Hands in a heart shape holding an infinity rainbox. Underneath the words Sandra Bell ND Coach
#24 How To Use Nudges To Support

·        What is a Nudge?

·        Nudges are in the middle of Plans A, B and C 

·        Using nudges to support

What is a Nudge?


A nudge is a subtle change in the environment that encourages individuals to make certain choices, but without making other choices completely unavailable. Nudges can be physical cues or signs, social norms or defaults that influence the choice that is made. Nudges are based on the principles from behavioural economics which is a combination of economics and psychology.

An example of a nudge is if you choose to put out a platter of fruit in the main room being used at a party, and place a selection of chocolates in a room that people won’t go into as much then you’ve nudged people to choose the fruit. That is, you’ve made it easier to access the fruit than the chocolate, but you haven’t made choosing the chocolate impossible. There will also be the influence that as others start to eat off the fruit platter others will naturally follow.

So nudges are using what really drives our behaviour to influence what we do. Whilst we like to think we make our choices based on rationally thinking them through, in reality there are a number of heuristics (or simplified rules) we use that are subject to biases. And nudges use these biases to help guide behaviour.

Not surprisingly nudges are used a lot in marketing, such as when the original price is crossed out so that we can still see it and the new lower sale price is often in larger font. It helps influence us to feel like we are getting a good deal so we’re more likely to buy it. But nudges can also be used for the greater good – speed signs are nudges – they don’t physically make our car slow down, we could speed if we wanted to, but they do remind us of the speed we should be doing, and when other cars also keep to the limit that is using social norms to influence our behaviour.

Nudges are in the middle of Plans A, B and C


So how do nudges fit in with wanting to respect the autonomy of the person who is making the choice? Which is what following a Plan B approach does. (See last week’s post for more on Plans A, B and C - here)

As I shared in my last post, I use nudges when Plan B and C don’t fit with the situation or all of the stakeholders involved. I believe nudges sit in the middle – they aren’t Plan A because you are only making it easier to make the choice you would like them to do, but you aren’t taking away their ability to choose differently. It isn’t Plan B because you haven’t collaborated with the other person, and it isn’t quite Plan C either because although to implement nudges successfully and with integrity you have to be OK with whatever they choose you haven’t exactly let it go either.

Using nudges to support


As I shared in blog post #23 – I use nudges to support my children (and also myself). The example I used in that post was – one child (Child X) was getting very upset that their towel was being used by the other (Child Y) to dry their hands. So I used the nudge of putting Child Y’s towel the one on top of the towel rack and they changed to using their own towel. It wasn’t Plan A because I didn’t take Child X’s towel away, I just made it harder to get to compared to their own towel, but I also didn’t collaborate so it wasn’t Plan B, and I didn’t let it go, because I did have a preference and I did get them to change their behaviour, but importantly if it hadn’t worked I would have also been OK with that too.

Another example, is using a nudge to get my children to drink water. It’s not that they don’t like water, it’s that their interoception isn’t so great at letting them know when they are thirsty. They want to drink enough water it’s just not something they will seek out for themselves, so I help with this by placing a glass of water beside them during meals, when I give them a snack or when they are sitting at our kitchen bench or dining table doing something else. I don’t mention it, I don’t even make non-verbal contact about it, I just place it down and leave it up to them. So I’m not Plan A’ing because they can just as easily not drink it, and even though we’ve talked about them wanting to drink more water it isn’t really a Plan B either because we didn’t do a CPS process, and they do tend to drink more water so I haven’t really let it go and Plan C’d it either. 

Nudges work particularly well with PDAers because just asking them to do something, even if they want to do it, can push them into demand avoidance. So using a nudge where they still have complete autonomy, but they are gently directed towards a particular option can work really well.

You can also use nudges on yourself. You could do a similar thing with water for yourself, you could fill up a large water bottle at the start of the day and leave it in a spot you know you will frequent. You could even write encouraging remarks on the bottle that you can see more clearly once you have drunk enough water. Another example is if getting up in the morning and deciding what to wear is hard you can put a set of clothes out the night before so it becomes the default option, making it easier to choose.

How can you see nudges helping you or your children?

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Please note all information and strategies shared as part of the blog are for information and educational purposes only and do not constitute advice for any particular individual or circumstances.