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Start Here: “The Ultimate Guide to Habits”

How would you persuade teens to drink less soda?

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Pop quiz time:

How would you persuade kids to drink less soda?

Here’s a surprise: Facts alone are usually a very poor way to persuade people to change their behavior.

This flies in the face of conventional wisdom, which says, “Just put it out there! Let people make their own decision!” Yet facts alone are poor persuaders. You can take an idea with the very same principles, apply persuasive methods, and change people’s behavior dramatically more.

For example, researchers from Johns Hopkins studied how to persuade teens to drink less soda. They used signs outside corner shops to test three different approaches:

From the Daily Mail article:

One asked if they knew that the average fizzy drink contained 250 calories, another asked if they knew it was equivalent to ten per cent of their recommended daily intake.

A third asked ‘Did you know that working off a bottle of fizzy drink or fruit juice takes about 50 minutes of running?’

Results showed that providing calorie-related information did cause sales to drop by over a third (40 per cent), but that the physical activity equivalent was most effective, reducing soft drink sales among teens by half.

Instead of just sharing simple facts, they changed the framing — a classic persuasion strategy — and reduced soft drink purchases BY HALF!

What’s fascinating is that if you asked the average person on the street, they would simply say, “Just share the calorie counts. Let people make their own decision.” This is why I call them the unwashed masses.

“But Ramit,” you might say, “that’s paternalism! You’re telling people how to think! We should let people make their own decisions.” We can discuss paternalism later — and in persuasion, I have clear views about ethical persuasion and paternalism — but if your goal is pure behavioral change, know that facts alone are generally unpersuasive.

Btw, what if I asked you to persuade teens to have less sex? Would you…

  • “Educate” them on the risks of teen pregnancy? (Educate is always a red flag for pundits who don’t understand persuasion.)
  • Show them people who had teen pregnancies and how it affected their lives?
  • Show them how teen pregnancy would make you fat and unable to spend time with friends?

The third — the most evocative, visceral effect — might be most persuasive. And in fact, we see that that very approach has been linked to lowering teen birth rates…through MTV’s 16 and Pregnant show.

There are countless examples of highly rigorous, peer-reviewed studies demonstrating time-tested principles of persuasion.

If you read my material, you know that I focus on persuasion and behavioral change. That’s why instead of writing worthless tips about cutting back on lattes, I write about…

Why does this matter to you?

Because slowly, email by email, blog post by blog post, I want to help you become masters of persuasion. So you can persuade yourself to change your behavior — to earn more, save more, to find your Dream Job — and to persuade others to live better lives.

Now, I want to ask YOU:

Knowing what you learned about persuasion today, what is ONE area of your life where you can use persuasion to change your behavior? Be specific. Do not just say “I am going to go to the gym more.” Say: “Before, I used to think ___ and it got me ___ results. Today, I learned ___. Now, I am going to change my approach so I get ___ and I am targeting ___ results.”

Leave a comment here.

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47 Comments on "How would you persuade teens to drink less soda?"

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Tommy Walker
4 years 5 months ago
I used to think that making small “investments” into my career would help me get further… buy this course, pay for these ads, spend money on this software… but I’ve recently started persuading myself to save more money, and work harder so we can move into our house. When my wife said to me, we need to make X,000/Month and I looked at the income and said we’re doing that, so that’s not the problem, it really helped to push us in the right direction, and I am happy to announce that we’re going to be able to move into… Read more »
Rob
Rob
4 years 5 months ago
Before, I used to think that it was ok to spend a yearly bonus when you get it. Today, I learned that if I frame my mental perception of myself differently based on past behaviors (ie: being broke and living pay check to pay check; having to say no b/c I don’t have the money vs. seeing myself as having some money in the moment to get a ‘want’), that I can shy away from the temptation to spend my bonus on something and instead, become the financially responsible person that I should be and want to be. I’m also… Read more »
Tommy Walker
4 years 5 months ago

Rob I was the same exact way!

I have to admit too, being more in control of my finances has really helped me to feel more “grown up” and like I have a lot more control of my future. As strange as that may sound, I’m glad I stopped sabotaging myself and got in control because now I feel like I can do anything.

How about you?

