The most valuable behavioral science research you're not using

Growing up, I was jealous of my buddy Kevin. 

He was fearless. You could throw him out of the car in any part of town, and he'd walk up to the first person he saw and start a conversation. Within minutes, he'd have a new friend, and within an hour or so he'd be able to problem-solve his way out of the situation.

I, on the other hand, was a sheepish, fearful guy.

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Why you can't change who you are—only how you behave.

Think of personality traits as behavioral thresholds. Someone who's very neurotic is going to have a lower threshold for worrying. They're going to see more things in the environment as threatening. Someone who's very extraverted is going to have a much lower threshold for talking to new people. They're going to see more opportunities for social engagement as they go through their day.

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​A lot of “behavior change” problems are just health problems in disguise

We know from neuroimaging studies that sleep has a massive impact on a part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex—which sits right above the eyes. It’s in charge of something called “executive function”, the conscious control of our actions and thoughts.

So sleep deprived individuals are going to have a diminished ability to inhibit unwanted thoughts and control their focus of attention.

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The #1 behavior-change strategy used by Obama's Behavioral Science Team

About a year and a half ago, I was talking with a former member of President Obama’s Social and Behavioral Sciences Team.

This was a small group that was, more or less, a roaming behavioral economics consultancy during the final three years of O’s presidency. They worked on various projects, big and small, across various agencies.

Whenever I encounter someone who works in a different area of applied behavioral science (like public policy), I always make sure to ask them as many questions as possible—to see if I can learn anything new.

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Cheaper ways to change (than moving)

After the last article, I received a bunch of stories from readers. Some of you wrote me about your experiences “wiping the slate clean”, while others regaled me with tales of transformation after moving to a new city.

But I also received a couple of notes from people asking me whether there’s a less intense, more cost-effective way of shaking things up and building new habits.

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The dirty truth about habits

A few months ago, I was asked to speak to a class at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. The topic? Habit formation.

The instructor wanted me to give the class some valuable applied behavioral science research they could use to be more successful in their careers, so I decided to give them the lowdown (the real dirt) on habits.

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As dangerous as a toddler with a katana

If you hire someone who actually knows the literature inside and out, and has gone through it with a critical mind, they’ll be a huge help. However, based on my experience, only 2-5% of the behavioral scientists out there fall into this camp. Most are walking around with laughably bad beliefs and completely inaccurate models of how people operate and why they do what they do.

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