How to motivate yourself to change your behavior | Tali Sharot | TEDxCambridge
How to motivate yourself to change your behavior | Tali Sharot | TEDxCambridge

Translator: Leonardo Silva
Reviewer: Denise RQ So, we all have some behavior that we would like to change
about ourselves. And we certainly all want
to help someone else change their behavior in a positive way. So, maybe it’s your kid,
your spouse, your colleague. So I want to share
some new research with you that I think reveals
something really important about what gets people
to change their behavior. But before I do that,
let’s zoom in on one strategy that I think you probably use a lot. So, let’s say you’re trying
to stop yourself from snacking. What do you tell yourself? Well, most people,
in a monologue, will say, “Beware. You’ll be fat.” And if this was your kid, you would probably tell him
that smoking kills and, by the way, he’s in big, big trouble. (Laughter) So, what we’re trying to do here is we’re trying to scare
ourselves and others into changing their behavior. And it’s not just us. Warnings and threats are really common
in health campaigns, in policy. It’s because we all share
this deep-rooted belief that if you threaten people,
if fear is induced, it will get them to act. And it seems like a really
reasonable assumption, except for the fact that the science shows that warnings have
very limited impact on behavior. So, graphic images
on cigarette packets, for example, do not deter smokers from smoking, and one study found
that, after looking at those images, quitting actually became
a lower priority for smokers. So, I’m not saying that warnings
and threats never work, but what I’m saying is, on average,
they seem to have a very limited impact. And so, the question is: why? Why are we resistant to warnings? Well, if you think about animals, when you induce fear in an animal, the most common response you will see
is freezing or fleeing; fighting, not as much. And so, humans are the same. So if something scares us, we tend to shut down and we try
to eliminate the negative feelings. So, we might use rationalizations. For example, you might tell yourself: “My grandpa smoked. He lived to be 90. So, I have really good genes
and absolutely nothing to worry about.” And this process can actually
make you feel more resilient than you did before, which is why warnings
sometimes have this boomerang effect. In other times, we simply
put our head in the ground. (Laughter) Take the stock market for example. Do you know when people
pull their head out of the ground to look at their accounts — not to make a transaction,
just to log in to check their account? So, what you’re seeing here, in black, is the S&P 500 over two years, and in gray, is the number of times that people logged in
to their account just to check. And this is data from Karlsson,
Loewenstein & Seppi, it’s control [data] for all
the obvious confounds. So, what do we see? When the market is high,
people log in all the time, because positive information
makes you feel good, so you seek it out. And when the market is low, people avoid logging in, because negative information
makes us feel bad, so we try to avoid it altogether. And all this is true as long as bad information
can reasonably be avoided. So, what you don’t see here
is what happened a few months later, in the financial collapse of 2008, when the market went drastically down and that was when people
started logging in frantically, but it was a bit too late. So, you can think about it like this —
it’s not just finance: In many different parts of our life, (Laughter) we have warning signs
and bad behaviors now. And they could potentially lead
to all these bad outcomes later, but not necessarily so, because there are different routs
from your present to your future, right? It can go this way, it can go that way. And, as time passes, you gather more and more information
about where the wind is blowing. (Laughter) And, at any point, you can intervene and you could potentially
change the outcome, but that takes energy
and you might tell yourself: “What’s the point about worrying
about something that might happen? It might not happen.” Until we reach this point, at which time you do jump into action,
but sometimes it’s a little bit too late. So, we wanted to know, in my lab, what type of information
does leak into people. So, we conducted an experiment where we asked approximately 100 people
to estimate the likelihood of 80 different negative events
that might happen to them in the future. So, for example, I might ask you: “What is the likelihood that you’ll suffer
hearing loss in your future?” And let’s say you think it’s about 50%. Then, I give you the opinion
of two different experts. So, expert A tells you: “You know, for someone like you,
