Behaviour change… that old chesnut

Elon Musk is a master of behaviour change. His ability to set goals and reassess them towards a final solution to a wicked problem is pretty awesome. I’m sure he hires some brilliant folks too, it’s what smart people do 😉 I’d like to invite you take your time and go read the article which so evocatively and succinctly captures the magic of decision making by a master such a Musk. It is so craftily captured by waitbutwhy in this awesome drawing of how Elon makes things transform from wants, to goals, to strategies.

wait but why elon musk secret to success sauce

Goals and strategies, its always been about the motivations and the moves needed to execute on them. The path of behaviour change is a strategy that many of us apply to ourselves, our tribes, and into the world. Always striving to have a growth mindset we often pursue a series of behaviour changing paths. In obtaining external goals we also see individuals and organisations seeking to change and influence behaviour for the greater good or for their own gains.

The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting. – Sun Tzu

How might we subdue our own change challenges by applying Tzu’s principle of not fighting?

We might do so by understanding the motivations for behaviour change on individual and group scales. I’ll be focusing on the individual this week and in preparation I wrote a bit about how motivations tie into the structure of behaviour change success. I learned that insight is drawn from the source of desires. The ‘why’ behind a motivation can make our brain prioritise burning the requisite calories in order to sustain it. Today, on the plane on the way to lovely Portland I hand wrote this wee piece about behaviour change from another frame.








HCI2010 – Virginie Demeure illustrates findings on students use of online learning time

What do you do online? Now think about what you do online while you are supposed to be working with your co workers or group partners? Do your fingers itch for google every 3 seconds? Do you check facebook every time you get stuck?

Now imagine trying to design around all that and get students and collaborators to work together AND keep focused.

This is what Virginie Demeure was talked about as the 4th speaker in the Group Awareness Workshop; including an analysis of students’ temporal patterns when they are learning collaboratively online.

She spoke of the differences between task dependent measures and task independent measure. Task dependent measures of work conducted online, include looking at how much work happens online in a space of time, or how many clicks are needed to accomplish a task, etc.  I am most interested in task independent measures, this is when learners will report their own perspective of how much time was used to conduct different kinds of work. This self reported student data is then see the log of what they actually do. That way they can check the students self-reporting accuracy, which is something we have been very interested in during the course of the Patterns of Play project, as we show players game log data visualizations to them and ask for their self reports on the patterns.

She talked in detail about the various mechanisms within the EURO-CAT tool used for monitoring the temporal patterns students self-report and the log data the team uses to compare to what students report. These consist of bars similar to the ones we see in project management Gantt charts and the collaborators slide the bars back and forth to indicate during which hours they are usually conducting certain activities. It is an OK way to do it for a prototype, but I can’t help wishing it could be more game-like still.

Virgine Demeure presents at HCI2010

Motivation Motif: The most elusive of them all


I sit here in the living room with Rachel as we intend to write an interim report for our Human Computer Interaction course project.


We are supposed to be working on a report, but we don’t always do what we are supposed to do. Rachel has spent half the day online chatting to a few folks, writing emails, and intermittently researching. I have spent the whole morning gathering dinner supplies, playing goop killing games on Ipod, and reading articles on why middle aged women suck at dating. Obviously we either have concentration issues or are particularly unmotivated.

I propose that we are unmotivated and hence we are unable to concentrate. Our brains are craving something, anything interesting that has no relation to what we are supposed to be doing. What needs to be done is not unbearable. Its not a difficult task to accomplish. So what is the issue?

Why is it so hard to motivate ourselves?

For one, we have noticed that whenever we are writing anything: a paper, a report, a blog post; the instant we get stuck and don’t know what to write, our fingers flick to the web browser. The web browser is territory particularly rife with motivation landmines. On the internet you can quickly loose your focus, and begin swimming in the oceans of information and useless time-consuming content. Before you look twice you have swum so far from the shore, that you can’t even see the coastline.

Secondly, you simply don’t want to do what you don’t want to do.  When I don’t feel like doing something, it takes either a lot longer to get done or gets done almost immediately. If it gets done immediately its probably a simple task to begin with or it gets completed somewhat shoddily. When it takes forever its because I am dragging my feet to even sit down at the task. Then it feels like the task takes EVEN longer to accomplish, making you want to accomplish the task even less.

Finally I must inform you that I rarely want to write reports and conduct research when there opportunities that are infinitely more fun. When the sun is shining and the wind is warm who wants to sit chained to their laptop? Not that this is a problem in sunny Dundee, which maybe the sunniest city in Scotland but that isn’t all that sunny.

How do we lay the smackdown on our motivation mojo?

To confront the problem of drifting off topic and off task on the internet, we must adopt self awareness and discipline. It takes some serious effort to notice when you are being a slacker on the computer or internet. I think, “oh, well I am sitting at the computer not watching movies or playing games, so I must be working.” LIES! This is patently not true. There are millions if not billions of ways to be online and not be productive. Just because I am sitting at the computer, does not mean I am working! When you sit down at the computer, you need to open only the programs necessary to work, and constantly self check what you are doing on the internet. Furthermore, just because I get stuck on my task does not mean I deserve a break to check facebook or upload and edit photos. Rachel and I just say “NO!” and smack our hand as if we were naughty children reaching for the cookie jar before dinner.

It is a significantly more difficult to force yourself do something you don’t want to do. I attempt to solve this problem one of two ways. When first tackling a task, I break it into bite sized activities, and figure out which parts I would prefer to do. Then I structure the work in such a way that I get to do a fun, productive task between the chunks of more unpleasant work. This works well when there is no other way to accomplish the task, but I have another method which I enjoy much more. There is a way to turn work into fun.

For example, I am assigned a report to write, and I really don’t want to do it because the topic is bland and the format stale. What can I do to inject it with some life? I look for some aspect of the work that can excite me. In every project there is a possibility to do something creatively or differently. If I can focus on this part of the work then it is easier to get motivated. I know it is impossible to make everything fun, but why not try? Only you know what is fun for you, therefore it is up to you to extract the fun. Turn on some music, find someone who you can work alongside, or just be silly while you work and formalize the work later for the final presentation.

If all else fails, I know that at least when the task is done I will be free, and focusing on that can really help. This is the only thing that helps when I am just itching to go outside and play, and instead I have a pile of work a mile high. My trick for this is simple: go outside and play. Sitting miserably over a pile of work, while your mind and heart long to be elsewhere, will not only make you feel worse but the work will suffer as well.

Rapid Review:

1. Don’t waste time online.

2. Find the fun.

3. Unless you have an imminent deadline, allow yourself to go outside and play.

I am still trying to tackle my motivation mojo problems, but its a slow process. It takes patience, perseverance, and mindfulness. I am learning to be constantly aware of what I am really doing, and not what I tell myself I am doing. They say practice makes perfect,  but I am not trying to achieve perfection. I am practicing because good habits can only be formed through practice.