Gentle nudges for motivation

This week, the Crowther Centre brings you a simple, research-informed way to shift discussions to encourage your son to complete tasks that are important for him, especially during lockdown when motivation can be running low.

In a study by Peter Gollwitzer on promoting citizen voting, two groups of people received phone calls. For the first group, the calls simply reminded the receiver of the importance of voting. For the second group, they were simply asked three questions, ‘What time will you vote?’, ‘Where will you be coming from to vote?’ and ‘What will you be doing just before you vote?’

Gollwitzer found that those who were asked the three questions were 10 percentage points more likely to vote than those who had the importance of voting emphasised to them.

Gollwitzer’s three questions had encouraged the receivers to construct what are referred to as ‘implementation intentions’, a clear plan regarding exactly where, when, and what action would take place.

Implementation intentions can be further strengthened by the use of action triggers. Action triggers are plans in the form of ‘if-then’ or ‘when-then’ statements. For example, ‘When my alarm goes off, I’m going to do my homework’ or ‘As soon as this Olympic event finishes, I’m going to do my homework’. We can help students to set their own action triggers by setting alarms or other easily noticeable cues.

Coupled together, implementation intentions and action triggers can be a powerful way to increase the likelihood that our children (and we!) follow through with those things that are important to us. And, as represented by Gollwitzer’s voting researchers, these types of clear plans can even be more impactful than having the importance of a particular action emphasised.

Oliver Lovell
Secondary Teacher and Senior Researcher