I think it’s only 40%.” So, they give you
a rosier view of your future. Expert B says: “You know, for someone like you, I actually think
it’s about 60%. It’s worse.” So, they give you
a bleaker view of your future. What should you do? Well, you shouldn’t change
your beliefs, right? Wrong. What we find is that people
tend to change their beliefs towards a more desirable opinion. In other words, people listen
to the positive information. Now, this study was conducted
on college students, so you might say: “Well, college students are delusional,
right? We all know that.” (Laughter) And surely, as we grow older,
we grow wiser. So we said: “OK, let’s test that.
Does this really generalize? Does it generalize
to your kid, to your parent? Does it generalize to your spouse?” And so, we tested people
from the age of 10 until the age of 80, and the answer was yes. In all these age groups, people take in information
they want to hear — like someone telling you
you’re more attractive than you thought — than information
that they don’t want to hear. And the ability to learn from good news remained quite stable
throughout the life span, but the ability to learn from bad news, that changes as you age. So, what we found was
that kids and teenagers were the worse at learning from bad news, and the ability became
better and better as people aged. But then, around the age of 40,
around midlife, it started deteriorating again. So, what this means
is that the most vulnerable populations, kids and teenagers on the one hand,
and the elderly on the other hand, they’re the least likely
to accurately learn from warnings. But what you can see here is that it doesn’t matter
what age you are. You can be 20, 30, 40, 50 or 60; everyone takes in information
they want to hear more than information that they don’t. And so, we end up
with a view like this of ourselves. (Laughter) Our mistake as teachers,
as mentors, as employers is that, instead of working
with this positive image that people so effortfully maintain, we try and put a clear mirror
in front of them. We tell them: “You know, the image is just going to get worse
and worse and worse.” And it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because the brain
will frantically try to distort the image, using Photoshop and fancy lenses, until it gets the image it’s happy with. But what would happen
if we went along with how our brain works and not against it? Take handwashing, for example. We all know that handwashing
is the number one way to prevent the spread of disease, and this is really important in hospitals. So, in a hospital
here in the United States, a camera was installed to see how often medical staff
do, in fact, sanitize their hands before and after entering
a patient’s room. Now, the medical staff knew
a camera was installed. Nevertheless, only one in ten
washed their hands before and after entering
a patient’s room. But then, an intervention was introduced: an electronic board that told the medical staff
how well they were doing. Every time you washed your hands,
the numbers went up on the screen and it showed you
your rate of your current shift and the rate of the weekly staff. And what happened? Boom. Compliance raised to 90%, which is absolutely amazing. And the research staff
were amazed as well, and they made sure to replicate it
in another division in the hospital. Again, the same results. So, why does this
intervention work so well? It works well because, instead of using warnings about bad things that can happen
in the future, like disease, it uses three principles that we know
really drive your mind and your behavior. Let me explain. The first one is social incentives. In the hospital study, the medical staff could see
what other people were doing. They can see the rates of the shift,
the rate of the week. We’re social people, we really care
what other people are doing, we want to do the same
and we want to do it better. This is an image from a study
that we conducted, led by PhD student Micah Edelson, and what it’s showing you is a signal
in the emotional center of your brain when you hear about the opinion of others. And what we found was
that this signal can predict how likely you are
to conform at a later time, how likely you are
to change your behavior. So, the British government
are using this principle to get people to pay taxes on time. In an old letter that they sent to people
who “forgot” to pay taxes on time, they simply stressed
how important it was pay taxes, and that didn’t help. Then, they added one sentence, and that sentence said: “Nine out of ten people in Britain
pay their taxes on time.” And that one sentence enhanced compliance
within that group by 15%, and it’s thought to bring
into the British government 5.6 billion pounds. So, highlighting what other people
