Applied Behavior Science for Health and Happiness
Behavior Change Truth: Action Is Harder Than Inaction
Behavior Change Truth: Action Is Harder Than Inaction

Behavior Change Truth: Action Is Harder Than Inaction

One category of behavioral economics judo is flipping from opt-in to opt-out.  More people enroll in 401ks when they have to uncheck the box to join, as opposed to checking it. And more people will pay their credit cards in full if the default is to do so, rather than to go on a payment plan. The real magic underlying the opt-out, though, is simple: Action is harder than inaction. Make the desired behavior passive, and it’s more likely to happen.

I wrote about this a while back with respect to sustainability programs in hotels, where you may have the option to forgo room service in order to conserve water, electricity, and other resources. My urging at the time was that hotels that truly want guests to make sustainable choices need to make them opt-out. I’ll take it one step further now and say, make the green choice the passive choice.

I don’t mean to pick on Sheraton. Other hotels also force guests to take action in order to do the sustainable thing. These photos are from the Swissôtel in Chicago:

Door sign to forgo room service. Lots of work requested of visitors here, including parsing the requirements for participating.
Lots of work requested of visitors here, including parsing the requirements for participating.

Not only does this particular sign require the hotel guest to take action, either by calling the front desk or hanging the sign, its program participation rules will take people an extra minute to puzzle through. And we know that offering incentives doesn’t help with long-term behavior change, so this might inadvertently reduce future sustainability behaviors.

Placing the card on the bed is an active choice. What if moving the card to the bed were an opt-OUT?
Placing the card on the bed is an active choice. What if moving the card to the bed were an opt-OUT?
This one is a bit better--people who reflexively put their towels on the rack or hook like they do at home will inadvertently receive the greener service.
This one is a bit better–people who reflexively put their towels on the rack or hook like they do at home will inadvertently receive the greener service.

Given Swissôtel’s stated commitment to sustainability, they should consider making green choices the inactive ones.

For the rest of us, a useful piece of behavior change magic is that if we can design it so that the behavior we want to see requires no action from our user, then we should. Because action is harder than inaction, and people will do what is easy.

Swissôtel declares sustainability as a brand value right on the room key.
Swissôtel declares sustainability as a brand value right on the room key.