With the beginning of each new year, habits seem to be a divisive topic. If you could sum up the New Year’s holiday with a tweet, it might be this one from Buster Benson:
One of the privileges we have living in the 21st century is spending large percentages of our time searching for happiness. We try to choose enjoyable jobs to make us happy, we eat delicious foods to feel happy, we play and watch sports to be happy–generally we do stuff to be happy.
If you eat a whole package of Oreos in one evening, it’s probably because you believe, at that time, that doing so will make you happy. And maybe it does make you happy. In fact, most of the goals we set, or the good habits we try to create, are intended to help us be happier.
Thanks to Apple’s recent release of HealthKit, it won’t be long before everyone with an iPhone has access to health and quantified self tools, whether they want them or not. Of course, hundreds of apps have offered similar features and functionality for some time, but with HealthKit as a default in iOS, a large new audience will be introduced to behavior change technology.
At the same time, hardware technology is finally reaching its potential in behavior change: GPS works better than ever, battery life finally lasts long enough to be useful, and accelerometers are able to gather pretty incredible data about movement throughout the day. Because of these reasons, the Apple Watch should create a lot of momentum in the industry. The technology is up to speed and behavior change apps are mainstream–are we on the verge of seeing gym attendance reach all-time highs and the national BMI statistics drop back into a healthy range?
If you spend enough time learning about habits, behavior change, and psychology, you quickly realize that there’s much more information than you could possibly implement in your life. There are hundreds of theories, models, and studies; often what seems like a basic principle has a vast library of research behind it. But the truth is that often you can dramatically change your life by applying just one or two simple strategies. So–if you could only choose one strategy from all the mountains of psychological data, what should you choose to have the biggest impact?
Every once in a while, you might put on a piece of clothing that you’ve recently purchased from the store and find a small sticker on the inside of the fabric. It’s usually a small circle with a number on it, that looks something like this:
You probably know that the “QC” stands for “quality control” and the number refers to a specific individual who personally inspected your piece of clothing at the manufacturer. The quality control process is a very important step in the manufacturing of many products, especially foods, like meat or eggs, that have the potential to spread harmful bacteria and diseases. “Quality control” also refers to the process of teaching and training new employees to make sure items are produced efficiently and no accidents occur.
Although musical preference is generally open to debate, the world seems to have come to a consensus about who deserves to be crowned the greatest band in history: The Beatles. Of course, you can disagree with this all you want, but The Beatles lead the pack in sales (nearly one billion albums sold, based on some estimates), number one hits (20!), and public opinion (if you Google “greatest band of all time,” The Beatles are the first search result). The Beatles are so beloved that Abbey Road, the road in London that served as the setting for their Abbey Road album cover, may employ a full-time crossing guard due to the dozens of adoring fans that stop in the road to take pictures.
We all know Mark Zuckerberg as the nerdy Harvard dropout who launched a simple “Hot or Not” website that eventually became Facebook. Hardly eleven years later, Facebook has over a billion users and Zuckerberg is the fifteenth richest person in the world. You could say that Zuckerberg has found plenty of success. But apparently one billion people on Facebook is not enough: in 2013 Mark Zuckerberg launched an organization that he says will reach even more people than Facebook.
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One of the longstanding political debates in the United States concerns public education; no matter what changes we make to the system, there always seem to be plenty of problems to fix. Hiring high quality teachers and regularly evaluating them is a major issue in particular. In 2010, a group of economists set out to tweak the educational system using financial incentives. They designed a research study with the goal of improving teacher performance, and thereby student performance, by motivating the teachers with big cash bonuses.
Of course, cash bonuses as a job incentive are nothing new. But the interesting part of the study was the unconventional method that the economists used to administer the bonuses. Of the 150 teachers that participated in the study, half received their bonuses at the end of the school year based on the testing results of their students. The other half of the teachers received their bonuses at the beginning of the school year, with the understanding that they would have to pay back part of their bonuses if their students didn’t perform well at the end of the year. All other factors were the same, including the size of the bonuses and the criteria for grading performance.