are doing is a really strong incentive. The other principle is immediate rewards. So, every time the staff washed their hand, they could see the numbers go up
on the board and it made them feel good. And knowing that in advance
made them do something that they, otherwise, may not want to do. Now, this works because we value
immediate rewards, rewards that we can get now, more than rewards
that we can get in the future. And people tend to think it’s because
we don’t care about the future, but that’s completely wrong,
we all care about our future, right? We want to be happy and healthy
in the future, we want to be successful, but the future is so far away. I mean, maybe you’ll behave badly now
and you’ll be fine in the future, and maybe you’ll be altogether dead. (Laughter) So, the here-and-now you
would rather have that tangible drink, that tangible T-bone, rather than something
that’s uncertain in the future. If you think about it,
it’s not altogether irrational, right? You’re choosing something sure now rather than something
that is unsure in the future. But what will happen
if you reward people now for doing actions that are good
for them in the future? Studies show that giving people
immediate rewards make them more likely to quit smoking, more likely to start exercising, and this effect lasts
for at least six months, because not smoking
becomes associated with a reward, and exercising becomes
associated with a reward, and it becomes a habit, it becomes a lifestyle. So, we can reward ourselves and others now for behaving in ways
that are good for us in the future and that’s a way for us
to bridge the temporal gap. And the third principle
is progress monitoring. So, the electronic board focused
the medical staff attention on improving their performance. This is an image from a study
that we conducted, that shows you brain activity suggestive of efficient coding
of positive information about the future. And what we found was that the brain
does a really good job at this, but it doesn’t do such a good job at processing negative information
about the future. So, what does this mean? It means that, if you’re trying
to get people’s attention, you might want to highlight
the progress, not the decline. So, for example, if you take that kid with the cigarette, you might want to tell them: “You know, if you stop smoking,
you’ll become better at sports.” Highlight the progress, not the decline. Now, before I sum up, let me just share
this small anecdote with you. A few weeks ago, I got home
and I found this bill on my fridge. And was really surprised because
there’s never any bills on my fridge. So, I was wondering why my husband
decided to put that on our fridge. And so, looking at the bill, I could see
that what this bill was trying to do is get me to be more efficient
with my electricity use. And how was it doing it? Social incentives, immediate rewards
and progress monitoring. Let me show you. Here are the social incentives. In gray is the energy use on the average energy use
of people in my neighborhood. And in blue is my energy use, and in green is the most
efficient neighbor. And my reaction to this was — my immediate reaction was: “I’m a little bit better than average”
(Laughter) — a tiny bit, but still… and my husband had
exactly the same reaction — and “I want to get to the green bar.” And then, I got a smiley face. That was my immediate reward and it was
telling me, “You’re doing good,” and it made me want
to put this on my fridge. (Laughter) And although I have this one smiley face, I can see an opportunity there
to get two smiley faces. (Laughter) So, there’s an opportunity for progress and it’s showing me my progress
throughout the year, how my energy use changes
throughout the year. And the last thing this bill gave me: it gave me a sense of control. So, it gave me a sense of I was
in control of my use of electricity. And that is a really important thing, if you try to get people
to change their behavior, because the brain is constantly trying
to seek ways to control its environment. It’s one of the principles
of what the brain is actually doing. And so, giving people a sense of control
is a really important motivator. OK. So, what am I not saying? I’m not saying that we do not need
to communicate risks, and I’m not saying
that there’s one-solution-fits-all, but I am saying that, if we want
to motivate change, we might want to rethink how we do it, because fear, the fear of losing
your health, the fear of losing money, induces inaction, while the thrill of a gain induces action. And so, to change behavior
in ourselves and in others, we may want to try
these positive strategies rather than threats, which really capitalize
on the human tendency to seek progress. Thank you. (Applause)

