Chapter 2. Why We Take Certain Actions and Not Others

I’m sitting at my computer, and I just decided to drink some orange juice. You’re sitting somewhere reading this book, and probably didn’t. Our basic cognitive machinery is the same. So why do we do different things?

Our actions depend on our environment (I have a big, tempting bottle of orange juice in front of me, and you probably don’t), our needs and desires (I’m thirsty), our prior experiences (I generally like orange juice), and many other factors. But there’s no magic formula that says if you do A, B, and C, people will take the action you want them to take, even when they want to take the action themselves. We’re all unique individuals embedded in uniquely different environments, and our decision-making processes are complex, messy, and full of surprises.

Despite the messiness of our decision-making process, there’s an odd sort of logic to how we decide to take one action instead of another. That logic can’t tell us how to force someone to take a different behavior, but it can help us set up the right conditions for action, if the person chooses to do so. Designing for behavior change requires embracing the quirky ways in which our minds work, and how we interact with our environment, to better understand how products can help us change our behavior.

In Chapter 1, we asked how the mind decides what do to next. In this chapter, we’ll turn that question around, and ask: specifically, what can our products do to help users ...

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