7 ways to use nudge theory to improve your health, wealth and wellbeing

‘Nudge’ has become quite the buzzword in recent years, with nudge theory employed by governments around the world to encourage citizens to do things like pay their taxes on time, or sign up to a pension scheme.

“Nudging is a matter of figuring out how we help people reach their long-term goals, but doing so by making the right choice an easy one,” says Sille Krukow, a behavioural design expert who is currently working with Heineken on a project that aims to use nudge techniques to reduce drink driving.

But did you know you can also use nudge principles on yourself? Whether you’re trying to lose weight, stay within your budget or exercise more, a few small changes could work wonders.

Getting started with behavioural design theory in everyday life is easier than you might think. Here, Sille offers seven ways to give yourself a nudge in the right direction…

Couple in the supermarket. Cropped image of girl leaning on shopping cart, using a mobile phone and smiling, in the background her boyfriend is choosing food

A checklist can make all the difference when you’re shopping for food (Thinkstock/PA)

1. Avoid going over budget by sticking to a checklist when you go shopping

“A little thing like having a list when you go shopping actually helps you stay within your budget, because supermarket spaces have very good ‘choice architecture’ that promotes consumption. They know exactly where to place the goods and how to place them next to other products to make them more tempting.”

2. Eat before you shop so you don’t buy unhealthy foods

“Not being hungry when you go out shopping is good, because if you are hungry, you’re more inclined to want sugar and fat, which means you buy things like candy.”

woman in a shop using a credit card to pay

Use the services offered with digital banking to curb your spending (Thinkstock/PA)

3. Set up reminders on your bank account so you don’t overspend

“If you can, use a service where you get a reminder on your phone every time your bank balance has reached a certain level. Those kinds of reminders are very important when it comes to automatic behaviour.”

4. Set targets for exercise and keep a workout log

“At the beginning of the week, write down your exercise aims for the week in a notebook, then at the end of the week, report back in that same notebook. Research shows this generally increases your performance by 28%.”

5. Or, even better, report back to a friend

“If you want to make sure you exercise, you have to create a system for yourself. The most efficient way of doing that is to have a friend that you report back to. If you tell someone, that has a general tendency to increase your performance by 79%.”

young fitness woman runner running at forest trail

An exercise diary can help improve your performance (Thinkstock/PA)

6. Reduce your plate size to prevent overeating

“If you want to lose weight or have healthier eating habits, change your plate size from 27cm to 24cm. That’s going to reduce the amount of food you eat and waste by around 20%, simply because you’re not able to see the difference, but you will feel just as full.”

7. Nudge your colleagues into cleaning up after themselves

“We had a workplace with 200 employees and they had a big problem with people leaving dirty dishes and plates out in the kitchen. When we put up a picture of eyes just above the work surface, we found the plates moved to the other end of the room and some of them into the dishwasher. It wasn’t 100% successful, but it had a huge influence. When we told the employees what we had been doing, no one had noticed the eyes, but nevertheless they were influenced by them – it influences our automatic behaviour when we think someone is looking.”

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