Promising Practices Promising PracticesPromising Practices
A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

How We Set Ourselves Up to Fail

ARCHIVES
Becoming the architects of our lives: With a few design tweaks, we can create environments that help us achieve our goals. (Image via Alphaspirit / Shutterstock.com) Becoming the architects of our lives: With a few design tweaks, we can create environments that help us achieve our goals. (Image via Alphaspirit / Shutterstock.com)

As the New Year approaches, many of us are preparing to make resolutions that we’ll struggle mightily to make good on—whether it’s eating healthier, reading more often, or devoting our full attention to decisions we face. 

Why is that?

Our failure to follow through and change is not necessarily caused by inadequate motivation, ability, or resources. Our failure often stems from our environment: We unconsciously design our environments to yield consistently poor results, rather than consciously design our environments to yield consistently positive results.

By designing our environments in a way that incorporates an awareness of psychology and self, we could alter the course of our lives.  

Failure by Design: The Influence of Our Environment

Our environment influences our behavior. This statement is supported by Richard Thaler’s and Cass Sunstein’s book, “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness.” Evidence they use to support this point includes organ donation rates, which spike upward when the default option at the DMV changes from “presumed non-donor” to “presumed donor.” A slight adjustment in the presentation of options--moving something from optional to expected--produces dramatically different results.

Considering the significant influence of environment on behavior we should strive to intentionally design our environments—with just a few simple tweaks we can set ourselves up to more consistently realize our goals. To ensure our designs have a high probability of success, there are two necessary ingredients, including:

  1. A working knowledge of psychology. This knowledge provides us a map of our own tendencies and shortcomings—a way in which we can troubleshoot our shortcomings. While a map can be a helpful guide, it does not perfectly illustrate the landscape of our lives. To create a tailor-made system that consistently produces the results we desire, we need a second ingredient…
  2. Self-awareness about our tendencies and own reality. For a concrete example, take the case of President Barack Obama:

Case: President Barack Obama

Obama has incorporated research from psychology as well as a keen awareness of the demands of the presidency to design an environment that enhances his decision-making ability.

Psychology finding:

The energy used to make decisions depletes with each decision that’s made.

Self-awareness insight:

As president I have many important decisions to make everyday that require my full attention and energy and I do not want to waste this energy on trivial decisions (e.g., deciding which suit I’ll wear).

Newly designed environment:

Pare down trivial decisions (e.g., Keep only two types of suits in my closet to limit the energy expended on deciding which suit to wear and reserve my mental energy for more important decisions).

Armed with the enthusiasm to consciously design our environment in a way that incorporates an awareness of psychology and self, we can more consistently produce the outcomes we want when we want them.

How have you tweaked your environment to maximize your effectiveness?    

(Image via Alphaspirit/Shutterstock.com)

Sam Nayman has a passion for organizational and personal transformation. He currently pursues this passion as a Leadership, Team, and Organizational Excellence Analyst. Prior to this role, Sam worked with Third Sector Capital Partners, which arranges Social Impact Bonds, an innovative social sector performance-based contract that brings together government, nonprofits, and philanthropists. He prepared himself for these jobs as a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs and as a Social Policy major at Northwestern University.

FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download
  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

    Download
  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

    Download
  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

    Download
  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

    Download
  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.