Stephanie
4 years 5 months ago
I thought that buying a new set of comfortable tennis shoes and signing up for a gym membership ACROSS THE STREET FROM MY HOUSE would be all the motivation I needed to start exercising regularly in the morning. It wasn’t. Now I have a pair of unused shoes in the closet and a wave of guilt washes over me every time I leave my apartment and see the gym across the street. Even if I give myself all of the tools I need to exercise, I learned that I can’t just “tell” myself to go. I certainly can’t drum up… Read more »
Susan
Susan
4 years 5 months ago
Before, I used to think walking at an increasing intensity of speed and incline on the treadmill would help me lose weight. It did get me a few results (no weight loss, but more muscular calves so I fit into a pair of tall boots in my closet). Today, I learned that interval training (alternating speeds from fast to slow, with and without, incline) would produce better results (for weight loss) in less time. It is also supposed to increase my metabolism for a short period of time following exercise. Now, I am going to change my approach to use… Read more »
jakob
jakob
4 years 5 months ago

I used to think people wouldnt make a decision on something because of how many barriers were in their way. Today i learned that people are inherently selfish and will only act on something if you directly relate your product to their situation. Now i am going to change my approach by making my product’s story something that my target market can easily identify with and test the conversion rate based on this different approach.

Jen
Jen
4 years 5 months ago
Right now, the biggest way I want to use persuasion is to change my family’s eating habits. I already did it for myself and have become vegan (I am not an animal hoarding hippy, I read a book called The China Study and some others that were very convincing). Before, I used to think I could just tell my family what was healthy and unhealthy and they’d drop the bad stuff and it got me poor results. My husband’s never sure what is okay to feed the kids or not (yeah poor guy) and the kids don’t seem to relate… Read more »
Brandon
Brandon
4 years 5 months ago
Ramit, how would you reframe motivating people’s laziness to think for a minute and actually do this exercise? This is what I did. I used to think, ‘bah, that I know how to do that, I don’t need to comment and engage in the exercise, I’ll just do it in real life” and so I wouldn’t comment. And then I thought, “Well first of all, it’ll only take a few minutes, second, I’ll feel that much more accomplished by contributing my thoughts that will potentially help another person, third, I’ll feel less guilty about being a constant freeloading consumer instead… Read more »
Jeanne
Jeanne
4 years 4 months ago

Nice post. This was sort of paradigm shift for me. Hence my reply back thanking you!

Paul
Paul
4 years 5 months ago
Before I used to think that if I just ‘worked harder’ or ‘pushed myself more’ that I would work out more. I didn’t. Got NO results. Today I learned to change my frame of reference. I realize, if I don’t work out, I’ll keep gaining weight and feeling lazier like I have been for the last couple months. Now I’m going to change my approach, so I think, “if I don’t work out today, I’m choosing to be fatter.” Forget that. I don’t want to get fatter. I’m not letting today be a fat day.Today I’m exercising so I can… Read more »
Paul
4 years 5 months ago

Good job, other Paul! I have no such issue (I’m actually quite skinny) but I know a lot of people whose only goal is “lose weight” but they really don’t know how to stick to it. You might want to try that “don’t break the chain” technique I mentioned down in my comment. But just in case, here’s the link again:

http://lifehacker.com/5886128/how-seinfelds-productivity-secret-fixed-my-procrastination-problem

And yes, I am responding because we share the same name 🙂

Andrew
Andrew
4 years 5 months ago
I’m curious to hear why a difference of 10 percentage points in effectiveness is all it took for the ‘unwashed masses’ to become excellent persuaders. Factual approach – 40% reduction Evocative approach – 50% reduction I really do like the attempt at making the gap seem broader by comparing “over a third” to “A HALF”. Especially since it’s only a 3 percentage point difference between the differences of a third (33%) to the actual number (40%), and the 40-50% difference. The main argument wouldn’t seem nearly as valid if the calorie count was written as ‘reducing the sales by nearly… Read more »
Angie
4 years 5 months ago
Maybe for me, appealing to my pride works better than facts. I used to try running at least 3 times a week for a total of 9 miles a week just so I could look better and give lip service to being healthy. Now I signed up for a 5K on April 1, which gives me a deadline to prepare for, and I also write out a list of important but not urgent things to do each week and include “Run 9 miles” on this list. Every time I complete an item on the list I get to cross it… Read more »
Mr.Moo to You
Mr.Moo to You
4 years 5 months ago
Before, I used to think I was stuck with my part-time job and the hours someone else gave me, and it got me pathetic, poverty-line results. Today, I learned that you and I see teen soda-drinkage in a different light. Now, I am going to change my approach so I get better deals, more money for what I create and a better lifestyle and more freedom. I am targeting $50k per year ($47.7k last year, so I bet I can make it), effectively training my GF to be better to me and more stable tenant-related results. As far as how… Read more »
Nahyan
4 years 5 months ago

Brilliant article.

