Owain Service and Rory Gallagher work within the first ‘nudge unit’; the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT). This is a social purpose company, jointly owned by the UK Government; Nesta (the innovation charity); and its employees.

BIT started life inside 10 Downing Street as the world’s first government institution dedicated to the application of behavioural sciences. This book shows how the BIT learning can be used to help all of us achieve important goals in our personal and work lives.

You will most likely be using some ‘self-nudges’ in your everyday life already – whether it’s setting your watch a few minutes early to help you keep to time, getting colleagues to commit to specific tasks at work, hiding away the cookie jar, or using treats to reward your kids for good behaviour.

This book aims to help you do this more systematically, through evidence-based techniques that you can use to help yourself and those around you.

The key message is that to reach big, we need to Think Small. So it is not about reining in your ambitions. It is about adopting a mindset that focuses on getting the small – and often simple – details right that will set you on the path to achieving your goals.

At the heart of the book is a framework, focused around seven simple steps:
  • Set: choose the right goal for you, set a specific target, and break your long-term objective down into manageable steps.
  • Plan: create simple rules and an actionable plan which links to your daily routine.
  • Commit: make a commitment, write it down, make it public and appoint a commitment referee.
  • Reward: put something meaningful at stake and use small rewards to stoke motivation, but beware of backfire effects.
  • Share: draw on the help of others, tap into your social networks or form a group with a shared goal.
  • Feedback: know how you’re tracking against your goal and seek out specific, actionable feedback
  • Stick: practice with focus, test different approaches and celebrate success.

This is not a checklist. You do not have to religiously apply each of the seven tools to every goal, but as David Halpern says in the foreword, together they provide the ‘behavioural scaffolding’ that will support you to succeed.

A short, useful book. One which forced me to reflect on just how well I’m managing my existing, massive To Do list.

Below are some of my Kindle notes. These elaborate on the above points:

Break ‘stretch goals’ down into specific steps. Focusing on completing each of these steps helps to make sure you don’t feel that the ultimate goal was too distant. Think about what specifically you are going to do and when. Write down these and link them to daily routines

Ask yourself what goals you want to achieve. Focus on those that will make you or others happy. It’s not money per se that brings improvements in your well being. It’s what your income enables.

Goals which boost happiness are:
  • strengthening your social relationships;
  • getting healthy and active;
  • learning something new;
  • being more curious; and
  • giving to others, for example volunteering.

Focus on a single goal and set a clear target and deadline. We have a limited budget of attention, which means we need to focus our efforts on a single goal. Setting lots of goals means you will think about which of these goals is most important, and by how much. This will result in each of them competing for your limited cognitive ‘bandwidth’.

Then set yourself a clear target and deadline for achieving the goal. This will enable you to know when you’ve achieved your goal. It will also allow you to see how you’re progressing relative to it. This is a vital component of feedback. Next break your goal down into manageable steps. It’s easier to reach your ultimate goal if you identify the small steps along the way to achieving it. Allocate each small step a repeated pocket of time. These then, over time, turns the plan into habits. This links to the message conveyed in The Power of Habits book. In summary: habits need a cue or a trigger. The second is that habits require a ‘routine’, the act that is performed. Third, and most important, the routine needs then to be repeated in a consistent context. It’s this repetition that starts to create an automatic link between the situation that you encounter and the behaviour you perform.

Identify obstacles to achieving these goals through so-called ‘if-then. These take the form ‘If I encounter situation X, then I will do Y’. These if-then plans are ready-made ways of helping you to think of how, when and where you will take the required action.

Make a commitment, writing down his commitment and displaying it publicly. Appoint a commitment referee. A referee will help you stay true to your core goal. The ideal person is someone you trust but who will not be afraid to mete out penalties if you fail.

Put something meaningful at stake. Link achieving your ultimate goal to a significant reward. Then make it binding and enforceable. Use small rewards to build good habits. Motivate yourself or others by using smaller incentives linked to specific steps. Remember that buying ‘experiences’ rather than physical products, extending social relationships, and giving time and money to others are all more likely to improve your wellbeing than physical products. Humans care much more about losing something than they do about gaining something of an equivalent size. We ascribe most value to things we already possess. Introduce some form of competition. ‘Gamifying’ your goal in this way through rewards and competition.

Ask for help. You are more likely to achieve your goal if you get someone to help you. We’re much more likely to achieve goals if we work with other people. This might be as part of a team, working together towards a shared common goal. Or it might be drawing on the collective wisdom of the group to help us make better decisions.

Buy a copy of the book here.