Be the expert: How would you use psychological defaults to change these 3 behaviors?

Ramit Sethi

I wanted to share something from the cutting-room floor of my New York Times article on the psychology of financial willpower, which didn’t make final print.

In the article, I shared some of the latest research on how extraordinarily difficult it is to change our behavior: Many of us think we’re in control of the decisions we make about money, but when we simply “try harder,” our willpower often fails us and we fall right back into our old spending habits.

One powerful solution for behavioral change starts by changing your defaults. It’s not sexy and it’s not a “magic pill” — but it works.

Now, let me show you another example that you didn’t see in that article.

How to reduce infant HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa

By changing the default from opt in to opt out, the pre-natal screening no longer required “willpower” to change behavior. The results: Testing rates skyrocketed from 65% to 99%.

The implications for changing pro-social behavior are profound.

Be the Expert: How would you engineer behavioral change?

Let’s say I hire you to change the following behaviors:

  1. Help a busy executive lose 10lbs
  2. Help a careless 26-year-old save $1,500 in his savings account by June
  3. Help someone feel measurably happier

How would you do it using defaults?

(If you’re not sure, refer to my NYT article, my bookmarks on psychology, and the superb book, Nudge.)

The BEST answer gets a phone call with me, where I’ll help you pinpoint and change, amplify, or eliminate one critical behavior.

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  1. Jesse A

    1. Cook meals in advance and have them in containers for each day of the week. Have plenty of healthy snacks handy.

    2. Automate it so that x dollars go into savings automatically with each pay.

    3. Help them put their mood into perspective. Have them list what they’re greatful for.

    • Ramit Sethi

      Good…but vague. For example, think about the busy exec. If you told him to cook his meals in advance, what do you think he would say?

      If you told someone to automate their money, what would they say?

      When you think about the recipient, you start to see it’s not as easy as simply giving people the information!

  2. Sarah

    1. For the busy exec, I would fill his/her fridge with healthy foods that were easy to prepare (microwaveable, already doled out in correct portion sizes). These would be foods that reflect the person’s preferences, so they would be more desirable and convenient than ordering takeout.
    2. I would help the careless 26 year old set up an automatic transfer $300 a month to a savings account right after he/she received a paycheck so that he/she was saving without even noticing. This assumes that moving $300 at the start of the month will still leave them with enough for their expensese.
    3. If you link happiness to stress levels (meaning lower stress levels = more happiness), and you like an overwhelming number of choices to stress, I would imagine that helping someone streamline the number of choices they have to make on a daily basis so that they can more easily and automatically make better choices for themselves, might lower stress and increase their happiness. Exactly how to streamline the stressful decisions someone needs to make and help steer them toward a limited set of choices (so as not to paralyze them with options) really would depend on the person and what was making them unhappy.

  3. Ely

    #2 is easy – automate/direct deposit some of his paycheck into savings. Never see it, never miss it.

    I’d get #1 a standing desk & headset. If s/he doesn’t have to sit down to use the phone or computer, s/he’ll get healthier quick – and probably more efficient at work too. Most execs I know love to pace & gesture dramatically, which is much easier if you’re already standing. (I’d also stock that desk with satiating healthy snacks like almonds for folks who skip meals or get the munchies – if it’s closer than the vending machine, s/he’ll eat that instead of the king-size snickers bar.)

    #3… how do you measure “happier?”
    Actually what I do is I have inspirational quotes set up as reminders in my outlook calendar. Every Monday I get reminded of something awesome about life. I don’t know about “measurable” but definitely “happier.”

  4. Josh Crocker

    Great challenge!

    1. Busy executive: 3 came to mind immediately:
    – Move the exec’s parking space to the back of the parking lot so they have to walk further to get to their office every day.
    – Shut down the elevator so stairs are the only option.
    – Schedule meetings with the exec at the gym during a quick 10-minute jogging session (like Keith Ferrazzi talks about in “Never Eat Alone”)

    2. Careless 26 year old: Set up an automated savings plan like your book says, to have $250 moved automatically to the savings account, 1-2 days after pay day (assuming this person is paid on the 1st of the month). In 6 months they’ll have the $1500 saved up without needing to focus on it.

    3. Measurable Happiness: Commit to spending time with this person for 10-20 minutes per day in some type of social environment where we can DO some type of activity (to keep the mind occupied) and talk with the conversation being focused on them and what they want/like/dislike/are interested in. This could take place in a fitness center, coffee shop, mall, cafeteria, book store, etc. If there are other people around and we’re having a good time, little by little it’ll add up to them being able to notice that there is a change in their demeanor.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking idea!

    – Josh

  5. Dan

    The Result and the Time Frame

    For achieving any goal, the most efficient way to plan to succeed is to have a quantifiable result, and a time frame in which to reach the result. For item 2, a specific result is given and a time frame is provided. For item 1, a result is provided but not a time frame. For item 3, neither a result nor a time frame is provided.

    For item 1, let’s say that the executive has 20 weeks to lose the 10 pounds.

    Item 3 is difficult because we must first establish a criteria for measuring happiness. What is the goal that should be reached? What does the person hope to achieve? Is there a certain event to cause happiness? An item to receive, buy, or achieve? A relationship to develop?

    The person in item 3 could be asked, “What makes you happy now?” The answer would provide input on how to help the person achieve happiness in the future. Still, the person might not know everything that could make him or her happy, so another possibility would be that a new form of “happiness”, or at least another cause of “happiness” might exist that the person is not aware of.

    Behavior Modification

    Small course corrections are better than large lifestyle changes. Think of the Titanic sailing. It’s hard to make a sharp turn to avoid an iceberg that’s right in front of you. It’s easier to steer away from it gradually from far away. (And that way, the guests won’t spill their champagne.)

    Item 1

    For a busy executive, scheduling and efficiency are key factors in daily operation. To ensure that he or she loses the 10 pounds, the contributing causes (exercise and proper diet) must be made automatic and unavoidable. The executive has to find certain periods of the day that can allocated to those tasks.

    For busy individuals, exercise early in the morning (before work preparation) provides a solid block of time that can be automatically allocated. The time after work (through the evening) can be taken by emergency work, business dinners, or other random commitments that spring up during the day. Before work provides a stable time for consistent exercise.

    For a healthy diet, small tweaks can be made to the existing eating habits. Removing soda or other sugars is a convenient way to adjust diet, although there are many other methods as well.

    This isn’t a post on exercise and diet (of which there are many) and instead focuses on behavior. The most important part of helping someone to reach a specific goal lies with not drastically altering the person’s existing lifestyle in an unsustainable manner. There are many anecdotes from people who tried extreme diet, exercise, or savings (uber-frugal) approaches that are not conducive to long-term application.

    Over 20 weeks, with minimum effort the executive will have the desired results.

    The default is, “Exercise right after you wake up. The day isn’t busy then and there is no work to do. Make small dietary corrections, but don’t punish yourself on your eating!” (No matter how poorly the rest of the day goes, at least you’ve exercised!)

    Item 2

    For item 2, the “careless” 26 year old could save the money by automating finances. June is 6 months away, so a $250 per month automatic transfer would easily get it done, and the person wouldn’t even know that it was gone! By not making the saving a conscious decision, it’ll happen without effort.

    The behavior to save will change (he or she is now saving!) and the effort required to change that behavior is minimal.

    The default is, “Save $1600 by June by automating a $250 transfer per month to your checking account.”

    Item 3

    To sustain an increase in happiness, the person must permanently add what we’ll call a “happiness creator” to his or her life. One action (attainment of the “happiness creator”) will then lead to automatic increases in happiness in the future.

    Example 1 A person who really likes pets. If the person does not have a pet, then that person should go and get a pet (a cat or a dog, maybe). After the singular action of getting a pet, happiness will automatically follow. Every morning, the person will wake up and see the snuggling animal, and be overcome with joy.

    Example 2 A person who whose feet hurt after a day’s work. If the person buys comfortable shoes, then every day, they’ll be happy because their feet don’t get overcome by stress from bad shoes. One small action leads to continued returns.

    The other important thing to note about Item 3 is that there is not a specific answer that will be applicable to every person. Input must be taken first for each individual to craft a solution that will work.

    The default is, “Make a permanent addition of a ‘Happiness Creator’ to your life. Happiness will follow!”

    In all of these examples, small changes lead to lasting and sustainable results. The counter-productivity of drastic changes is readily and repeatedly available.

    Ramit, what is your next small change for long-term repeated results?

    • Elizabeth Saunders-Time Coach

      I appreciated your thoughtful response.

      To piggy back off of your answer to Number 3, I think it’s important to not only think about what could create happiness, but also about what is making you not happy.

      Sometimes you need to take something out of your life such as spending time with constantly negative people.

      But other times, it’s not about adding Happiness Creators or decreasing Sadness Creators but about shifting your mindset.

      If something is outside of your control to take action on (i.e. I’m 5’5″ and want to be taller and heels are in style for women but not for men in this era) or may take you a long time to achieve (i.e. I haven’t even used the Earn1K idea generator but I want a multi-million dollar business), you need to learn to accept life and yourself as you are in the moment.

      Also I often see people set themselves up for feeling unhappy by constantly putting unrealistic expectations on what they can complete in a certain amount of time. In this case, it’s not adding or subtracting things but accepting the reality of a situation and judging ourselves by realistic standards that creates a sense of peace, joy, confidence and accomplishment in the moment.

      To your brilliance!