Mary
Mary
4 years 5 months ago

With a take-home of $15 per hour, I am going to have to work for 18 hours-two and one half days-to pay for the 12 items of clothing I bought “on sale” with “free” shipping at llbean this morning. That also translates to 53 hours to pay my house note.

Paul
4 years 5 months ago
My current favorite “persuasion” technique is to use the “Don’t Break the Chain” method of forming habits. http://lifehacker.com/5886128/how-seinfelds-productivity-secret-fixed-my-procrastination-problem I’ve tried this before, but the above article is what really made it click for me. When I first tried using it, I didn’t keep up with it because I was too specific with my goals. It turns out that generic goals are better for this technique. Basically, make it really easy to put a big red X on your calendar, or app in my case. I use “Daily Deeds” for iPhone. I’ve been running a music blog for almost a year… Read more »
Robyn
Robyn
4 years 5 months ago
I used to think trying to convince others to see my qualifications would result in me getting hired ANYWHERE so I can get off of being on disability.This got me nowhere because business owners/ect.are so concerned with me having absolute evidence that I can do and have done more already.Today I learned going about it in a completely different way would not be a bad start at all.I have gotten more specific qualifications to start my own side business now with all my bases covered so I get a customer base that will spread.I know several places where there is… Read more »
StrangeRover
StrangeRover
4 years 5 months ago

Q:”How would you persuade teens to drink less soda?”
A: Get them started on coffee.

I’m kidding, but instilling/selling them on another (hopefully better) alternative could be quite effective – if, as you suggest, the alternative is *framed* properly.

Gal @ Equally Happy
4 years 5 months ago
I used to think that getting in shape was all about eating right and exercising more. So if only I could force myself through sheer willpower to eat healthier and exercise more, I’d get in shape. That got me some results but I quickly plateaued. Now I’m trying to change my lifestyle by having less unhealthy snacks lying around the house, motivate myself more with short term treats and competitions with my friends, communicate with my wife and friends what I’m trying to do so they don’t unwittingly sabotage me and try to find fun ways in which I could… Read more »
fran
4 years 5 months ago
A few things: I tend to get messy and let things pile up. My best motivation is that I watch shows like “Confessions of an Animal Hoarder” and “Hoarders: Buried Alive” etc. Watching the horrific, moldy, insanity that these hoarder homes become is not only a great motivator for me, I also have the comfort zone of knowing that my messes never even begin to approach what the tragic hoarders in the show live with. So it’s instantly encouraging to me. That’s when I do most of my cleaning and organizing, while watching them pick through the rat carcasses and… Read more »
Angela Sparks
4 years 5 months ago

I signed up for Yoga teacher training in part because I wanted to incorporate more Yoga into my life, but never made the full commitment. Now that I am seeing the amazing benefits of a daily practice, it is easy to persuade myself to do it – because it makes me feel good, emotionally and physically.

Aideen
Aideen
4 years 5 months ago
Before, I used to think ___ and it got me ___ results. Today, I learned ___. Now, I am going to change my approach so I get ___ and I am targeting ___ results.” Before I never paid attention to my social media consumption and I never thought about the results that I was/was not getting. Today, I’m positive that I waste too much time trolling social media website (FB, pinterest…). Now I am going to change my usage so I am wasting less time. The added hours in the day will be used to ready informative books and finish… Read more »
Kirstie Smallman
4 years 5 months ago

Before, I used to think that sharing the facts about Nia’s workout benefits was enough to get people to sign up for class. This got me poor results – very few people in my classes. Today, I learned that sharing my personal Joy for Nia is more persuasive. Now, I am going to change my approach so I get more people to sign up for my Nia classes and my target is to fill all my current classes to max-capacity.

