Applied Behavior Science for Health and Happiness
Motivation to Drink  Beer: Self-Determination Theory Applied
Motivation to Drink Beer: Self-Determination Theory Applied

Motivation to Drink Beer: Self-Determination Theory Applied

BEERA few years ago I decided it was time to take the challenge and attempt to join the Dead Author’s Club (also known as the Mug Club) at Bukowski Tavern in Boston. Joining the club requires drinking 130 different beers in a 180-day time period. Once you successfully accomplish this task, you are awarded your own personal, numbered 25-ounce mug engraved with the name of the dead author of your choice (as long as no one else has claimed the author). Your mug hangs in the bar from then on, and when you visit, you are able to fill it with any draft beer for the pint price (read more about the club here). Even though I firmly believe there’s no need to apply motivational design to activities that are inherently pleasurable, like drinking beer, I think Bukowski’s did a very clever job in supporting the three fundamental needs described by self-determination theory in the design of the Dead Author’s Club challenge. Here’s how:

Autonomy

The rotating draft and bottle specials at the end of August 2014.
The rotating draft and bottle specials at the end of August 2014.

Autonomy is all about giving people choice. Entry into the Dead Authors’ Club requires drinking 130 unique beers, some of which you might never have opted to order yourself (I had to down a Clausthaler non-alcoholic brew and a Hitachino rice ale, among others), you are given control over how you choose to tackle your list. You can drink your beers in any order you want.

Moreover, you are given choice in two other areas of the challenge. First, you must drink a selection of the rotating bottle and draft specials. Because these change frequently, you have some options about whether to wait for different beers to arrive on the list before drinking them. Second, you must drink a certain number of high ABV beers, which repeat from other parts of the list. You can use this list to repeat favorite options that meet the qualifications, rather than drinking the bartender’s whim.

Competence

The reward for a job well done? A refreshing mug of beer.
The reward for a job well done? A refreshing mug of beer.

You can support people’s sense of competence by providing timely and actionable feedback. While you work on the Dead Authors’ Club challenge, you receive a printed list each time you come to the bar that shows which beers you’ve drank and which beers you have yet to drink. There is also a running tally at the bottom of the list showing your progress as a number next to the number of days remaining in your challenge. It is very easy to gauge your progress. Being Type A with a touch of compulsiveness, I decided to tackle whole categories of beer at once. I loved seeing that all of my porters, stouts, or brown ales had been completed (except for the part where I could no longer choose to drink these delicious beers).

Relatedness

Mugs on display above the bar
Mugs on display above the bar

Finally, we have relatedness, or a sense of connection and belongingness to a community. When you walk into Bukowski’s, you immediately notice the rack of mugs hanging overhead. Every mugger’s glass is out on display, in numerical order. You immediately get a visual sense of the community just by going into the bar. This is coupled with seeing individual people throughout the establishment sipping from their mugs. It’s a very visible signifier of belongingness. For people actively working on earning mugs, the printed beer lists serve a similar function.

In the dim corner of my photo, you can also see what looks like a roulette wheel. If someone isn’t sure what beer to order, they can leave it up to chance and have the bartender spin the wheel. One of the slots on the wheel says “Mugger’s Choice,” and when that one is selected, the Dead Author’s Club member sitting closest to the wheel can choose any beer for the spinner to drink. You see a lot of muggers sitting near the wheel. In any case, this is yet another sign of belongingness for those people who have managed to complete the challenge.

The Aftermath

My beautiful mug!
My beautiful mug!

I completed my beer challenge within the allotted time period and earned my mug, #429, Laura Ingalls Wilder (I wanted to get some female representation up on the rack!).

Strangely enough, I have found myself drinking less beer at Bukowski’s since earning my mug. Part of it is that 25 ounces at a go is a lot of beer, and I am not always in the mood for such a generous serving. And I think part of it is that the fun of the challenge is gone. The game is over, and while I love the prize, it just doesn’t hook my attention the way earning it did.

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