Think Small | Owain Service

Summary of: Think Small: The Surprisingly Simple Ways to Reach Big Goals
By: Owain Service


In ‘Think Small: The Surprisingly Simple Ways to Reach Big Goals,’ Owain Service explores why achieving big goals can be so challenging, and how small changes in behavior can produce significant results. Through the lens of behavioral science, the book presents seven steps for nudging ourselves towards happiness and achievement. By harnessing nudge theory, social norms, and the power of habits, we can stay on track and persevere with our ambitions. The summaries that follow will discuss the right approach to setting goals, simplifying actions, public commitment, effective incentives, peer support, constant feedback, and finally, focused practice and experimentation.

Small Changes, Big Results

Learn how behavioral science can help you stick to your goals and achieve success by using the nudge theory and social norms.

Are you struggling to stick to your New Year’s resolutions or big plans? It’s not uncommon to lose focus and give in to temptation, but there are ways to overcome these obstacles. Behavioral science provides some surprisingly simple answers that can help you stay on track and achieve your goals.

One such answer is the nudge theory, which suggests that small changes, when subtly encouraged, can lead to big results. For example, setting your watch two minutes early to help keep yourself punctual or joining a running group to stay motivated with exercise. Nudge theory often makes use of social norms, patterns in our peers’ behavior that we feel compelled to imitate.

The UK government tested the impact of social norms by adding a single line to the end of letters sent to citizens with outstanding tax debts: “most people with a debt like yours have paid it by now.” The result? People paid off their debts more quickly, generating hundreds of millions of pounds in taxes paid.

In total, behavioral science offers seven steps for nudging yourself toward happiness and achievement. With these steps, you can overcome distractions and temptations to stay focused on your goals. Start making small changes today and see how they can lead to big results.

The Right Goals for Happiness

Setting the right goals is crucial to achieving happiness. Material possessions are not among the top factors that improve well-being. Social relationships, health and activity, generosity, learning new things and building curiosity or mindfulness have been proven to consistently improve happiness levels. Pursuing the right achievable goal is essential as it drives better results. Choosing a single goal and turning it into an unambiguous target with a fixed deadline leads to better outcomes. Therefore, it’s crucial to focus on the right goals and avoid striving for something that won’t make you happy.

Keep it Simple: The Power of Habits

Many people fail at diets because the rules are too complex. Research has shown that the easier it is to follow the rules, the more likely people are to stick to them. The same principle applies to any goal requiring sustained effort. In addition to simplifying the rules, people should embrace habits as powerful drivers of behavior. To use habits to improve one’s life, one should identify triggers for bad habits and eliminate them. New, positive habits can be formed by repeating a behavior in particular circumstances until it becomes automatic.

The Power of Public Commitment

The book emphasizes the significance of public commitment in achieving goals. Public commitments provide a sense of social accountability, making individuals more motivated to follow through with their plans. The book highlights the example of couples who have secret marriages and how they are more likely to divorce compared to those who celebrate with friends and family. The author emphasizes that social expectations can improve motivation. In addition, the book suggests appointing a commitment referee, such as a trusted coworker or tough friend to monitor progress towards a goal. The presence of a referee can increase the likelihood of achieving a goal by 70%. The book, therefore, stresses the importance of choosing a suitable referee and highlights author Rory Gallagher’s experience with appointing an accountability partner to keep him motivated towards going to the gym.

Effective Incentives in Achieving Goals

To establish an effective incentive system, rewards must be explicitly linked to the target, substantial, binding, and involve the fear of loss. A sense of personal motivation for achieving goals is crucial, and replacing it with external rewards may backfire.

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