Ed
Ed
4 years 5 months ago
Ramit, I have been learning this stuff for a while, and really started putting it into action this year. My key insight has been that I used to think that if I just knew a bit more, and worked a bit harder, I’d get what I wanted. Today’s post reinforced that it doesn’t matter what you know, only what you do. Now I am changing my approach so that I have systems that make me do the important stuff. For example: 1) exercise. I decided this year I was going to try to build some upper body strength. This has… Read more »
Rizwan
Rizwan
4 years 5 months ago
You’re right, It will only take a few minutes, second, I’ll feel that much more accomplished by developing my programs from start to finish which will help me pay off loans, third, I’ll feel less guilty about being a constant freeloading person instead of a contributor, fourth, I can actually engage my creative and critical thinking process which I associate as ‘challenge’, which I actually really enjoy, and fifth, I might get some respect points from Ramit by actually interacting with his material instead of being the mystery reader that has time to read the long-ass articles but can’t find… Read more »
Claire
Claire
4 years 5 months ago
If the numbers sound too good to be true, they probably are. The Daily Mail thought “reduced the odds” by 40% or half meant reduced sales of sugar-sweetened beverages by that amount. The research paper meant reduced the odds ratio not “odds” as in layman terms. This odds ratio reduction amount came from reducing sales of sugar-sweetened beverages from 93.3% of beverages purchased before placing the signs to 86% after placing the sign about jogging, compared to 87.5% after placing the sign about absolute calories. That’s a 1.5% difference in purchases of sugar-sweetened beverages between the sign about jogging and… Read more »
Vicente
Vicente
4 years 5 months ago
Before, I used to think that I can do it alone without networking and it got me zero results. Today and based on the other free Dream Job articles, I learned that it is essential to have a network of people that will support me in this game that we play. I just persuaded myself before that it’s somewhat cool to succeed independently without the help of others. Now, I am going to change my approach so I get more fulfilling connections and relationships and I am targeting a goal of having a summer internship that will be brought to… Read more »
Megan Cassidy
4 years 5 months ago

Before, I used to think I didn’t earn enough to save or invest, and it got me negative results in my financial mindset (if I made more than expected in one month, I would automatically spend it on something that I didn’t value). Today, I learned how good saving makes me feel. Now, I am going to change my approach so I get a consistent savings plan and I am targeting putting at least 10% of my income into savings.

Claire
Claire
4 years 5 months ago
Forgot to include my answer to the question. Before, I used to think I would do as much as I felt well enough to do and it got me slower results with trying to recover from a chronic illness. This isn’t from something I learned today but maybe a little from other blog posts and trial and error. Recently, I changed my approach so that I commit to doing a little more than I am well enough to do now in the present and short-term future. E.g. I was not yet well enough to go to a tai chi class… Read more »
hitch
hitch
4 years 5 months ago

Granted, this works, but it will create a generation who hates pregnancy, even more obsessed with thier size, and the fat ones might go on having sex and soda like crazy. Knowing that there is no hope for them.

Cindy
Cindy
4 years 5 months ago

I agree with Hitch’s point.

For example, if you have an adult already addicted to soda, who has already felt the visceral effects (overweight, extreme tooth decay, etc.), how can you use this method to get them to stop drinking soda?

kai
kai
4 years 5 months ago
I used to think I need to make big bold moves to see big bold changes in my life. After watching a documentary on knife fighting, which demonstrated the Hollywood myth of critical stabs, actual knife fighting relies on small cuts which add up to the opponent bleeding and subsequently defeated (read dead). I switched my life strategy to small steps each day. Each day I must do something in relation to my target goal- no matter how insignificant. And especially if it is mentally insignificant. E.g. what can 20 push ups before going to work mean? But I do… Read more »
Jonathan
Jonathan
4 years 5 months ago
There was a similar article in USA Today about the effectiveness of disgusting ads. They gave an example of a NY Dept of Health ad showing soft drinks turning into globs of fat that reduced sugary beverage consumption by 12%. So in order to get myself to avoid potato chips, pizza, buffets, and beer and to make sure I exercise consistently, I’m going to post pictures of fat people in swimwear around the house. So let’s see if triggering the disgust mechanism can get my butt in the gym on a regular basis. Positive motivation like envisioning how good I’ll… Read more »
Nicholas Medina
4 years 5 months ago

I used to think that announcing to everybody around I was going on a diet was the start of my Fat to Fit transformation.

It did nothing but make the process harder.

What worked? Not telling a single soul what I was doing, but just doing it everyday, because In the back of my mind I constantly reminded myself, that I am the one who is responsible for going to the gym, and saying no to excess calories.

