September 25 2023
By: Shawn M. Galloway
Every day, our behavior is nudged by internal and external forces. Psychologists call these antecedents. Some are obvious prompts, such as speed limit or danger signs. Others are subliminal stimuli, prompting us to act without realizing we are being prompted.
Advertisers have been using subliminal prompting since James Vicary added the words "Eat Popcorn" and "Drink Coca-Cola" into a single frame within a 1957 movie. It occurred so quickly viewers were impacted only subconsciously, allegedly increased Coke sales by 18.1% and popcorn sales by 57.8%.
In 2009, the Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein book Nudge was published. It is full of examples of situations and environments that have been designed to "nudge us in beneficial directions without restricting freedom of choice."
Shortly after reading it, and now hypersensitive to what might be prompting me, one morning I was preparing to lead a workshop for a client. I was working to reduce the amount of soda in my diet at the time, but the room had yet to be catered for the event. So, I inquired about the location of a vending machine. I was given simple directions and set off. As I turned the corner, entering the break room with my wallet in hand, I froze. Between the soda and snack vending machines sat a weight scale. I put my wallet back into my pocket and returned to the room to wait for water to be provided.
I later learned the company had a health campaign underway, and that was one of the many prompts devised. It worked.
Today, pay attention to what's nudging you and share this concept with your team. Ask, "Ethically, how can we use this concept to prompt the behavior necessary for our success?"
"A nudge, as we will use the term, is any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people's behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives." — Thaler and Sunstein
"Any one war seems rooted in its antecedents." — T.H. White
"Whatever we plant in our subconscious mind and nourish with repetition and emotion will one day become a reality." — Earl Nightingale
Shawn M. Galloway is CEO of the global consultancy ProAct Safety. He is a trusted advisor, professional keynote speaker, and author of several bestselling books on safety strategy, culture, leadership, and behavior-based safety. He is a monthly columnist for several magazines and one of the most prolific contributors in the industry, having also authored over 700 podcasts, 200 articles, and 100 videos. Shawn has received awards and recognition for his significant contributions from the American Society of Safety Professionals, National Safety Council's Top 40 Rising Stars and Top Ten Speakers, EHS Today Magazine's 50 People Who Most Influenced EHS, ISHN Magazine's POWER 101 - Leaders of the EHS World and their newest list: 50 Leaders for Today and Tomorrow, Pro-Sapien's list of The Top 11 Health and Safety Influencers and is an Avetta Distinguished Fellow.