Nudge theory is a really powerful tool utilised by governments, councils, healthcare providers and companies to help individuals make a number of simple, small changes that cumulatively lead to significant changes when applied consistently and continuously. You may have come across this concept of behavioural economics in the 2008 book “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness” by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein and the 2018 book ”Atomic Habits” by James Clear. The general idea is to make things easy, attractive, timely and social to ensure they are consistently applied. This, in turn, adds up over time and leads to meaningful changes.
We apply Nudge Theory principles with our patients at the DRC on a daily basis and have seen fantastic results. We would therefore like to share some simple tips with you that we have developed in our daily practice to help nudge you in the right direction, too.
- Make it Easy
This is the absolute foundation for creating a new habit that lasts. Ask yourself what small thing you can do every day to make a small improvement in the area you are trying to focus on. If you want to stop snacking on unhealthy treats, make sure you have none in the house, don’t buy any and always have a nice bowl of fruits and vegetables you love in plain sight. This can be done at work and at home. Whatever is within your reach will be what you will consume when hunger strikes and you want to snack. Having the healthy option readily available will give you the vitamins, minerals and fibre so you need to feel healthy, energised and satisfied.
- Make it Attractive
You need to find the prospect of applying this little new nudge appealing to make it sustainable. Are you trying to work out more but find your old outfits really uninspiring? Go and buy yourself a nice, well-fitting workout set that makes you feel good, supported and comfortable. Get yourself some funky sneakers that you can’t wait to put on. Lay both out on the days you want to work out and promise yourself that you will only wear them to work out in. If you feel good in your clothes, chances are you will be more motivated to start. Once you have started, you are more likely to keep going. Mission achieved!
- Make it Timely
Think about what motivates you to do this right now. What do you want to change and why? Keep that thought in mind and decide what time slots you will dedicate exclusively to applying your new behavioural tool. Are you feeling extremely stressed right now and have always wanted to try meditation to see if that could help improve things? Schedule a daily 10 minute slot into your calendar and make that your meditation time. Make sure it is an uninterrupted time including right after you wake up in the morning or just before you go to sleep at night so you can really reap the benefits. Most importantly – be consistent!
- Make it Social
Having a positive, supportive network of peers that make you feel encouraged and supported is incredibly powerful. Look for clubs and programmes in your area, amongst your peers and online. If you would like to become more active and enjoy walking, you could join local walking groups on a regular basis. This will not only get you started on your journey towards improved physical health but will also feed your need for community and social interaction. You will feel better from the inside out.
Always remember that it is never too late to start and that every positive step you take moves you into the right direction. Start making simple, small but powerful changes to your every day life where you can and start seeing things fall into place. You will be glad you got started when you see the results!
NHS Nutritionist & The DRC Lead Registered Nutritionist