Nick

Edie
Edie
4 years 5 months ago
Before, I used to think “Working two jobs is so tough! I need to decompress. Imma watch some tv and have a couple of glasses of wine!” This went on for a few months. It’s nonsense, not good for my general health and well being, and gives me bad sleep. So, in the past week, I have said to myself: “Working two jobs is so tough. I need to decompress. Imma do a Tae Bo workout and have a couple glasses of herbal tea.” It’s day by day, but I think the issue ( needing to decompress) and the new… Read more »
Jim
Jim
4 years 5 months ago

I train people on a great product, but have been telling them facts…from today onwards, I’m going to teach, and then outline the potential consequences of not buying… I’ve been afraid of scaremongering…but I think this approach gets around that potential problem. It shows the facts and benefits, AND potential Dramatic changes that can only happen when you have it with you, as opposed to leaving it as a “nice to have” but making it a “must have”…

Logan
Logan
4 years 5 months ago
Ramit, as someone in the medical field, I have been hoping for years that you were going to turn your focus on persuasion and behavioral change to solving big healthcare problems, many of which come down to people’s choices about food and exercise. Last year, I decided that I needed to lose weight before [life milestone] this year. I signed up for CrossFit and have seen huge improvements over my old exercise methods. Here’s why: I just have to walk through the door of the CrossFit gym, and there is a trainer there to tell me exactly what I have… Read more »
hitch
hitch
4 years 5 months ago
Here is what i learned about behaviour change from trying so many things. Half the battle is showing up. If its a excersize. I go to gym weather i feel like it or not. If i feel tired i doze off in the car for 15 min. Take a shower. I would either get refreshed and have a great workout. Or a mild workout or wrap up and go home. But i feel better about it . No guilt . I done my part . There is just no energy for me today. But even a light workout is better… Read more »
JanetDHH
JanetDHH
4 years 4 months ago

Before, I used to think that I need to jog more and it got me moderate results at best. Today, I learned that if i focus on the unattractiveness of my ever-widening backside, I’ll be more motivated than of i focus on going jogging because it’s “good for me.” Now, I am going to change my approach so I get off my duff 3 times a week for 30 minutes and I am targeting firmer results.”

Andrew
Andrew
4 years 4 months ago
Human behaviour is one of those things where people think out doesn’t apply to them or in “this situation”. I work with execs who constantly amaze me with their lack of understanding of what makes a team perform. They seem to think that staff are driven by orders, not motivation. They fail to realise that as soon they turn their back, the unmotivated staff just go back to social media. Like what a number of people have said here, the individual won’t change their behaviour unless they see some consequence or benefit specific to them. I’m no different, I did… Read more »
Mihir
Mihir
4 years 4 months ago

I used to think I could only start losing weight by implementing a large, comprehensive change in my diet and start a big exercise program. Now I’ve realized relatively small but still significant changes in diet can yield a quick solid “win”. I chucked milk and cereal in the morning for egg whites and a unsweetened, unflavored multi-grain oatmeal. For lunch I shrank the main course and added cottage cheese and fruit. I lost 10 pounds in a matter of a few weeks.

Jeff Crews
4 years 4 months ago

We might need to make this happen for our users on WeightTraining.com. Persuade them why being healthy is so important!

Julie @ Freedom 48
4 years 4 months ago

Similarly, whenever I am debating purchasing something – I always calculate how many hours of work it would take to pay for the item. That mental work-through will often stop me from buying the item.

Robert
Robert
4 years 4 months ago

Get it? “Pop” quiz? About soda? Man, this is rich.

Khaiyong
4 years 4 months ago
I’m going to use my new persuasion powers to convince people around me – My social circle to get out from their negative patterns of behaviour when it comes to daily life. Which is: -Complaining about bosses/work/subordinates -“Not knowing what their passion is” hence stick with their boring old lives -All talk but no action. I’m going to use these persuade them to join my cause – Talent mamak (www.facebook.com/talentmamak), a hangout spot for locals in Malaysia which connects people with passions/talents with potential job offers/freelancing gigs. My theory is – When you start to live your passion (even part… Read more »
JaneMD
4 years 4 months ago

I think it would be even more effective to put up a sign that said ‘Your parents drink this and it makes them look cool.’ I bet it would have the opposite effect. I can’t take complete credit for that idea. I saw it on South Park, I believe, when they were trying to get the kids to give up ChinPokeman.

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