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Making it stick: Using Online Pledges to Sustain Behaviour Changes.

A presentation on Online Pledging from the University of Nebraska Medical Center talked about the natural tendency/preference of humans to act consistently. In essence, we typically follow through with what we say we are going to do. Obviously, this is not always the case, but in most situations people prefer to act consistently because if they don’t, they are perceived as unreliable and untrustworthy. This general tendency is often referred to as the “consistency principle.” The consistency principle is the primary reason why pledges can be so effective at inciting and maintaining behavior change.

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The researchers provide a few research-supported strategies to make online pledging even more effective at sustaining behaviour change. I've summarized the key points below:

1. Avoid strong incentives - while this may seem counter-intuitive, offering strong incentives causes the person to externalize the behaviour why they are engaging in the pledged behaviour and is less likely to sustain the behaviour change.

2. Make it convenient/reduce barriers - Many online pledges provide too many options and have too many steps to complete the pledge. It’s important to make an online pledge easy and quick to complete.

3. Make behaviour options clear and relevant - Try and keep the pledge to a very simple task and easy to understand. Do not make too many requests in behaviour on one pledge.

4. Provide choice, but only a few options - Research has shown, that when people are granted freedom of choice to select between behavioral options they perceive as doable and/or interesting and relevant, they are more likely to follow through. Provide roughly 3-5 options.

5. Make pledges visible and provide recognition - such as a pledge wall with their name. Provide the opportuntity to stay anonymous. However, use an opt-out system to stay anonymous.

6. Provide Personalized Reminders - Research has also shown that providing reminders in a supportive manner also increases the likelihood of follow through. Ideally, reminders should be spaced out over a certain stretch of time to increase the probability of a behavior becoming habitual/sustained. The reminders should also be personalized.

7. Leverage social influence and smart competition - while coercing participation reduces the chance of sustaining behaviour change, creating the appearance that these behavious are part of the social norm and using competiton works very well.

8. Ask them to tell other people about their pledge - Research also shows that a direct request from someone that the potential pledgee is familiar with tends to increase the likelihood of engaging in the noted behaviors and maintaining them over time.

9.Track numbers and provide feedback - Let people know how many pledges have been made and the impact that has created.

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