All of us are working towards something—some goal we aim to achieve. Most of our goals have clear paths, and we know how to achieve them.
If we want to lose weight, we know we need to improve our diet and exercise more. If we want to retire early, we know we need to save money and save money often. If we want to learn how to play piano, we know we need to practice playing the piano. Simple.
For the most part, we know what we need to do. But if we know what to do, why do we struggle to achieve our goals?
Because it’s easy to deviate from the path. Life gets in the way. Anyone who has set a goal for themselves (read: each and every one of us) knows this. We like to delay costs and reap immediate rewards.
It’s hard to stick to a diet when you go out with friends and they all want pizza. It’s hard to stick to your running schedule when the weather turns cold and wintry. It’s hard to stick with the piano when all you can play is Hot Cross Buns and you’re three months in.
More often than not, the difficult thing about goals is staying on the path, not seeing the path in the first place. Once we understand that we’re human; that it’s normal to deviate from the path; that life gets in the way; we can begin to design our environment to help us stay on track. Just like the rumble strip in the middle of the highway.
There’s a simple framework that can help us do this, and I want to share it with you here.
It’s called the EAST Framework. It was developed by the British Government’s Nudge Unit as a way to help people apply Nudge Theory to their work.
The EAST Framework: Easy. Attractive. Social. Timely. EAST.
If there’s a behavior we’re trying to encourage, we can find ways to make it easy, attractive, social, and timely.
Easy. We can make something easy by simplifying or changing the steps in the process.
If we want to run tomorrow morning, we can set our running clothes in front of the door. If we want to eat better, we can meal prep so that healthy meals are available in a matter of minutes. Our brain craves the simple solution and avoids the complex one.
Attractive. We can design things to be more attractive.
If we want a specific message to stick out to our employees, we can write certain things in bold or highlight key points with bullets. We can help us take action by harnessing the power of incentives. When I was a kid, my Mom told me she would buy me the NBA2K6 video game if I could go a month without biting my nails. It worked. It works with adults, too.
Social. We can take advantage of our nature as social creatures by making commitments to others.
We can ask a friend to go running with us on a weekly basis. We can find accountability buddies. If we’re trying to eat out for lunch less, we can put a chart up in our office—where everyone can see—and mark it with an X each time we eat out.
Timely. Timing is huge. We can make the costs and benefits of an action more immediate.
We can change our habits during periods of transition. We can plan behaviors around our lives in a way that makes sense to us. I am terrible at exercising first thing in the morning, but others find it hard to do once home and tired from work. Know how timing impacts you and how to schedule around that.
The EAST Framework is just that—a framework. A useful way to think about how to encourage a specific behavior. And, after all, our goals all require an action or a behavior to be achieved. I encourage you to get creative with it. Whatever goal you seek to achieve, how can make it easier? More attractive? Social? Timely?
Whenever I’m trying to change a habit, start a behavior, or build a new skill, I run through these four things and think about how I can design my environment to help me achieve my goals. You might find it helpful, too.