43 thoughts on “How to motivate yourself to change your behavior | Tali Sharot | TEDxCambridge”

  1. rudy c says:

    You're Cute!!

  2. Fu Manchu says:

    Elizabeth shue anyone?

  3. Dân ta phải biết luật ta says:


  4. Bandana Sharma says:

    Wow, I'm nothing like this. I respond to fear by acting.

  5. argyrakopoulos vasilis says:

    the best way to change the behavior is to change the sistem of illuminaty..think about it

  6. Doğuş karaman says:

    Im losing my hair😢 demoralizing

  7. Magnus Johanson says:

    My girlfriend puts up an Orgasm Bell Curve on the fridge. She and one or two of her hot fitness lady friends come over once a or every other week to be "serviced" by me and they rate the intensity and number of orgasms I give them within two hours. It's really unbelievable how my performance went up as soon I knew they were sharing this with thier hubbies and friends. It does make my legs wobbly and my balls sore but my ego blew off the charts!

  8. Hung Dang says:

    It's so meaningful to me.

  9. Miha Brilj says:

    (give them the good stuf)

  10. portedwheel99 says:

    Maybe they should of taught this to my damn stepmother. I already know how much I screwed up, I already know how much of an infantile brat I am, I already know that I’ll never be like my father or that I haven’t accomplished anything. But to keep crapping on my spirit, to keep judging every little mistake on the level of who I am as a person, it’s heartbreaking. It doesn’t make me want to do anything. Even when I begin trying and actually starting to make improvements, if I make one mistake, she brings up the past and tells me my whole life story of how much of a screw up I am. Lazy, coward, selfish, uncivilized, undisciplined. And she has the god damn audacity to tell me that she’s doing all this for me. I already know I screwed up, but to keep bringing it up, to keep shoving it down someone’s throat like this doesn’t do them any good, it just makes them disgusted by who they are as a person.

  11. Adorable Girl 15 says:

    I really liked this video a lot

  12. Edie Pasquini says:

    I used to hate doing dishes. I always did them by myself growing up because my 2 siblings one older one younger would start a fight with me and I would fall into their trap by telling them to leave and I would do it by myself which is what they ultimately wanted. Somehow I would be blamed for causing the fights. So if they were gone I couldn't be blamed.
    Fast forward after marriage having to to dishes myself I began to leave them, as my mother did. But one day it changed. I was making a pot of tea. While waiting for the water to boil I was going to leave the kitchen and watch tv. But I would not know when the water was boiling. So I washed the dishes while waiting. It took about the same time to finish the dishes as it took to heat the water and brew the tea. I realized the chore was not as bad as it seemed and I got my reward of a hot cup of tea I enjoyed more knowing I had all ready done the chore I dreaded. I got into doing this everyday. Now
    I dont have to have the tea any more to do the dishes I enjoy doing them knowing how short a time it takes and I do them after every meal. I can enjoy going into the kitchen more because it is neat and clean. I must have had a lot of negative things associated with dishwashing. Thanks to cup of tea, no more.

  13. rene buesa says:

    Someone isn't making a great deal of sense ….behavioral neurosciencetist hey? I won't go through the full length of confusing explanations being spoken in this video but I will speak from knowledge acquired as a graduate with a Masters of Science in Psychology with a concentration in Applied Behavioral Analysis. In this video the question " why doesn't warnings work to change behavior" was asked with a follow up answer that made little sense to a knowledgeable ABA psychologist. I'll certainly do my best to clarify this issue dealing with general public warnings and the known lack of effectiveness in actually changing human behavior. In behavioral terms all behaviors must be reinforced either to encourage or discourage behavioral acquisition. In the case of general public warnings there isn't any form or manner of positive or negative reinforcement being delivered instead there's the use of scary pictures or disturbing first person testimony. Both scary images and disturbing first person accounts do not qualify as either positive nor negative reinforcement….not even aversive stimulus. In order to change human behavior(s) there must be effective means of reinforcement. A positive reinforcement is any stimulus that is added in timely fashion following a specific behavior. On the other hand a negative reinforcement is any stimulus that is withdrawn or removed in timely fashion following a specific behavior. The active agent here is "timely fashion" ….just publishing or displaying warnings doesn't guarantee its timely delivery. Can you see where this is headed….human behavior can be modified only through the use of "timely delivery of reinforcement." General public warnings donot qualify as effective reinforcement. Class dismissed! Rene B, Florida.

  14. Unmanned Solution says:


  15. Remi Markable says:

    Am I the only one? 👀

  16. Christine Upton says:

    I watched this video so I could get a better understanding about how to create behavioural change in groups such as governments/people. Specifically around climate change and reducing our overall environmental impact.

