Want To Reverse a Bad Habit? Try the Copy-Cat Nudge

Learning a new skill or reversing a bad habit is as easy as being a copy-cat 

Have you ever looked at someone – be it a friend or a colleague – and felt envious that they could do something better than you? It turns out that blatantly copying them could be one of the most effective means of learning new skills, and reversing bad habits. Researchers have been studying this phenomenon in the context of business, and found two very different results from their study of 1,000 people when it came to changing behaviour being inspired by those around us. 

Nudge is a particularly key word, because it suggests a more passive push in the right direction, rather than outright forcing someone to make a change. Particularly in the context of bad habits, a person can become insular and defensive if they feel cornered, and this isn’t conducive to inspiring changes for the better. In place of forcefulness is the nudge, which is a more casual attempt to influence behaviour. The simple act of adjusting the way you frame it can result in profound differences in the result. 

To find out more, the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research used 1,000 individuals that were split into two groups. Facilitators of the study said that “in this study, we want to help you learn about an effective hack or strategy that someone you know uses as motivation or exercise.” 

Researchers wrote in their abstract that “consumers often struggle to achieve self-set, life-improvement goals,” adding that they introduced the “copy paste prompt – that encourages consumers to seek out and mimic a goal-achievement strategy used by an acquaintance.” 

The key difference was that one half of the group was allowed to ask for help, replicate the advice of others they’ve witnessed and copy their techniques and advice. “Over the next 2 days, we’d like you to pay attention to how people you know get themselves to work out. If you want, you can ask them directly for their motivational tips and strategies,” the authors told the first group. 

For the second group, however, they were asked to find the same hack to exercise more often, but this time around, they weren’t directly told to replicate the behaviours or strategies of people that they know exercise often. 

“We can take this natural tendency to ‘copy others’ and use it to our own advantage by actively seeking out tips and advice from people in our personal lives who have already accomplished the goals that we want to pursue.”  Steven Handel

There’s a number of reasons why this is an effective means of learning, through replicating the behaviours of top performers and experts. Author Steven Handel writes that “we often learn best through example. People are better learners when they observe others doing something. You can read about something in a book, but seeing a friend do it right in front of you makes it more real and motivating.” 

It also comes down to the fact that after witnessing a difficult feat first-hand from a friend, colleague or even a stranger, you’re more likely to believe you can replicate it. Handel writes that this is down the fact that “it makes that goal seem much more achievable and realistic,” which is more likely to be picked up as a new habit by the individual. 

Finally, it’s likely that this is an effective means of learning a new habit or skill due to the simple fact that there’s elements of belonging and connection in play. If, for example, someone is attempting a new gym regiment, it’s significantly more likely that they’ll stick to it if there’s people doing the same thing that they can talk about, empathise with each other and stay in contact. 

Handel adds that this is a concept rife in day-to-day life, as these copycat nudges can become apparent through social interactions, while we’re at work, and in our personal lives with inherent social pressures working in the background. “We can take this natural tendency to ‘copy others’ and use it to our own advantage by actively seeking out tips and advice from people in our personal lives who have already accomplished the goals that we want to pursue.” 

If you feel as though you’ve been lacking in terms of your focus, motivation or grit to learn a new skill or kick a bad habit, make sure you take this concept and implement it in your life. It’s likely that the simple act of replicating good behaviours and connecting with those around you doing similar things that you can turn those bad habits into good ones, and learn a new, instrumental skill in your professional life. 

Thanks for your time, I’ll see you in the next piece. 

Kobi Simmat, Director & CEO of the Best Practice Group. 

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