Stress Management, Well-being and Self-Care

Michael Kim, President of Habit Design

Creating Sustainable Behavioral Change Part 2

by James Porter January 21, 2022

This is a series of 14 installments focusing mostly on the work of psychologist BJ Fogg, the Stanford University behavioral change specialist who was a hot topic an American Journal of Health Promotion Conference I attended. As you will see, Fogg has been turning the world of changing behavior upside down with his TINY CHANGES approach that doesn’t rely on motivation and does rely on making the change easier to do. I tried to write each of these 14 installments to stand alone, so you needn’t read every one if you don’t want to. But if you do want to read all the installments at once, or just catch up on previous installments, you can download my white paper entitled CREATING SUSTAINABLE BEHAVIORAL CHANGE  at our website.

I was first introduced to Fogg’s work during a two day intensive seminar entitled Designing Sustainable Behavioral Change with Michael Kim. Kim is the CEO of a company called Habit Design that has already helped an impressive list of clients including Google, Aetna, Mayo Clinic, GE, Web MD, NASA, and Kaiser Permanente, just to name a few. As a graduate of both Yale (BA) and Harvard (MBA), a former employee at both Apple and Microsoft, and as a person who has worked directly under both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, Michael Kim seemed uniquely qualified to talk about behavioral change in the digital age. But – as you will see – more important than working with Gates and Jobs, Kim has spent a fair amount of time working with BJ Fogg and he is the eventual hero of this 14-part series.

Our two-day class began with a packet of information that included a list of 90 behavioral change recipes (a.k.a., The Cookbook). This was a checklist of all the things we would be covering over the next two days. That list included:

Identify the key reasons employees fail to participate in corporate wellness. (We’ll tell you in the 4th installment.)

Explain why wearables alone do not create behavioral change/having to create 2 new habbits. (First you have to get in the habit of wearing the wearable and then you have to get in the habit of doing what the wearable is asking you to do. Thus you have to create TWO new habits! Bottom line is less than 10% of people continue to use wearables after the first month. [Thus the idea of the  FitBit, they created a wearable in the form of a watch. Which most people were all ready in the habit of wearing])

Explain why fitness challenges alone do not create sustainable behavioral change. (Kim explained that “a challenge” sets off a stress response in people and that the adrenalin released by even the word challenge makes it a turn off for the MAJORITY of people.)

Describe how academic research has (and has not) explained the role of motivation/willpower in behavior change. (When we talk about BJ Fogg in the last six installments of this series, you will understand this point thoroughly.)

Explain why having too many choices can limit behavioral change. (In a marketing study Kim showed us of two vendors selling the exact same product (Jams) having less choice resulted in significantly GREATER sales. The vendor with only 6 varieties of Jam sold significantly more bottles than the vendor with 24 bottles. David Hunnicutt once told me that 3 was the ideal number of choices. More than that just confused people.)

Over the next two days, Kim would shatter many other myths around creating behavior change from: What time of day you have the most willpower (it goes up and down throughout the day), to how long it takes to create a change (it’s not 21 days) and whether or not you can take breaks from the new behavior on weekends (You can!) Throughout the two days he kept reminding us of the Nike slogan by saying YES – you must “just do it,” but to create sustainable behavioral change you must just do it again and again and again.

In my next installment I’ll show you why most wellness programs have so few participants.

James Porter
James Porter