On Gollwitzer Action Triggers

This week’s learning is part of the ongoing series of inspiring learnings from ‘Switch’ by Dan and Chip Heath.

Peter Gollwitzer, a New York University psychologist, gave his students the opportunity to earn extra credit by writing a paper about how they spent Christmas Eve and turning it in on December 25th i.e. during holidays. Here, he added a twist.

Half the students received the assignment as it is. And 33% of them completed the assignment and turned it in on time, which was expected as most forgot about it during the holiday season.

The other half were asked to set action triggers in advance i.e. they decided exactly when and where they would write the report. Eg: One student said ‘I will write this report in my Dad’s office on Christmas day before everyone wakes up.’

And here’s the amazing part – 75% of those students submitted their assignment!

That’s a pretty astonishing result for such a small mental investment. Ambiguity results in inaction. Action triggers clear ambiguity and enable us to do things we want to do by pre loading decisions.

Conventional thought would suggest having a goal is strong enough motivation. But, that’s where our learnings about elephants and riders come to play. Goals are good for our riders and appeal to logic. However, to motivate our elephants, we will need to clear all doubts and literally set ourselves up for success!

Here’s to committing to clear action triggers this week!