    I found “Progress Monitoring” is probably the ‘best’ motivator in this case, but am coming up short with “Social Incentives” + “Immediate Rewards”. Are there more effective ways to create behaviour change in group settings as opposed to working with an individual?

  17. Technology and Innovation says:

    Summary of her talk … we are all lab rats. I would expect as smart as she is she will tell us the motivation for us to be lab rats. She is publishing so not to perish.

  18. Halar Ali says:

    Nice delivered Good One👏

  19. Barn Star says:

    Short, interesting and to the point.

  20. Donna S says:

    Very impressive and motivating! I love how you go in-depth by breaking the information down into easy understanding! My ADD brain needed this! Thank you, keep up the good work and don't allow the negatives or critics to hinder your growth and mindset!

  21. DoThaWork says:

    Why is she holding a vaping device?

  22. mnml:rgrt says:

    people learn from their mistakes as well as history repeat itself

  23. j blah says:

    Lady all u need are deez nuts. Lol

  24. Dung Nguyen Quoc says:

    I thought about a mobile app which we can list all the important tasks to finish each day. We'll get reward after finishing any task. We have chart to see what we've done in a week or month and finally we can share our result to other people in the community. Does anyone know the app like that?

  25. luann glass says:

    What's up with that skirt? Paleeeeze…. Do you have a mirror at home? Apparently not… GET ONE.

  26. happentodie says:

    My god that woman is about as hot as it gets ,

  27. debbie debbie says:

    I'm having a hard time focusing on this video…😬😲🙄

    Start at 8 or 9 minutes…

  28. Metalosopher says:

    @ 8:50 It proves that we have no free will and that we are programmable bio-robots. You just need the right programing and you can program any human to do anything.

  29. Davi Soares says:

    The only thing bad about this video. Is that it ends

  30. Awaecnan Hypnotherapy says:

    LOVE ted talks! you explained how to change your behaviour really well, thanks for the tips I'll remember this next time!

  31. marccas10 says:

    She could motivate me very easily.

  32. Sigifredo Coria says:

    Wow shes beautiful!

  33. Desutoroyalove says:

    i can see how i can use these strategies if i own a company or something, but the title says its about motivating myself and at no point she talks about how to translate her theories into using them on myself. because that is the tricky part. and that is exactly why i watched this. so in terms of the title the video is a total fail. its just clickbait.

  34. Paris Andreou Wellness says:

    Good info, but the constant swallowing and stress of the speaker is so distracting for me! Drink some water, relax and practice and prepare more!

  35. solokat1980 says:

    Would have been better presentation if she wouldn't of pushed the global warming hoax (now renamed to climate change: 4:03).

  36. chris bond says:

    I hereby offer to help you Tali Sharot,every time you pronounce "th" properly and not "ff" as in "things" not Fings", I will give you a big kiss.. Very informative item , but I think parents have learned this,, (I should say "good" parents") as telling a child they will be punished becomes the norm, but getting a reward, is always a treat. Also belief is a major factor in changing ones ways, we simply do not trust our respective governments to tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth , therefore trying to get people to change their ways by saying that "government Health experts" say this will happen if you do not comply, is simply ignored! Let's face it, we train our dogs to do tricks behave well or do "jobs" (blind, hearing gun dogs etc) with treats for doing what we want, not punishing them for not doing it.

  37. Brandon Wagner says:

    This lady needs to learn how to change her lip smacking behavior…Great talk but my god

  38. Davor Jerkovic says:

    'Smoking kills' that's why I smoke..

  39. Chris Arnold says:

    'In our lab… 100 people " that's not accurate research. I would like some real evidence.

  40. Paul Kinosian says:

    DAMN! She"s hot!

  41. Dave Reid - Daly says:

    How does a lab like yours do research on a sample of 100 people then claim that its scientific. 15 000 is the standard norm for scientific research not 100 people. Please dont mislead the public. When an animal is under threat it does not resort to fight or flight. There are more than 6 different responses which has over 150yrs of ecological research, been well documented.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *