boundaries, find balance in your work and private life, improve performance at work through better concentration and commitment to tasks.

This again affects whether we dare to engage in experiences that might feel uncertain or can be risky. Expectations of personal efficacy determine whether coping behaviour will be initiated, how much effort will be expended, and how long it will be sustained in the face of obstacles and aversive experiences. A great behavioural design intervention is to build confidence is to establish a prototyping mindset.

If you look at everything you do as an experiment, you cannot fail only learn.

Everything new is not likely to give us courage but approaching life, and new ventures as one big experiment builds trust in yourself. It’s the fuel for our curiosity engine.

Designing happiness advice 4:
Build respect and recognition.

Most relationships start to fail, both in your work and private life when you don’t feel valued anymore. We all have an innate need for respect and recognition. When we have the feeling we are not valued anymore, we cut ourselves loose. There is a straightforward behavioural intervention to make people feel valued. It is giving compliments.

There is more to it: a study from 2012 suggests that receiving praise helps our brain remember and repeat the skill when we try out a new skill. One-third of participants received compliments for their own performance, one third received for another participant’s performance, and the others received no compliments. The next day, the group that received praise for their own performance performed better on the task than the others.

Another benefit of giving compliments is that it can affirm desired behaviours, which can be helpful not only in your work but also in maintaining stable friendships or romantic relationships.

Designing happiness advice 5:
Be as pleasant at home as you are with your clients.

 

It may seem like an open door but be honest, have you have ever caught yourself changing your behaviour as soon as you got home? Whereas you could be interested, caring and curious in client conversations at home, you stop asking genuine questions to find out how your life partner is doing. You probably have heard about the seven-year itch. Well, in fact, research has shown you are actually dealing with a three-year itch. After three years, we think we know everything about our partner: what he she/likes, what he she/does. But do you? You’re not together for the most part of the day, so your partner does have new experiences, thoughts and dreams, perhaps. A simple behavioural intervention is to keep asking questions. Be interested. Do you have your phone in your hand when you’re talking to an important client or your boss? No. Treat your life partner or teammate with the same respect.

Designing happiness advice 6:
Leave your devices behind.

 

This makes an easy cross-over to this behavioural intervention. If you want to build a meaningful relationship with someone, both at work and at home, make sure you are engaged. Make eye contact, turn off that phone, don’t look at your laptop when you are in a conversation. This builds trust and respect that is needed to get playful, curious and experimental. Looking to improving your sex life? Leave the communication devices out of the bedroom!

Want to shape behaviour and decisions?

Then our two-day Fundamentals Course is the perfect training for you. You will learn the latest insights from behavioural science and get easy-to-use tools and templates to apply these in practice right away!

Download the brochure

Go ahead, it’s completely free of charge!

Summary: How to design happiness

Pursuing happiness is not an abstract matter and, most of all, not a matter of heavy, introspective labour. By using behavioural science, we can carefully design a context that balances our need for freedom and security. Both essential ingredients for a happy life. Our job is to make sure that the pendulum between the two doesn’t snap. We thrive and feel alive in social connection that sparks curiosity. These are the main drivers of our happiness. We need to rely more on each other. If we can stay connected, curious and playful, all our relationships will thrive. Some very simple behavioural interventions can help us design a context that helps us do so. And remember, you cannot always be happy, but you can always be curious.

Astrid Groenewegen

BONUS: free ebook 'Six Rules for Designing your Happiness'

Especially for you we've created a free eBook 'Designing Happiness'. For you to to easily keep the insights in this blog post at hand and use them at will—a little gift from us to you.

Download ebook

Go ahead, it’s completely free of charge!

How do you do. Our name is SUE.

Do you want to learn more?

Suppose you want to learn more about how influence works. In that case, you might want to consider joining our Behavioural Design Academy, our officially accredited educational institution that already trained 2500+ people from 45+ countries in applied Behavioural Design. Or book an in-company training or one-day workshop for your team. In our top-notch training, we teach the Behavioural Design Method© and the Influence Framework©. Two powerful tools to make behavioural change happen in practice.

You can also hire SUE to help you to bring an innovative perspective on your product, service, policy or marketing. In a Behavioural Design Sprint, we help you shape choice and desired behaviours using a mix of behavioural psychology and creativity.

You can download the Behavioural Design Fundamentals Course brochure, contact us here or subscribe to our Behavioural Design Digest. This is our weekly newsletter in which we deconstruct how influence works in work, life and society.

Or maybe, you’re just curious about SUE | Behavioural Design. Here’s where you can read our backstory.

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A Behavioural Design Guide to Happiness in 2021

By All, Personal Behaviour

What is the secret to happiness? Which behaviours lead to a happier life? In this blog I want to explore how a deeper understanding of behavioural science can help us to design for happiness. I want to explore how you can use Behavioral Design thinking to nudge yourself into living a happier life.

Happiness comes in four chemical flavours.

The problem with designing for happiness is that happiness is a bit of a tricky state of mind. It comes in many flavours: excitement, joy, satisfaction, wellbeing, a sense of belonging, etc. So if we want to pursue happiness, what are we talking about? The most objective way to think about it is to look at the neurochemicals that produce happiness. In the end, our experiences are nothing more than triggers that produce neurochemicals: 

  1. Dopamine gives a person a sense of joy when a goal is reached or fulfilled. Dopamine comes in instant rushes, right before the moment of success. Think about: scoring a goal, crossing the finish line, winning a pitch, get a Tinder Match, beating your competitor, etc. 
  2. Oxytocin is the bonding hormone. Whenever you feel deeply connected with a loved one, or when you feel you truly belong to a group or community. Oxytocin produces a sense of bliss and a feeling of security. Sapiens is a social primate that needs this connection with others. 
  3. Serotonin is the wellbeing hormone that we produce when we achieve social status. Serotonin generates a feeling of self-importance. Your body releases serotonin when your investments in yourself, your skills, social life, and professional life start to pay off. There lays the difference with dopamine, a hormone that is all about instant gratification. 
  4. Endorphines are the hormones that produce a feeling of euphoria. Endorphine is the neurotransmitter that many of the well-known drugs activate. Its biological function is to mask pain. Your body releases endorphins, for instance when you transcend your limits in sports. E.g. Runners often refer to the endorphin rush when they talk about the runner high. 


The problem with happiness: Addiction to dopamine.

We live in a dopamine economy. Whenever you open your senses, you are under attack by an endless stream of messages that try to persuade you to go for instant gratification. The promise of snacks, candies, alcohol, processed food is that there’s instant gratification within reach. Social media is nothing more than a dopamine pump on steroids. It always tries to lure you back with notifications. After every social media notification lays the promise of a like, comment, important e-mail, offer, etc. 

The problem with dopamine is that it depletes. The more you chase it, the more dopamine you waste. The more dopamines you waste, the more you need to approach the memory of that feeling of initial satisfaction. The drama of the availability of instant gratification machines in our life (cheap calories, cheap social technologies), is that they make us crave for more, but in the long run, produce less and less happiness. 

Buddhists try to solve this problem by detaching themselves from every desire. They argue that the desires we chase are not our desires anyway. When we desire beauty, success, wealth, admiration, and victory, we all become a slave to a passion that is not our own. We copy these desires from other people, and we assume that the success stories that we see in the media are the ultimate goals for successful living.

While we assume they will deliver happiness in the end, they produce a lot of misery and a continuous state of dissatisfaction. 

I never found the Buddhist answer completely satisfying. Perhaps because I grew up in two of the greatest cities of under the rule of the Dukes of Burgundy: Ghent and Bruges. There’s just too much joy in feasting, and in being passionate and gluttonous once in a while. However, I do recognize that the chase of desires is a dead end. I’ve seen too many seemingly successful people, who keep chasing more and more success, but without being happy or satisfied. 

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The solution: Design for Serotine and Oxycotin. 

In an podcast interview with Naval Ravikant, I overheard the quote:

Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.

That’s such an elegant phrase. It suggests that we should go for the happiness that follows from investment in mastery and connection with others. You produce serotonin when you finally get in shape. It’s in the flow you experience once you master your craft. It’s in the joy you feel when you can apply your creativity, intelligence, experience to solve problems.  

You produce oxytocin when you have deep and meaningful friendships. When you can experience the joy of being with people, you can fully trust. People that always pull you in delightful and effortless conversations. People who care about you and people who appreciate the fact that you care for them. 

The things in life that take investment, that are a bit risky, and that require pain and abstinence upfront, are the things that produce happiness. 

Five practical behavioural design interventions to achieve happiness.

The guidelines above are still a bit abstract. ‘Design for Oxycotin and Serotonin’ is not exactly a practical guideline. I want to propose five practical behavioural design principles that will lead to the behaviours that release the right mix of serotonin and oxycontin, topped with a little bit of dopamine.

Intervention 1: Framing. Frame life as a game.

This is one of the simplest ways to live a happier life. Think of everything you do as a game. If you think of your relationship as a game, you will have much more fun with it. Your goal is to crack the code of how to keep the relationship playful and how to maintain curiosity. The same rule applies to work: Work is a game. You need to figure out how to get good at it. If you don’t take risks, you’ll never make progress, and you’ll remain stuck in the same bland level. If you take a chance and it doesn’t pay off, you will always get a second shot. 

However, there is a pitfall; A game can become an addictive dopamine pump. People too often don’t understand when to stop playing the game. And the moment this happens, the game will play with them. The tail starts wagging the dog. Too often, people get trapped inside status games or success games. At this stage, the game start to produce misery, anger, competition, stress, anxiety, and fear of losing status. 

There’s a big difference between “game” and ‘play”. Once you reach a level where you can enjoy the game for the sake of playing it, then you can truly enjoy it for its own sake. I have this approach to most games in life. I don’t care if I win them or not, as long as I enjoy the game in itself. That usually suffices to make a very decent living. It also prevents me from detaching my happiness from the outcome of these games. Granted, that’s a bit easier to say when you are the company’s owner, but I have always had this approach this game-frame to life. 

Intervention 2: Fuck it, let’s do it. The 5-seconds rule.

One of the most critical behaviours that lead to happiness is the pursuit of curiosity. Curious people learn more, meet more people, get more achievements. In other words: Curiosity produces both dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. To force yourself to experiment and try things out is one of the best approaches to living a happier life. We’ve written about the “fuck it, let’s do it” approach in the past. The essence of this philosophy is: treat your whole life as a continuous set of experiments. You should be running experiments all the time to figure out if they make you happy. If they don’t: cancel the experiment and be grateful for what you’ve learned. This way, you will never experience failure again. Instead, you have learned that some things don’t work for you.

Intervention 3: Create Forcing Functions.

For the body to produce serotonin, we need to do the things that require investment, effort and abstinence. Think of eating healthy, getting fit, growing in your job, etc. However, our senses are bombarded continuously with dopamine alternatives to serotonin. Why go to the gym if you can watch Netflix right now? Why cook for an hour, while you can order a pizza? Why read a book, if Facebook is full of instant gratifications? 

At a certain point, we need to find ways to manipulate or force ourselves into serotonin behaviours. For instance, I have made a deal with a personal trainer to train me three times per week for six months. In the first weeks, I wouldn’t say I liked every second of it. I called her my closest thing to a Nazi. But I had no excuse to skip training. I had a gym subscription for more than four years, but I never could get beyond the initial suffering phase. Now, after four weeks, I even start to enjoy it.

Intervention 4: Priming. Do Misery Benchmarking.

Misery often follows from benchmarking with people who are more successful than you. We always seem to look up. But isn’t that insane? If you read this blog, chances are very high that you are part of the 1% of the world that is educated, financially well-off. Whenever you are a bit bored, confined to your house, blaming the pandemic for your misery, think about the refugee mothers with babies in tent camps in Lesbos, whose babies are being bitten at night by rats. See if you still think your sense of entitlement is justified. 

Intervention 5: Practice gratitude.

I won’t spend too much effort on this one. The value of gratitude should be a well-established idea by now. Practising gratitude leads to a more fulfilling life. Furthermore, it primes your brain to focus its attention on the good things in your life. By doing this every day, you gradually train your brain to pay attention to the good stuff. 

That’s it. 5 interventions to hack your happiness hormone system. Try them: You’ll love it.

Tom De Bruyne
Co-founder SUE Behavioural Design

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

BONUS: free ebook 'How to Design your Happiness.'

Especially for you we've created a free eBook 'How to Design Happiness.'. For you to keep at hand, so you can start using the insights from this blog post whenever you want—it is a little gift from us to you.

Download ebook

Go ahead, it’s completely free of charge!

How do you do. Our name is SUE.

Do you want to learn more?

Suppose you want to learn more about how influence works. In that case, you might want to consider joining our Behavioural Design Academy, our officially accredited educational institution that already trained 2500+ people from 45+ countries in applied Behavioural Design. Or book an in-company training or one-day workshop for your team. In our top-notch training, we teach the Behavioural Design Method© and the Influence Framework©. Two powerful tools to make behavioural change happen in practice.

You can also hire SUE to help you to bring an innovative perspective on your product, service, policy or marketing. In a Behavioural Design Sprint, we help you shape choice and desired behaviours using a mix of behavioural psychology and creativity.

You can download the Behavioural Design Fundamentals Course brochure, contact us here or subscribe to our Behavioural Design Digest. This is our weekly newsletter in which we deconstruct how influence works in work, life and society.

Or maybe, you’re just curious about SUE | Behavioural Design. Here’s where you can read our backstory.

sue behavioural design

The Behavioural Design of Joy and Happiness

By All, Personal Behaviour

These are challenging times and it’s not obvious to keep up the positive spirit. That’s why I want to explore some thoughts on how to apply behavioural design thinking to inject more joy and happiness into your life.

How to design joy and happiness?

‘Winter is coming’. Whenever these three words were uttered in ‘Game of Thrones’, you knew misery was nearby. Today they seem to have the same effect when talking about the psychological drama called reality. This winter, the pandemic is coming, the recession, climate catastrophe, and the end of democracy. Pessimists seem to have a competitive edge these days in debating contests.

And yet, I would like to argue that we don’t need to become pessimists, as long as we make some simple decisions based on behavioural science. Here are two simple behavioural rules to maintain an overall level of happiness.

 

Rule 1: Design Attention.

This one sounds trivial but is critical. What you focus your attention towards, influences your thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Research amongst older people demonstrated that happy older people apply a simple heuristic to life: They decided that life is too short to spend their attention to people and events that make them unhappy.

Attention is a choice: You can choose to be consumed by thoughts and feelings about what other people think or say. Or you can decide not to pay attention to it. You have to learn to appreciate that everyone is fundamentally insecure about life and death, and they all try to cope with it in their limited way. That’s a very liberating thought. By the way, the expression “to pay attention” is quite literary true: You pay the price to your psychological wellbeing by investing your attention in things that deplete your energy and happiness.

Attention also means: Not allowing your attention to be hijacked. I have deleted all news apps, social media apps and their little notification bastards from my smartphone because I know they are designed to seize my attention for monetization. The amount of time that becomes available for family, friendships, reading, and fishing in the Amsterdam canals is bizarre.

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Rule 2: Design a Happiness Habit

A second rule is to instil habits that drive happiness. Or more importantly: practices that help you to prevent distraction from living a happy life. For instance, Astrid and I start every monthly MT-meeting with checking how the past months have scored on the most critical drivers of psychological happiness:

  • Experiencing flow,
  • Chasing curiosity and novelty,
  • Achieving success and accomplishment
  • Having meaningful relationships
  • Growing and learning as a person.

These are the most important ones. (Tip: If you want to learn more about the science behind this, check Astrid’s lecture on the psychology of happiness at Behavioural Design Fest 2018 (Dutch). We use these happiness criteria to decide where we need to intervene in our work and our life. A great company should feel like a well-designed game in which flow, missions, achievements, curiosity, experimentation and adventure are central to the setup of the company. If we wouldn’t keep asking ourselves these questions, we would all gradually slip into boredom.

I’m fully conscious of the fact that financial stability and good health are necessary conditions for the above to be true. If you are uncertain about your capacity to sustain yourself or your family, you will be eaten by stress to survive. But unless we take back control, others will hijack our attention, manipulate our desires, exploit our talent and creativity, and eat away our limited time on eath.

If you look at it this way, living a happy life is a pretty simple behavioural design briefing.

Image courtesy: Photo by Denise Jones on Unsplash. 

BONUS: free ebook 'How to Design Happiness'

Especially for you we've created a free eBook 'How to Design Happiness'. For you to keep at hand, so you can start using the insights from this blog post whenever you want—it is a little gift from us to you.

Download ebook

Go ahead, it’s completely free of charge!

How do you do. Our name is SUE.

Do you want to learn more?

Suppose you want to learn more about how influence works. In that case, you might want to consider joining our Behavioural Design Academy, our officially accredited educational institution that already trained 2500+ people from 45+ countries in applied Behavioural Design. Or book an in-company training or one-day workshop for your team. In our top-notch training, we teach the Behavioural Design Method© and the Influence Framework©. Two powerful tools to make behavioural change happen in practice.

You can also hire SUE to help you to bring an innovative perspective on your product, service, policy or marketing. In a Behavioural Design Sprint, we help you shape choice and desired behaviours using a mix of behavioural psychology and creativity.

You can download the Behavioural Design Fundamentals Course brochure, contact us here or subscribe to our Behavioural Design Digest. This is our weekly newsletter in which we deconstruct how influence works in work, life and society.

Or maybe, you’re just curious about SUE | Behavioural Design. Here’s where you can read our backstory.

sue behavioural design