  6. Dane

    1. Since they are probably already on a three-meal-a day schedule, I’d allow them to eat whatever they wanted for those three meals, AFTER they ate an apple and a protein shake (one that contains a fiber supplement or oatmeal). That’s right – finish an apple and a protein shake and then you can chow down on whatever you want. The thing is, you’ll be satiated enough by the first two items that you will not overeat on crappy food. Those ten pounds will be gone in no time. Working out would help, but isn’t necessary – you can’t out work a bad diet, and diet is where where the weight management battle is won or lost.

    2. Most HR departments allow you to split your paycheck direct deposit into multiple accounts. Assuming he will get 12 more paychecks (semi-monthly from Dec-May) before June, that’s $125 that magically disappears into a savings account every 15 or so days. By the way, this savings account WOULD NOT be linked to any checking accounts. That’s right, make it very hard to access… if necessary, open a brick and mortar account and cut up the ATM card they give you. I don’t know about the rest of you – I don’t get paper pay stubs, I just check my main checking account, and it would be way too much effort to try to get money out of a savings account to in order to spend it (I’m not standing in line at a bank during my lunch break to get $125. One day in June when there is $1500 in it… well, that’s still probably not enough money to convince me to waste my lunch break standing in line at a bank unless I was on my way to Vegas).

    3. In college, whenever I felt stressed or spread too thin, I’d take the scalpel to my life and revert to “Dane’s Rule of 5.” I never understood how overachievers could really enjoy being involved in dozens of different organizations/activities – and in reality, most of them were really unhappy. I got into that rut once or twice, and I have decided that nobody can be really committed to more than five “things” at once. I would suggest that this person (who I’m assuming isn’t clinically depressed, just in a rut, otherwise they need to see a doctor) pick five things they want to do. In college, my five things were school (now it’s work), weightlifting, one student organization (I was an executive member), following our football team (including away games and bowl games) through the entire season, and a part-time job. Paring my life back down to the basics immediately cleaned out my schedule, allowed me to dominate those five things, have free time to enjoy building relationships with other people, and in turned allowed me the flexibility to test out other things that I might be interested in. Do you have to stay at five? No. You can definitely add something on here or there; however, you will never be happy unless you are mastering what is really important to you. When you are unhappy, Dane’s Rule of Five allows you to identify the basics, effectively live and enjoy your life, and begin to grow as person again rather than being stuck in a rut. Until now I never realized how much that method helped me…that’s it, I’m writing a book/blog about this.

  7. Léan Ní Chuilleanáin

    1. Since you don’t specify a time limit, I’d get her to commit to ONE small default change for ONE month. Something like “I don’t use elevators”, or “I don’t eat dessert on weekdays”, or “Breakfast every morning is two portions of fresh fruit and a boiled egg” – whatever fits best for her. After that month, I’d get her to add one more default change, for another month. And so forth until the 10lbs had gone the way of all flesh (see what I did there?).

    2. Automated money transfer, every payday.

    3. Tricky! Three ideas.

    First, as I understand it, optimists are happier, and optimism can be learned and practiced. So I’d get them to commit to a manageable default practice. Something like “every morning before I get out of bed, I first take two minutes to brainstorm a list of ten things that don’t totally suck” might work.

    Second, they could spend a few days noticing and listing their main stressors, then we could figure out ways to make those “opt-in” rather than “opt-out” – or at least, to change the parameters so that the stress is eased.

    Third, most people don’t get enough rest, which adds to stress and hence unhappiness, so a default like “bedtime on ‘schoolnights’ is 10pm” (assuming that’s earlier than their norm!) would also help.

  8. David

    1. Helping a busy executive lose 10 lbs.

    Most offices are full of junk food, and when people are busy, these staches become meal replacements. Simply replacing whatever candy or other snacks are around the office with nuts (because they don’t go bad, and therefore can be kept on hand unlike fruits or vegetables) would cause snacking to become a healthy endeavor. Also, since nuts have been shown to increase satiety, the executive would not feel hungry as often.

    2. Helping a careless 26 year old save $1500 by June.

    June is 6 months away, so to save $1500, the 26 year old needs to save $233 per month. Let’s just round up to $250. The 26 year old can take 10 minutes to set up an automatic transfer to savings every time they get paid or monthly, depending on their preference. That automatic transfer will happen and the 26 year old is unlikely to cancel it unless there is a serious emergency. This approach works for me, a careless 26 year old who saved $4000 for a honeymoon to Jamaica last year. (And did I miss the $400 a month I used to spend carelessly? Not really. I’ve noticed that I tend to overspend at the end of a month when I look at my credit card statement and see that it is low and think, “wow, I can totally afford that X-whatever-thing I’ve been wanting (usually some sort of biking gear).” Then I go buy it).

    3. Help someone feel measurably happier.

    This one is a little harder. It depends what is making them feel unhappy. If they are unhappy because they are strapped to a machine that is shooting electric currents through their body (for science), then I’d just make the machine force their face to contract in a smile, because that would make them feel happier. That is unlikely to be the case though, so I’ll assume this person has a more realistic problem. One thought would be to get a small plant (even a fake plant) because exposure to greenery has been shown to elevate mood. Put it in their office or home or wherever it is that’s making them unhappy, and their elevated mood would lead to measurably higher happiness.

  9. Caleb

    1) Have healthy, pre-made meals delivered. Remove all other food from the house/work area, except for specifically delivered healthy snacks.

    2) Change to direct deposit (if not already done). Have $1500 / paychecks until June directed to a different savings account via direct deposit (or automated withdrawals from the main account, if DD doesn’t allow for multiple accounts).

    3) Find something that makes them happy, and put pictures of that thing in places that they will see/interact with it (like computer desktop images, on the fridge, etc.)

  10. Hamed

    1. I’m assuming the busy exec has a PA: start of every month the PA asks the exec to approve a list of five healthy lunches. Once the exec signs off, the PA now orders lunch every day for the exec. Exec never has to think about lunch: either it just appears every day at 12:30, or the exec goes to pick it up him/herself; instead of being a cheeseburger with fries, it is a sushi box, salad, whatever. If the exec doesn’t have a PA, he/she can get a willing co-worker to do this, a spouse, or even just a friend. Or stump up some money for a PA through elance or similar, who can do the lunch order every day.

    Getting the exec to sign off on the lunches is important: that way you have consent, it is something the exec will enjoy eating, less likely to expend the effort on ‘breaking’ the system.

    2. Assuming that the 26-year old has a job and gets paid regularly every month (hopefully so!): tell him/her to arrange all payments to go out (i.e. rent, phone bill etc.) on the day after pay comes in. Set up a savings account. Set up a monthly payment from main account to savings, to go out the same day as all of the bills, in the amount of 1500/6 = $250. Then probably blow the 1,500 on a trip to Ibiza.

    3. I’m happy when I think about people I love, things that are important, and I think that’s probably true for most people. Because I’m basically a huge sap, I quite like to look at my wedding pictures from time to time, and then I feel all happy and sentimental. So here’s a very small, but specific idea.

    Stick a recurring appointment in this person’s calendar (Outlook, iPhone, whatever), could be every week, daily (depending on how much happier this person needs to be). In that appointment is a link to a photo album on Flickr, containing wedding pics, holiday snaps, pics from the holidays. Anything that will provoke the gooey-happy feeling. Then when that appointment comes up, the person clicks the link and is reminded of good and happy things in life.

    I realise that this is small, but it could easily work for people. And it could be adapted quite easily: if you’re a GTD buff, how about putting a picture or a letter in your Tickler file to brighten up your day at the end of the week? When you reach that day, just move it on to the next day/week/month, ready to cheer you up again. Or book in a regular phone call with your Mum, a recurring appointment like above.

    This idea for 3. would obviously need to be tailored a little bit depending on the individual, but the important part is having it as recurring and automatic.

  11. Holly

    1. I would ask the CEO to make a short list of items she ate every day for a week. Then I’d swap come of her regular foods with a low-calorie or non-junky alternative. Example: a large bagel with cream cheese in the morning could be swapped with a slightly smaller whole wheat bagel, Starbucks grande double-shot mocha with whip could be replaced with a tall double-shot cappuccino without the whipped cream. These are small changes that require very little extra effort on behalf of the busy CEO, but will add up to her eventually losing 10 pounds.

    2. What Dane said.

    3. Positive psychology. I would ask them to do the following: every night, before bed, think about how grateful they are for (insert three things you are happy about) for a few minutes. After two or more weeks, most people are measurably happier just from performing this simple task.

  12. Justin Hill

    To help the executive lose weight:

    If I were managing the company I would set up a healthy meal program. It is completely optional. You may use it when ever you wish. I would designate small space or large space depending on the size of the organization. The space would be used to have a buffet table set up in the morning prior to start, lunch times, and evening times for the people who comute or have to work late. It has been proven that the more often you eat healthy foods throughout the day the more weight you lose. Busy people tend to grab anything to satisfy the hunger. The buffets would consist of healthy foods with a variety. To handle the set up of this I would hire somone to work for the company and handle this operation. Or if there is lot’s of money within the company I would hire a catering team. When people get hungry they may flock to the room with the food to satisfy their hunger. If there are only healthy options then they may eat the food. To help pay for this I would hold back raises within the company at very small margins so that the employees either do not notice or they have all agreed on the program. People will still bring lunches and eat out if they so choose. But adding some healthy food will help lose the weight. People may then decide in the morning not to grab a donught for breakfast or skip it all together. Eating breakfast has also been linked to weight loss.This may even bring a happier moral to the company which may spark the executives to be a little more active with their new found feeling and weight loss.

  13. Jonathan Vaudreuil

    1. Find one food item the exec is willing to eliminate (and not replace) in his daily diet. Eliminating just 250 calories per day will help someone lose 10 lbs in 20 weeks. Odds are if he needs to lose 10 lbs he’s eating a few things he can cut out to drop the weight, so he gets to decide what he eliminates.

    How easy is this? There are about 250 calories in the following foods: a small bag of chips, a 20 oz Coke, a 12 oz mocha or caramel latte (or two 12 oz cups of coffee with cream and sugar), dinner rolls w/butter served at a restaurant, a regular-sized muffin or bagel, a Snickers bar, and an Egg McMuffin. You could also just drop down one size on any value meal at a fast food restaurant and easily cut out 250+ calories.

    Also, don’t tell the person to start working out more: there are studies showing that if you don’t track your calories you will likely eat more and GAIN WEIGHT unless you work out a minimum of 1 hr at least 5 days per week. By suggesting quick workouts you will probably cause the exec to gain 10 lbs and have less time to do other things.

    Don’t tell the person to start eating fruits and veggies more unless they like them and are willing to replace foods with them. Odds are if they liked them they’d eat more of them already.

    Eliminate a single food item they’re willing to give up: easy.

    2) Let’s eliminate all assumptions about how much this person makes and spends. They need to save just over $200/month from December through June to reach this goal. The easiest answer is to get the person to set up a savings account and have $200+ per month automatically deposited into that savings account, then tell him he can spend every last drop of money in his checking account with no worries. It’s the best opt-in answer.

    The two other easiest answers are 1) see if he has random stuff kicking around he can sell and get some money for and put that in the savings account or 2) see if he can make any extra money and put that strictly into the savings account.

    The key is to make it so he doesn’t have to think about how to save, it just needs to happen.

    3) Happiness is dependent on a number of factors, so we need to identify what factor will consistently make people happier. Two things tend to do this most frequently: focusing on how one’s life would be worse WITHOUT something/someone, and the act of giving.

    Which of these is easier to accomplish? The act of giving. Let’s face it: you might love your husband or wife, but if they’re the cause of your problems that day, how are you going to easily feel better thinking about life without them? Right then it might seem like a good idea.

    All the person has to do is give an act of kindness every day… or… even better… see how what they already do is an act of giving. Tell a janitor they’re making the building safer and more pleasing to the eye for everyone who comes through. Tell a dishwasher they’re giving everyone in the restaurant an easier and more relaxing night. Tell a construction worker they’re making everyone’s commute safer and easier.

    By understanding how someone is already giving to the world, they are automatically reframing their life in a more positive and happier way. Interestingly enough, if they then share this with other people (another act of giving) then if a few smiles perk up they all start to feel even happier. It’s a double-dose of happiness every single day.

  14. Justin

    For #2, let’s assume the 26-year-old has a job and is paid via Direct Deposit.

    Split the DD so that part of it goes where it does now (presumably his/her checking account) and part of it goes to another savings account. That way, the money never enters the checking account and can’t be spent prior to being saved.

    Spending the saved money requires overcoming cognitive dissonance (“I’m trying to save $1500 by June, but here I am doing something that will prevent that from happening.”) as well as taking an extra step to make the transfer from savings to checking prior to saving. Plus, since a savings-to-checking transfer will take at least a couple of days, s/he may be less susceptible to impulse purchases derailing the savings plan (it should be noted that these could still be made by credit card… see below for extra measures).

    Assuming our subject is paid biweekly, that’s ~13 paychecks, so the amount to be diverted per paycheck (ignoring any interest the savings account would accrue) would be $115.39.

    Extra measures: if you want to really lock things down…

    a) Make it someone else’s savings account (someone who can be trusted both not to take the $ and also to not cave to our subject’s pleas to get at the $ early). Not possible for everyone, but helpful.

    b) Get him/her to hand over or cut up credit cards for the duration of time that the money is to be saved. As with a) this is not always practical, but it can help avoid the impulse purchase issue discussed above.

  15. Dave

    1. Is there a time limit to lose the 10 lbs? Anything related to exercise won’t produce the losses if he’s eating garbage; you simply don’t burn enough calories to offset the difference unless you’re an athlete/spend hours at the gym. See anything by Drew Baye or Robb Wolf for evidence to back this up. Therefore, it has to be based on diet. Willpower to eat well isn’t good enough either, you have to eliminate all bad food options for the busy exec. Therefore, I’d recommend removing ALL bad food from the exec’s home, replacing it entirely with a Paleo based diet (veggies, lean meat, and fowl). Additionally, I’d have someone cook a month’s worth of healthy lunches for the exec that he can keep in his fridge while at work (like that person that cooks for you). Another possibility is using the “crap food day” method that Tim Ferriss follows once a week to keep him motivated.

    2. Set up an automatic system, like you show in your book. To motivate the client to do this, you have to show them it’s worthwhile. Look, I’m a bit younger than 26, but three things motivate me: partying, sex, and warm climates (preferably combined as much as possible). You CAN’T convince a person who’s 26 they should be saving for retirement; it’s just too far away and most people don’t care at that age. Instead, ask them about that vacation they wanted, that exclusive club they were interested in going to and then tell them in 20 MINUTES they can set up a system that automatically deducts so about $9 per day they can afford that dream party trip (with tons of getting laid, of course) in June. They then don’t really check it. Chance are, the trip will cost much less than $1,500 and they’ll be so impressed they were able to do the trip AND have left over money (that earned interest in their high-yield ING Savings account!) they’ll continue the automatic system (after all, as you mention, it’s more effort to stop the system)

    3. This is an awesome question, I love it. I would remind the client that in SIX MONTHS, unless they make changes, they’ll be exactly the same as they are now. Do they want to be the same person in six months? Fear is a great motivator. Then, I would have you build a “small win” plan, i.e. whether the goal is financial, romantic, or spiritual happiness, I would have small little steps the user can complete to feel like they “won”. Over the course of 6-8 weeks, these small wins add up, the client is still motivated/happy, and they’ve actually accomplished a lot.

  16. Suzie

    1. Get lunch & dinner delivered to the exec every day. Most execs always seem to end up grabbing something on the way to somewhere, or they tell the PA to get something. Get food delivered at 11.30am and 5pm and make sure it’s healthy food. (On a side note, I like for this as it posts me healthy food to work 🙂 )

    2. If getting the person to set up an automatic transfer is out, then I would send them a bill every month for $250 every month which they would pay like a normal bill… or set up a subscription like a gym membership, only at the end they get back the money.

    3. This is a tough one! Depends on what makes them happy really! I can’t help but think of some kind of retreat where enjoyable activities are mandatory. Enforced fun… maybe a bit too social engineered?

  17. Larry

    !. For the busy executive, I would put him on a 16 hour fasting and 8 hour eating window, ala This would entail him not eating anything after 8pm and starting to eat at 12pm the next day (pretty easy since for most the time he is sleeping). He could have coffee, diet soda, water, and a little cream in his coffee (not to exceed 50 calories). Basically, he’s skipping breakfast. Our exec needs to lose 10 pounds, that’s 35000 calories. The average breakfast is approximately 400 calories; so in about 70 days or approximately 2.5 months, he has lost the fat…assuming he does not compensate for the breakfast calories. The default, don’t eat breakfast…have a normal lunch and dinner…done!

    2. For our 26 year old. A. If he does not have direct deposit of his pay check, set it up. B. Open an ING Orange savings account ( C. Set up a sub account titled EMERGENCY. D. Set up automatic transfers of $125 per bi-monthly paycheck to the EMERGENCY fund. If you really want to make this effective….don’t give him the passwords to enter the ING account until 6 months is done!

    3. Happiness. Get rid of stuff. Take a month and day by day reduce the volume of your possessions. Make it easy and fill a box for charity and another for ebay. Make life even easier and find a isold it on ebay ( shop and let them deal with the sales. A reduction of extraneous B.S. lets you focus on what you love. I’m not a minimalist, by any stretch of the imagination, but have reduced the volume of stuff, clothing, books, toys, etc. This gives me more time to focus and less clutter to stress me out. After we declutter, our default is wait a week to buy new items (put them on an Amazon wish list, on layaway, etc.). When one item comes in, one item has to leave. So if I get a new shirt, an old one gets donated. Use technology (kindle, computer, fujitsu snap scanner) to reduce paper volume. All stray paper gets scanned, saved to Evernote, and backuped to a large external hard drive, automatically. The originals are then thrown away. Books and magazines are electronic. Be ruthless with email subscriptions and cancel most. Practice in box zero, using gmail, labels, and automatic folders to port BS to appropriate folders. Default is to de-clutter and simplify life.

  18. Stephen

    I’ll take a crack

    1. Help a busy executive lose 10lbs

    This is my E1K/B1K business and I rely heavily on defaults (I actually lost 50 pounds doing so). A busy executive isn’t going to pre-prepare meals if that’s not already part of his routine. Take sucking time and exerting willpower out of the equation. Look at where he does his snacking, and change his environment there. Get rid of junk food in his office refrigerator (to make it even easier, have him ask his assistant to do it) and replace with healthier options that require zero preparation. Do the same at home. Don’t tell him what he can’t eat, but remove convenience from the equation so there’s a barrier to ice cream whereby it’s a minor pain in the ass to get some.

    This would easily be good for 10 pounds, probably more.

    2. Help a careless 26-year-old save $1,500 in his savings account by June

    Have him route his 2010 tax refund into a savings account. This might do it right there (if not, have him adjust his withholding).

    Assuming that isn’t viable or sufficient, he needs to save/earn $300/mo. total. Take the negotiation scripts from IWTYTBR and re-negotiate his car insurance, cable bill, gym membership, even rent (this works!). Any monthly fixed expenses. Route the monthly difference into a savings account.

    If any amount is left over, set up the automated saving process in your book and have the monthly difference routed to a savings account he doesn’t touch. Time this to happen immediately before or after each pay period so he doesn’t feel the money “disappearing” on him or accidentally overdraft.

    3. Help someone feel measurably happier

    The hedonic treadmill makes this tricky using defaults. If I were a dick, I’d give him a puppy. Having a pet raises baseline happiness, and it’s an instant environment change that isn’t subject to much willpower (“I don’t feel like feeding the dog today so I won’t” is unlikely).

    Maybe he already has a dog, or can’t have one. Counting your blessings can have an impact on happiness, but that’s active. To make it a default, I’d have him type out a list of his blessings one time. Set up an account to automatically email him 2x times a day when he’s not busy, and put a unique ringtone on his smart phone and email accounts when emails from that account arrive. Every time the email comes in, take a minute and read through the list.

    If he’s particularly out of shape, follow the steps in part 1. Losing excess weight and leveling out blood sugar can improve mood, which may impact answers when his happiness is being surveyed.

    Kick ass NYT article!

  19. Asmita

    for #1. When I wanted to ensure that I got exercise during my busy grad school years, I simply didn’t buy the bus pass. This made me walk everyday by default. Since going in the bus would take almost same amount of time, the time to walk didn’t bother me. And whenever I saw a bus while walking, I immediately thought of the $2.50 I’ll throw away for going such a short distance, and kept walking.

    I would suggest something similar for the busy exec, depending on their mode of commute – change parking spot farther away/replace a transport option with walking. And suggest them to do a brisk walk – since they’re busy, it should be preferable anyway.

  20. John

    1. By default, drink water. (Instead of coke, pepsi, tea, juice, etc).

    If someone asks what you’d like to drink: “Water would be fine.”

    Remember, you’re only changing your DEFAULT behavior. You can drink other things, but your default choice would be water.

  21. Steven

    #1: Textbook answer would be to replace junk food with healthy snacks, create special menus for the executive when they go to restaurants, and create a poster tracking their weekly improvement so they can see their results. This gives them default choices *and* positive feedback.

    A more interesting answer: send them to a remote office of the company for a month: Delhi, Paris, etc. Would they be able to find their normal appetite when confronted with a default meal centered around chutney or mutton?
    (c/o Seth Roberts:

    #2: As a 25 year old, I opted in to a 401k and “saved” this much in six months, so the automatic deduction feels like the best default solution.

    A more interesting solution: using Mint, match every dollar spent at a bar or restaurant with a dollar moved into savings. So if I spend $30 at a restaurant tonight, tomorrow $30 will be deducted from my account and moved into a savings account. The trigger may need to be adjusted for the situation, but the money is still liquid so he/she won’t miss paying bills. Still a default, but it accentuates the actions the target.

    #3: Set up a Google Voice account to automatically call two friends or relatives per day. Its not easy to hang up on someone, so when you receive a call and realize you actually called them, you’ll probably start a conversation. Two extra connections per day can do wonders (and doesn’t involve picking up dog poop.)

    • K00kyKelly

      I like the concept of #2, does mint actually let you do this?? Some credit card used to offer a service similar to the auto transfer in #2, but on a much smaller scale. It rounded up every $ spent on your CC and deposited the difference in a savings account. So you spend 2.25, 0.75 goes into savings.

      #3 is terrible. I would resent these calls and whoever it called would also get annoyed when I didn’t actually want to talk to them right then.

  22. Beth

    1. Exec: New default? Have a bowl of soup for lunch every day. It is easy-to-find and full of nutritious vegetables. Bonus prize to speed weight loss one: Schedule a the 2-2:30 meeting slot in Outlook for a walk. If you meet then, it is done walking. Bonus prize two: Order a fruit basket for the office so that is the easiest snack to grab.

    2. Savings: Set up direct deposit $65 from bi-monthly paycheck into savings account. I’d make it at an entirely separate bank from the primary account and make the login information difficult to member. Save. Forget it is there.

    3. Happiness: Declare half an hour each day — when this person wakes up, etc. to be complete creative free time to get to do whatever you want. This time is yours. In my experience, this is the best time to “see” what you do, left to your own devices — and left to their own devices, most people choose to be happy.

  23. Jan

    There are a lot of things that any of these people can do to improve their situation. But since you ask for some defaults, here are my answers

    1) The office kitchen is stocked with fruits, trail mix, water bottles, cans of soup and Lean Cuisine lunches. So any time the executive wants a snack, it is so easy to go the kitchen and pick up an apple or a handful of trail mix. If she wants something unhealthy like a bag of chips, she would have to venture out of the office, find a vending machine, have small bills or change on her in order to get the chips. Likewise, if she wants a drink, she just has to go to the fridge and take a bottle of water before going to the meeting instead of hunting for a soda elsewhere. I know plastic water bottles are harmful to the earth , but they are really the most convenient. If she had to fill her own water bottle at the cooler, she would think it is easier to go out and get a soda. One battle at a time! And similarly if there are so many lunch options(soup, Lean Cuisine etc) for free at work, it is easier and more convenient than driving out for a cheeseburger and fries.

    2) Currently where I work, we have an IRA set up, but if we want to save a part of the paycheck in the IRA we have to fill forms out. So I propose that by default 10% of the paycheck is sent to a Roth IRA. So in order for the 26 year old to get the money, he has to fill out forms and give them to HR. If he does nothing, at the end of the year he would have something saved in his Roth IRA. And you can withdraw money from your Roth IRA without penalty, so it is as good as a Savings account.

    3) This is a very generic thing to ask for. You have not told us how the happiness is measured (lose 10 pounds, save $1500 etc) and nor do we know the target (busy executive, 26 year old etc). The best way to improve morale by default is by setting the car radio to preset stations. For example a station that plays happy Christmas music. So every time he gets into the car, cheery music will blare from the radio. Unless he makes the effort to fiddle with the tuner and search for other stations. By the time he comes to work, he will be filled Christmas cheer and this will make his day measurably better.

    • Eric Kidwell

      Jan, Do NOT, I repeat, DO Not pull money out of your Roth. I don’t know where you got your info, but it’s wrong. I advise people on investments and set up Roth IRAs all the time so I should know.

      If you try to pull money out of your Roth IRA before age 59 and 1/2 you will pay both taxes and a 10% penalty. (Roughly 1/3 of your money gone). A quick google search will confirm what I’m talking about.

      Good luck,

  24. Frank Taeger

    For a) That is a tricky one. At first, I would not do anything. I would have him write down EVERYTHING in one week that he eats and drinks. A simple journal, easy to handle without caring too much how manys grams x or y he eats or drinks are interesting to me. From then, I would actually go with exactly the same approach we go with c). The behaviour we would talk about is reduction and substitution. Unfortunately, this hardly works without actually educating the person a little bit, which is why we need the C) tactic.

    For b) that depends on the 26 year old. If he got a paying job or stream of income, I would use the same damn tactics as in C) for the behavior of putting up the order to get the money transferred to a savings account we need for 6 months from now.

    Now, for C)

    I have recently undergone coaching myself, therefore I would at first try to find out what that person wants or defines as happy. We can use a problem or solution focused approach with good or bad tactics. First is asking the person about moments of happiness they had before, acnhoring up older memories where people where at least a little happy. Next would be asking them what happened around them at that moment and how they actually “did happy” at that moment, since emotions are simply unconscious active processes of “doing emotion X.” Now comes the tricky part. You ask that person what he or she could contribute towards that goal. You ask that question again, then repeat to show you have listened and then go for the kill. You ask that person how she would know what would be different if they were more happy. You let them describe, when how after they wake up at night, a miracle happened overnight. But nobody told them. How would they know? What would be different, how would THEY behave different? After exploring this fantasy for a while, here comes the essential game changer :

    You ask the person to make a gambling bet with you. The only task they have is to stand up every morning and toss a coin. If it is heads, nothing changes. If it is tails, they play the day as if a miracle happened. Nothing else than that, they should just play it out without any other expectation and then notice what happens around them. Once they flip the coin in the morning and it says “Heads” and they start to cheat, since their “non miracle” days are not as cool as their miracle days, you completely cheated them out of their willpower. By exploiting their inability to keep up the willpower for something good, they will most likely “cheat” themselves into their newfound useful behavior, which they themselves have talked about and explored for fun.

    Well, that is the gist of the coaching strategy.

  25. Lesley

    I think the key here is to get people to do things they’re already doing and to take that one step further, as opposed to removing things, adding things, creating more work, etc. So my solutions would be…

    1. Talk to the busy exec, spend a day with him to see what he does in a typical work day, including what he eats throughout the day, how he travels (car, subway, stairs, elevators, etc). If there’s any chance of integrating some form of exercise into what he’s already doing, then that would be the way to go. He doesn’t want or need more work added to his plate, and unless he makes weight loss a 10 on his top priorities, he’s not going to actively go to the gym and actually lose that weight… and no amount of nagging will make him go. So my solution for him would be to incorporate elements that he can use throughout his day to help him lose weight – whether it’s using less salt on his meals, drinking more water throughout the day, doing arm curls with his keyboard when he gets a chance (hey, it weighs 1 pound and it works, okay!), or simply taking the stairs for the first two floors instead of the elevator to his office. He can then decide to step it up and start taking meetings at the gym on a treadmill or after a squash game, or whatever, but he needs to integrate some healthier activities throughout his day first before he can go all out.

    2. The 26 year old’s probably like me – we want to go shopping, wear the latest fashions, and if she’s a student, then we’re probably living off student loans and minimal work. Or if she’s working, she’s probably still shopping – just at a higher price point because now she can ‘afford’ it, eating out a lot and buying $6 lattes. She’s probably not in the mindset of coupon clipping and getting the $2 drip coffees instead, or cooking at home. For a student, it’s hard to save because everything adds up. For a working professional, it’s easier to spend money because you think you ‘have’ it, when you really don’t, especially if you’re lazy. There’s really two choices – make more money, or cut back… and as this is Ramit’s blog, the obvious choice is to make more money. However, that takes a lot of work and for a student, it’s pretty hard to find time to do all of this deep thinking, much less get off our asses and find an idea, cultivate clients and relationships, and start rolling in dough. The one thing I’m reading over and over in the comments is to automate finances, so that a certain amount goes into a different account and yes, this works… but only if you have enough to live on. So my solution for this 26 year old is similar to my previous solution – spend a day with her to see her habits and offer her a solution that fits her lifestyle. I’d also introduce her to budgeting and tracking her expenses so she can really see where all her money’s going. If she wants to see her friends, it’s possible to host a potluck party at her house instead of going to a fancy restaurant. If she’s looking to buy the latest fashions, I’d show her online stores that offer massively discounted in season fashions. If she still wants her $6 lattes, she can use some of the money she saved on the $400 jeans to buy them. This isn’t just a one day thing – it takes time for her to stick to a budget and sometimes, an ass kicking is in order. Once she’s got her finances in order and knows where her money’s going, then we can begin automating some of those finances.

    3. Once again, I’d sit down with this friend and really find out what’s going on in their lives. I would almost invade their privacy a bit and ask all kinds of questions. I’d make them give me a list of 30 simple things they can do every day, at any given time, to lighten their mood. Whether it’s simply spraying a nice smelling room spray that reminds them of a happy time in their lives, or if it’s wearing a really sexy outfit and turning guys heads down the street. I’d also ask them questions about what was missing in their lives, what made them feel unfulfilled. I’d take it one step further and ask them to evaluate friendships – sometimes, friends can be the ones who bring you down too. I’d ask them everything and anything to do with their lives, just so I could better understand them and help them on their way to happiness. I’d also make sure they knew that this wasn’t a one day thing, but that it takes time. Rome wasn’t built in a day 🙂

  26. Kurt Payne

    1.) Lose weight – Change several defaults:

    * Default parking space to several miles away
    * Default option at a restaurant to “please put half of that in a to
    go container”
    * Change one default meal (probably breakfast) to a healthier default
    e.g. cereal -> yogurt/fruit
    * Default storage space for problem foods to back of the pantry where
    it’s hard to see / reach

    2.) Save money – add a default weekly transfer from checking ->
    savings of $75 / week. Or talk with HR and ask for a direct deposit
    of $150 from each paycheck (assuming a bi-weekly pay schedule) to go
    to savings.

    3.) Measurably happier – put a post-it note in a visible daily place
    (bathroom mirror, by the front door, fridge, computer monitor) with a
    question – “Why are you so happy?” It’s something you see, by default,
    and assumes that you’re happy, by default, and requires a measurable

  27. Kate Kilian

    A lot of the answers to # 3 explain potential methods for increased happiness and analyze/compare the theories of WHAT makes people happy, but very little about how to make that happiness a DEFAULT.

    Many people replied, “I’d have the person wake up and think about 3 good things that they have in life, and this action will increase their focus on positive things, thereby making them happier.” However, this is still an actionable item before which there is a choice: to think about the three good things, or to not think about the three good things? If the person is unhappy, odds are that one of the factors that contributes to it are negative self-schemas. A set of ideas/concepts (schemas) takes years to build, and the set of ideas that we have about ourselves is incredibly complex and run back as far as we can remember, even before. Therefore it’s easy to have the negative self-schema as a default (if that’s what the person grew up with, and grew up believing).

    I’ve thought about this a lot, and I don’t know how you can make becoming happier a default in the sense that thinking happier thoughts and making more positive choices is so easy it’s a non-issue. As far as I can see, changing the patterns of thoughts in your head is a difficult project. It doesn’t seem possible to replace negative thoughts and emotions without exerting effort. And I’m not sure that changing the environment is enough, because in my experience my environment can change and I’ll still be stuck in the same shit as before. I know that a person can decide on a new default reaction to a mood or a situation, but every time it comes up there is still a choice– do I react in the old way, or in the new way? Most of the cognitive-behavioral therapy out there has to do with analyzing negative self-schemas and learning to thought replace, but this all requires an extraordinary amount of effort and is not at all “automatic”.

    Any thoughts on this would be wonderful. Books, articles…. you name it. How to make happiness a DEFAULT (automatic transfer of $250/mo to savings), not a choice (“oh yeah, it’s December 1st… I should transfer $250 to my savings…”.

  28. LG

    1. Assuming the “busy executive” eats out a lot because he/she is busy, and assuming that this person gets help from assistants, etc., here’s what I might try:
    -Assistant schedules time for exercise for executive at the office with a trainer; this time is sacred and cannot be used for other business.
    -executive’s parking spot moved to the far end of the lot.
    -Catering at the office changed to more healthful options, input from exec is allowed, but has to be changed from this healthful option.
    -vending machines locked up (would be nice if you could make them only take pennies)
    -Before starting, the exec would also be told to come up with a few reasonably healthy things he/she would be ok with eating at restaurants. Something like “Salad, grilled chicken, fish.” First thing this person should then look at on the menu is for these items. If nothing is acceptable, then go from there. Probably more times than not the exec wins. You didn’t say how long we had for this person to lose 10 pounds.

    2. the problem with “just setting up automated savings” is that the saver can potentially move his/her money around various accounts and give the appearance that $1500 has been saved. This solution assumes that this person spends the $250 or so a month on a lot of spur of the moment purchases. I’d force this person to spend only out of one account until the deadline, most likely a checking account, and one with no minimum balance. Then, move all the money out of this checking account (minus some nominal amount) out to a savings account that is out of reach (physically and temporally). This should be done on pay day, assuming direct deposit. Now, the 1500 divided into the x number of paydays between now and the deadline should be deducted the day after pay day. This person should then just spend cash only (no credit cards, no debit cards; ATM cards ok as long as he checks balances before withdrawing cash). Rent, utilities, and other recurring bills should be auto-deducted as well.

    3. I don’t know, pay coworkers to blow sunshine up this person’s ass all the time? Find someone hot to spend a few nights over? how about this: don’t bother asking what makes this person happy – people are by nature very bad at knowing what really makes them happy
    -set up computer screensavers and wallpapers with pictures that recall positive memories
    -similarly, default browser pages should be set to an image that has meaning. I know in Safari you can set your home page to an image or a pdf on your hard drive.
    -there’s a psychologist (Eikman or something like that) who’s gained some fame for the suggestion that facial expressions can determine emotions, just as emotions determine facial expressions. Maybe having this person get into the habit of gripping a pencil between his teeth might be helpful if this is true, although that’s a bit on the active side.
    -change phone ringtones to favorite songs
    -lightbox set on a timer if this person may have seasonal affective disorder

  29. Kevin

    I’m a newer reader of your blog, Ramit, but it seems (to me, at least) the answer to all three of these things is something you seem to be trying to impart on people as an invisible script in a lot of your posts. That being:

    “Spend effort/time/money on things you truly care about, while cutting costs/effort ruthlessly on the things you don’t.”

    To elaborate, if the busy executive picked just one meal he REALLY enjoyed and allowed himself it guilt-free, he could cut out all the other fatty or “crap” foods. If the 26 year old liked going to the movies, he could do that while automating the rest of his finances without feeling like he’s cheating himself. The person who wants to feel happier should come up with one thing they really enjoy, then mercilessly eliminate everything else that doesn’t give them that same “high”.

    I would continue, but I don’t think it gets much simpler than that.

  30. Sachit Gupta

    1. Have a consultation with the executive, find out what kind of food they like [if they don’t like it, they won’t eat it], work with them to create a default healthy meal plan (moderate protein, low carbs and high good fats) [if they have some input and are invested in the process, they’re more likely to actually follow it].

    MOST IMPORTANT – find him a service that cooks and delivers those foods to his desk! If the choice is between eating food sitting right in front of him, or going to find something else – he’s probably going to eat what’s sitting there. (Weight loss is 80% what you eat, that’s why I didn’t even mention exercise since they’re probably too busy to do it.)

    Will reply with answers to the other too.

  31. Helen

    Hi Ramit,

    Right, as the question is about defaults. I need to ensure that the desired outcome is what each would naturally do if left to their own devices.

    1) The executive’s default is rushing around, being dragged into meetings by colleagues and attending booked appointments. They always have a busy schedule and live and die by their diary/calendar. Simple answer would be to schedule exercise in their diary. Either with a personal trainer (who charges double for cancelling OR will physically drag them away from their desk) or even better, a good friend (who they would be less likely to try to cancel on) If an executive has an uninterruptable appointment slot booked they will attend, that is what they are programmed to do. If it is more hassle to cancel than to go, they will by default attend and get fit. By booking appointments in advance exercise gets included by default not excluded by omission.

    2. The default of the careless 26 year old is to spend until they have reached the bottom of their account. I would make them open a new bank account with $200 deposited each month and that would be their only access to cash. This is a different strategy to depositing savings elsewhere because 26 year old may end up spending the money for his bills etc and get into difficulty if he still has access to all of his money. I’d remove access to their wage account by cutting the card up or even freezing it in a block of ice! If the 26 year old had to apply for a new card to get extra money out of the normal account, he/she really wouldn’t bother! By limiting their spending, what’s left behind (by default) is savings. Also their essential bill money is protected from their careless spending!

    3) This question is more difficult as happiness is not as quantifiable as weight loss or money. The default setting of this person is to simply exist in their natural environment regardless of how it makes them feel, i.e home and or work. They do not go out of their way to find external ways of increasing happiness. Therefore the happiness level of this person is set by their environment. To make their default behaviour of optimum use (staying in their normal enviroment) we would have to change their enviroment. Their default behaviour continues and they naturally feel happier by absorbing the changes of being in a happier environment. The person would have to go out of their way (change their default behaviour) to become less happy. To make the change measurable you would first ask the person to measure their current happiness on a scale of 1 – 100 and then make the changes to their environment. Ways of changing their enviroment could include :-
    Removing triggers of sadness from their home.
    Increasing daylight i.e being woken by light instead of an alarm.
    Default setting of radio to switch on at a certain time, music improves mood.
    Default the contents of their closet to be brightly coloured clothes
    Change their desk chair to one that improves posture.
    Set their home page to a comedy / laughter inducing website.
    Auto record comedy related TV.
    Automate bill payments to reduce stress.
    Pre-order healthy groceries to be delivered same day each week.
    Schedule a recurring meet-up with close friends.
    Hirer a cleaner
    Display achievements and photographs of special memories in promenant places around the house.
    Set up a space in the house ready for use at all times for a simple workout or Yoga (increase blood-flow, improves sense of well being)
    Increase space & minimise belongings.

    Existing in this enviroment would impact upon their mood and outlook. After the changes have been made ask them to rate themselves again on the scale of 1 – 100. This time assume their default setting is happy (100) and ask them to reduce their number according to the number of reasons they could find to be unhappy. Forcing someone to define the reasons they are unhappy results in them scoring themselves naturally higher – resulting in a measurable increase in happiness!

    I love this kind of analysis! Thanks!


    • Susan

      Helen, those are some great ideas. I’ll be incorporating some into my own life. Thanks!

  32. Quantie

    Haven’t read the vast majority of the replies, so the following might be redundant.

    1. To help an exec lose 10 lbs:

    (i) Assess the relative potential for improvement in the exec’s diet and exercise regimens. Specifically, check if USDA nutritional guidelines are being met and if exec is getting enough exercise (can measure effects of indirect exercise via VO2 or stress test). Check for any preexisting conditions, such as thyroid or eating disorders, that might be at least partially responsible for any excess weight. Schedule appointments for any medical issues, potentially dovetailing on preexisting lunch appointments near the medical office.

    (ii) Regardless of the results to (i), the exec should consume at least 1000 mg of calcium per day (increases fecal fat excretion, I kid you not) in the form of awesome chewable caramel, chocolate, or fruit-flavored supplements and gradually increase soluble and insoluble fiber intake in whatever form (pill, fruit, additive) s/he prefers. These are such cheap gains that it’s hard not to take advantage of them.

    (iii) If the diet needs improvement: Schedule delivery of highly diverse (=exciting), healthy food from local restaurants every single day. Negotiate discount for long-term contracts with favorite restaurants. Use PA and/or Google calendar (with automated emails to restaurants) to manage delivery times and locations. If traveling and have eager PA, arrange for deliveries at destination too. Automate grocery delivery at home; if done by exec, deliveries should be scheduled at least three days in advance to encourage healthy eating.

    (iv) If exercise needs improvement: Assuming the exec isn’t passionate about any particular sport, try to induce treadmill jogging (e.g., while watching news, listening to NPR, unwinding in front of a stupid movie) and/or walking meetings. Jogging is the most efficient and accessible way to shed lbs if exec is otherwise sedentary. If exec needs financial and/or political incentive, require him/her to sign affidavit to pay $X to some enemy for each unit of ‘exercise’ (e.g., 30-minute cardio session) missed each week from the targeted quote (e.g., 3 sessions). This idea is adopted from Stickk and the SnuzNLuz alarm clock.

    2. To help a 26-y-old save $1500:

    (i) Expose 26-y-old to old age: Look at photos of 26-y-old’s grandparents when they were young (say, mid-20s…), ask 26-y-old to imagine what health problems s/he’s likely to encounter first, discuss any familial dementia or recently collapsed retirement accounts, review divorce stats and costs of kids.

    (ii) Automatic deposit of at least $1500/5 (starting January) of income each month. If quite lazy, can ask for cash for Christmas and a friend/family member to retain all cash gifts and income accumulated through June, reimbursing only for submitted expenses. (A very minimal allowance might make the reimbursement process less annoying; the account manager can calculate what this should be.) 26-y-old can promise slave labor if a reimbursement request “bounces.” Excess saved cash can be returned in June.

    3. Measurably improved happiness:

    As you might know, there are two major measures of happiness–there’s the day-to-day emotional happiness and the more cognitive, reflective happiness. I’m thinking more about the first kind. A recent PNAS article showed that there were steady gains in this form of happiness as personal income rose to about $75,000–though this analysis confounds a LOT of factors.

    (i) If person is a parent with kids, person should make standing arrangement with babysitter and have a life at least once a week. If babysitter is too expensive, person can team up with another parent, and they can swap babysitting services once per week.

    (ii) Make a standing arrangement to walk/hike/exercise with a friend once per week.

    (iii) Make a standing arrangement to host a potluck poker night, book club, whatever once per month. Ask people to help clean up once it’s over.

    (iv) Fix any glaring sadness-inducers: Get 8 h of sleep per night, get some sunshine, exercise a little, and make sure career and relationships aren’t pathological. Sketch out very detailed roadmaps for improvements for any area in bad shape, focusing on one activity (step) each week.

  33. Brian L

    1) Remove all diary, juices, grains and processed foods from the home. Exec should only have access to veggies, healthy proteins, nuts and limited fruits until the goal is met.

    2) Remove ability to buy food during the work day. The menu for careless 26-year-old is now bag lunch and home brew coffee. Drive – lock purse/wallet in the trunk so no access to credit or cash, public transit – bring id, cell, and cash for transit but no credit cards or extra cash.

    3) Hire a personal trainer to come to the home 3x a week. Give ’em a key so they can default you out of bed if needed.

  34. Amber

    1) Sign up for a race (5k, 10k, 1/2 marathon, triathlon, bike, whatever) with a person who is motivated. Workout before work. You feel bad standing a person up each day. By working out in the morning, you don’t feel like eating as much crap. Drink water. Many reasons why people feel hungry is because they are dehydrated. Get 7:30-8 hours of sleep a night.

    2) Automate at the beginning of the month. Also, if there is “extra” money at the end of the month, transfer that out so you begin a new month with the same amount.

    3) Sleep for 7:30-8 hours a night. Exercise. Make a physical list of 5 things that make you happy – put it in your wallet. Make a list of 5 things that make you onery. When you are doing one of the things on the onery list, review your happy list.

    • Ramit Sethi

      Each of those requires EXTREME willpower and effort. Put yourself in a busy person’s shoes when you tell them to get 8 hours of sleep, or work out in the morning. How would they react?

      This is why defaults are so important.

  35. Joseph Dantes

    I will answer questions 1 and 3 based on my knowledge and self-experimentation. For 2, I will simply regurgitate your answer.

    1. Change the default diet. 4 food groups: fruit, potatoes, green vegetables, fresh unfrozen fish. Available willpower directed towards cooking and eating fresh fish only. Fallback cheating to fried potatoes and veggies. Fruit may be eaten on the way back from the grocery store but not taken into the home. When eating out, focus on meat. In general, meat is an acceptable substitute if fresh fish isn’t available. Lastly, set up a daily reminder to do a brief isometric workout.

    You can cut all your body fat by eating an all fresh fish diet, but even with extensive cheating you’ll maintain a very lean frame with this diet. The rest of the diet is built to accommodate cheating without letting it do much damage.


    2. Save it automatically before you see it.

    3. Regret is a major source of unhappiness. Shame over past actions and pain over what could’ve been. Regret disappears when we consider those lower status than ourselves. Contempt and condescension uplift us. Setup a daily reminder to counter regret by considering those beneath you. Space it out to 2 days, 1 week, etc as the habit becomes ingrained. You’ll spend less time feeling your unhappiest, and gain a lot of confidence because you’re not beating yourself up. This is a change of defaults because our default behavior during regret is to attempt to rationalize or excuse our behavior, or simply wallow in it or accept the pain.


  36. Joseph Dantes

    I regret reading the other commenters, because I learned nothing. Now I must reflect upon my superiority to avoid depression.

    • Ramit Sethi

      Welcome to my life

    • Swedy

      Haha, Joseph, I love the comment – easily the best so far (imo).

      It’s interesting to see all the invisible scripts at work. For instance, the “lose 10lbs” advice varies on the exercise/nutrition balance and nutrient composition based on what people believe…
      – remove processed foods and eat only protein…wait, make that calcium…hold on, try fruits and veggies instead
      – do keyboard curls and run a marathon…but no, I forgot, exercise is less effective than diet so don’t even bother

      Maybe the key to helping those people change their behavior has less to do with what you or I believe and more to do with their own invisible scripts. If I had to offer a solution, I’d start with some questions:

      1. What kind of food do you find most satisfying? What type of exercise do you enjoy? How can you fit more of each into your current routine? Are you willing to trade time or money for weight loss, or is this just an idle fancy?

      2. Do you think saving is a worthwhile use of your money? What, if any, benefits do you see? What would it cost you in terms of time, discipline and perceived opportunity cost? Do you even make enough to save or are you barely breaking even?

      3. When have you been happiest? What were you doing? Who were you with? How can you recreate those circumstances in your life, and what would it cost? What or who makes you unhappy? Are those things in your life right now? What would it cost to remove them?

      The way they answer those questions would reveal their “operating system.” Who knows what they need – it could be education as easily as encouragement. Changing people’s defaults has less to do with offering advice and more to do with providing a lens to view their problem anew. If I can help them ask the right questions, finding the right answers takes care of itself.

  37. Marilyn

    1. Help a busy executive lose 10lbs
    *Ramit are you trying to lose wieght 😉

    put a mini fridge under the desk stocked with only yummy healthy things. Assistant researches a list of healthy things. Executive takes 5 minutes to pick food she is excited to eat, Fridge get stocked. Kiwi, nuts, little cheese cubes, lil chocolate bars. Assistant sends an list of the foods once every 2 weeks so executive can change things up. Personally I found I keep my weight under control better if I graze throughout the day.

    At any meeting water bottles are set out in front of everyone’s chair.

    Have smaller plates at buffet style lunches.

    Breakfast is in the mini fridge if s/he doesn’t eat at home.

    Have toddler trained to play a game of tag when mom or dad comes home.

    2. Help a careless 26-year-old save $1,500 in his savings account by June
    Automatic withdraws to a savings account at a separate online bank.

    3. Help someone feel measurably happier
    put in your google reader
    Happiness is something you have to constantly put effort into
    Set a goal of x number of vacations a year
    Take 20 minutes to figure out how to use ALL your vacation time
    Put up pictures of places and people you love in your office/around your house.
    Rearrange your furniture at your home or office so you are facing open windows. Natural light brightens moods.

  38. Quantie

    The questions/problems are so vague that it’s hard to exploit the specific preferences of the subjects–most of these answers resort to solutions that work *on average*, when individual-level variance here is crucial. Some people really don’t mind jogging once they get into it, and others want to avoid it at all cost. Some people need more time with friends, and others need to learn to enjoy their own company. Similarly, it’s hard to give non-generic financial recommendations to someone whose personal psychology we know virtually nothing about.

    Creativity arises in response to specific and seemingly intractable problems. These cases are neither.

    • Quantie

      That said, I think some of the solutions (e.g., an automatic savings plan and the endorphins and sense of self-mastery that many people obtain from regular exercise) are pretty robust to psychological vagaries. Sexy? No. They’re probably very effective, however.

      How do you plan to measure ‘best’?

    • Joseph Dantes

      In the words of MJ, “Maybe you’re just making excuses.”

    • Ramit Sethi

      Be creative. Make some assumptions. I intentionally didn’t set limits (but you’ll notice that some people inexplicably set their own).

  39. Ramit Sethi

    There are some really good comments on this thread. Good job, guys.

  40. Steven

    @Ramit are you referring to the stated or unstated limits “people inexplicably set”

  41. K00kyKelly

    1. a. Recruit someone the exec meets with every day to be a weight loss partner. Turn their meeting into a walking meeting.
    b. Hire a nutritionist who provides healthy snacks and meals during working hours. These need to both be available in their office and in to-go packs. Make eating healthier at the office easier than going out. I like Marilyn’s idea of the healthfully stocked fridge in thier office.
    c. Pick the 2 preferred items off the menu at restaurants business meetings are often held. Before the meeting the exec picks between those two options instead of browsing the menu when he/she shows up.

    2. Agree with all the suggestions to be specific:
    Setup ING account and label the account with this persons’ key goal
    Automate transfer through work direct deposit system for $115/paycheck if paid bi-weekly or $250/paycheck if paid monthly

    3. a. Sign them up with and tell them to write 10 things they are grateful for when the daily email shows up with the prompt “How did your day go?” (This assumes they have a smart phone)
    b. Place stickie notes with the words “4 breaths” at strategic locations (car, calendar, checkbook, inside filing cabinet, etc). Teach them a breathing exercise that involves a normal breath in and a complete exhale x4. The stickies will trigger them to do this super quick stress reducing exercise a few times day.

  42. Joseph Dantes

    The main obstacle to saving money in my life has been desperation. Not now, but in the past, when I was chronically ill and unhappy with my social status. Desperation shrinks your future time orientation and reduces willpower. Desperate hope forces hasty, overextending action.

    Obviously desperation is a difficult trait to remove with a couple of lines of advice. Its causes vary from person to person.

    The second major method of saving money is to moderate desire. This can be accomplished via stoic philosophy. Practicing periodically living on a minimal income is good way to discover all the ways you waste money without realizing it.

    Neither of these involve modifying default behaviors, really. I’d be surprised if anyone comes up with a better answer for saving money by modifying default behaviors than what Ramit’s already written in his NYT bestselling book solely on that subject.

  43. Jason W.

    #1 – I would put him in a situation where everyone know what his weight loss goal is and then have him update, via twitter, his meal choices when out to eat with colleagues, etc. This would give him a group of followers for moral support, as well as a group of people to edge him along when he is weak.

    • Jason W.

      Or put him charge of his office exercise program, and if there isn’t one existing, create it as the benefits are huge, especially in the illness & injury prevention department, as this is seen as a big issue in healthcare and insurance. He would be setting the example, put in a leadership position that he is used to, and would not want to lose face in front of his employees. Everyone would win in this situation. If the excuse that he doesn’t have time keeps coming up, he will eventually have to realize that he must make time to change, that his body doesn’t care about meetings and other obligations. It must be tended to.

  44. Justin

    1. Prepare a weekly listing of healthy meals the executive will eat that week while also having someone (hired cook, wife, etc.) cook several of those meals in advance and have them in ready containers. I would also assemble a group of individuals that the executive works out with and have all of them work out together for about a month at a certain time to create the habit using social pressure.

    2. Break down how much this individual will need to save each month, then create an automated money transfer to savings each month. Also tell friends about savings goal so there is less social pressure (and some support) when the individual can’t go out to eat or buy everyone rounds of drinks.

    3. This is the one I had the hardest time with. I would have someone first write down how happy they are in the present and rate that feeling. Then, I would have them set reminders 3x per day (email, text, calendar, whatever) where they take just two minutes to reflect on what has made them happy that day. Eventually this should result in a shift towards thinking of things that make you happy, rather than things that go wrong. Keeping a journal of positive thoughts and good things that happened that day would also be helpful, although it may be hard to implement two habit changes at the same time.

    • Jess

      “hired cook, WIFE, etc.??” I guess we’re assuming the exec is a man, then? Do we get the husband to cook the meals if it’s a woman?

      Wifecook or person who is willing to do whatever tedious jobs you’re too busy to do yourself

    • Jess

      Sorry, my “does not equal” sign is not showing up here.

      That should be “wife does not equal cook…etc.”

    • Joseph Dantes

      Congratulations, Jess. In four (4) sentences you managed to demonstrate:
      1. Off-topic self-righteous indignation
      2. Abject reading comprehension failure

      Under the hypocritical guise of a a quixotic crusade against accurate generalization that if implemented would end rational thought, you are actually kvetching in the name of a mythical equality which you wrongly equate with fairness.

      Thanks for playing passive-aggressive speech police.

    • K00kyKelly

      @Joseph – First, how was that passive aggressive at all? Bitter, yes. Passive aggressive, no. Secondly, you’ve got no place to talk about self-righteous indignation. Good job with the shaming.

      She makes a good point about people’s invisible scripts. Women have a lot of disadvantages when it comes to putting their careers first. Most men are not willing to stay at home and support their wives by cooking, cleaning, managing the house, and caring for the kids. Many career women end up hiring people to take on these tasks. They couldn’t compete with the men in their office who have stay at home wives otherwise.

  45. A-ron

    1) Place a shame sign around his neck, like a picture of his naked fat ass, and force him to wear it until he lost the weight.
    2) Put her/him on the street and pimp her/him out till she makes the $1500.
    3) Allow them to simply be in my presence, everyone’s dream come true.

    Think twice before you dismiss these strategies as effective.

  46. Brandon

    Can’t engineer behavioral change until I GET INSIDE THE CLIENTS HEAD!! Insufficient data to answer this question.

  47. Greg B

    Some of the comments above are pretty good ideas using the concept of setting up defaults. I won’t repeat some of the things for #2 and #3 because I think suggestions for direct dep. savings and the focus on gratitude is pretty much spot on. But I haven’t been satisfied with anyone’s suggestion for #1, too much focus on getting someone else to position healthy snacks, when that won’t stop the busy exec from attacking the spinach dip, whiskey or beer at the zillion receptions they have to attend, or too much focus on getting them to change behavior and work out. So here’s my crack at it:

    Remove his/her chair.

    Replace it with a desk that can either shift from standing to sitting (you burn more calories standing than sitting down) or a treadmill that you walk at <1mi/hr. You can still be very effective behind a desk by walking that slowly, and you'd be surprised how many more calories you'd burn. If I could get my company to give me one of those I'd drop 20 lbs in no time.

  48. Joseph Dantes

    I don’t necessarily buy all this talk about practicing gratitude and positive thinking.

    In my experience, there’s a serious danger of psychic whiplash.

    Deliberately thinking in one way invites the opposite thought. Practicing gratitude reminds you of how little you have relative to your ambitions. Positive thinking starts a repressed subconscious current of negative thought.

    Scratch that, I’m not skeptical. I KNOW those approaches are wrong. Gratitude takes you out of the present moment by focusing you on the past. That creates unhappiness automatically. Positive thinking involves judgment and evaluation, which also destroy the enjoyment of the present moment, same as negative thinking. Anyone who’s read The Inner Game of Tennis knows this.

    Being a grateful and positive PERSON are important traits. But deliberative gratitude and positive thought are bad.

    • Yanna

      Optimism and positivity can be cultivated. If a pattern of self defeating thoughts, feelings and/or behaviors exists, aligning subconscious beliefs and motivations with conscious desires using hypnosis is an effective option.

  49. MP

    Relocate the executive so he lives within walking distance of his office. Ie I live in Manhattan and he could live in Tribeca and walk to work on Wall Street.

    Automate savings.

    I’m not religious but convert the guy to a religion. I’m pretty sure that this makes people happy. again, I’m an atheist.

  50. Jay

    1. Have him join and compete with one of his coworkers (this would also nudge him towards measuring and recording his weight daily)

    2. Have him automate sending $100 per month to his savings account

    3. Have him set aside a certain time every day to write down or tell a close friend or partner 5 things he is grateful for and visualize them (ask him to spend his day noticing things to add to his list for that day)

  51. Kathrine S.

    Hi, Ramit. I’m fairly new to your blog and all of your jazz, but I thought I’d give this a shot to see what I’ve learned from spending some time both reading and discussing your strategies with the people I’m around all the time.

    1. I think this is one of those weird situations, like on a standardized test, where I would say “need more information”. Does he want to lose the weight for good, or is he doing it just to prove he can do it? How busy? Is he rich enough to buy into bad ideas, or wise enough to say no? Honestly, I’d probably try to find a way to make profit out of the situation. If he just approached me and said, “I want to lose ten pounds, woman! And I’m busy!” I’d probably convince him that ten pounds is easy-peasy and I would be happy to bring him the correct lunch every day at the time of his choice for a small fee. I know, from experience, that if you eat salad and drink four or five cups of water a day at lunch, you can lose ten pounds in less than a few weeks – though if you’re not careful, it comes right back. But hey, that’s not what he asked for (I guess?). He just wanted to lose ten pounds and was too busy to do some research for himself.

    2. This is tough, because that age is CRAZY! I’m 21 and I know my willpower sucks; my roomies are around that age and they suck more with money. So basically I think that it would take more for automation…again, I have questions about his habits and stuff! I think advice totally depends on what you know about a person. I’m going to assume since he needs help saving money that he hasn’t been good at it in the past…and I’m going to think since the goal is 1,500 that he makes decent money. Now, I know for me, that being able to transfer quickly from my savings back and forth is a BIG temptation. seeing that number is enough to trigger me…so I’d have him open an ING or maybe a Ally or whatever he wanted to do. Then I’d have him link his existing bank account to that account and have it automatically send money so that the savings account is out of sight, out of mind…way out of sight, out of mind. Then I would have him cut back on one or two categories of spending – one harder, one easier. For me, it would be fast food and pets. It’s easy for me to cut back on fast food, but not pets, since I like to spoil my dog and cats. I’m going to assume the same for him. I’d just use your 10-15-25% a month at a time tip to make sure he slowly cuts the categories instead of doing rapid “yay, I’m saving 300 a month!….but I like that cat tower” effect. Then I would remind him to enjoy life, I think. have the yummy latte and don’t forget to spend money guilt-free…I think it’s easier to save if you have money to spend guilt-free. Party on! Enjoy your youth! Hopefully you don’t have any kids!

    3. Oh, bah. Have them go on happy pills.
    ….I don’t know! This is so hard, Ramit. I think this is the hardest of your questions. Why are they unhappy? Are they unhappy because they suck at saving, or are they cutting their budget back too much? Is their lover a soldier, or a hot Puerto Rican that can’t leave his family to join her in the USA? What makes a person unhappy, really? My entire theme-of-life is “it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you handle it.” I think that applies to almost any situation, really, and I would try to make sure I at least got that information into the person’s mind. There is no reason to be unhappy, save a chemical imbalance, as long as you remember to respond correctly to things and make things easy on things you’re not good at, naturally, because you’re human. So I can’t answer your question, my friend. But I will say that happiness is already there, our imaginary grumpy-pants just has to find it.


  52. Colin

    1. Amutate an arm. Let them chose which one.
    2. Hijack their account and set aside the required monthly amount.
    3. Force them to spend their money on experiences rather than on things. Ask them before and aferwards how happy they feel.


  53. Jess

    Just a comment on #1, since everyone seems to be fixated on getting the busy exec to eat healthy and/or exercise. The goal is not to get the exec to eat healthy; it’s about getting the exec to lose 10 lbs. Big difference – this is about simple math. Here’s how I lost 30 lbs fast by going on what I call the Wendy’s diet (not particularly healthy, but effective):

    I decided I would limit myself to 1500 calories per day – this meant maximum 500 calories per meal. I started with a meal replacement shake for breakfast (easy, since you can buy a case of these at any drugstore), and researched items on the Wendy’s menu (very close to my work, fast, easy, and known quantity of calories) that were under 500 calories. Those were what I could order for lunch or dinner.

    This works because it takes very little effort to do and you know EXACTLY how many calories you’re taking in, which is essential to losing weight (much like tracking your finances helps you figure out a budget and get spending under control). Also, there’s no time-consuming nonsense involved like cooking or exercise – which, let’s be honest, most people aren’t willing to do.

  54. Tim Rosanelli

    #1…The default is in our skull. Every method will fail until the executive changes the way he thinks about healthy eating and fitness. I’ve been in the fitness industry for many years and found that people that easily maintain a healthy weight think about food and exercise totally different, just like how a wealthy person thinks about money is totally different.

    People who eat extremely healthy do it because they love eating wholesome food. I personally eat healthful foods because I like how I feel when I eat them ~ great energy level throughout the day and a clearer, calmer state of mind. I don’t like eating sweets because it give you a Yo-yo effect on your vitality.

    As for exercise, you will hear someone who likes exercising say that they feel off if they don’t get to exercise. For someone with this script, it’s a push not a pull to workout.

    The good news is that these changes in attitudes can be developed and changed like flipping a light switch.

  55. Tim Rosanelli

    Okay, I separated this comment from the last because they were two separate thoughts.

    For #1 to lose 10 lbs…
    * Drink a glass of water 10 minutes before you eat or have a snack.
    Most people eat three meals and about three snacks per day so that 6 glasses of water. There is so many reasons that this works… 80% of Americans suffer from symptoms of dehydration according to an army study (solve the problem of afternoon headaches and people mistake dehydration for hunger), it boosts your metabolism, it makes you feel full during the meal quicker, it aids digestion.

    * Get a dog that requires 30 minutes of exercise
    It’s build in accountability. If your dog doesn’t get enough exercise, they’ll let you know by driving you nuts and destroying your house. LOL!

  56. Craig Rodrigues

    I wasn’t panning on trying this, but everyone seemed to have very hard ideas for #1

    1. Tell the executive to drink only water/coffee (black)/tea. I’d get him a water bottle and let him have at it. This is a very easy change which in an average American eliminates a ton of calories effortlessly.

    2. Have the 26 year old have a few hundred dollars automatically drafted into an ING account each month. Tell him at the end of 6 months he can spend 1/3 of the money he’s saved on anything he wants. Just getting him to start the draft is the critical step. I would also check what else he is spending money on that he really doesn’t use like the gym, cable tv, etc. It’s not just about saving money but eliminating stuff he is paying for but doesn’t care about.

    3. This is tough. I’d tell the person to each day write down ONE thing they want to do, anything at all (go to the gym, read for 10 min, etc). Above all else they need to get this one thing done. I bet after two weeks of this they will be happier.

  57. Alee

    1) Find a spot along his route where he or she can make it a routine to walk- for example, parking farther from the office building or getting off one stop sooner on the train before the office. Purchasing pre-made snacks that do not require refrigeration, such as packets of almonds or raisins, and leaving them in the desk at work or in the car for the inevitable mid-day hunger attack- decrease the need to leave the work area to go to a vending machine where there’s a greater chance to make choices that take the executive farther away from the goal of weight loss.

    2) Automate his finances- for example, by having his paycheck go to direct deposit if that’s not already the case, or by maxing out his retirement account contributions (if that counts as “savings”), in order to build the habit of paying oneself first.

    3) Because my background is in clinical psychology, my first thought goes to the positive psychology literature, especially the pioneering work done by Seligman. One empirically validated intervention that was shown to have significantly increased happiness and decreased depressive symptoms at six month follow-up was an exercise called “three good things,” in which individuals “write down three things that went well each day and their causes every night for one week” (Seligman et al., 2005, p. 416). This could be adapted to a default setting by leaving an index card on the bathroom mirror or next to the bed with the instructions, such that it gets to be a habit to at least think about those three things that went well. Writing those things down could be facilitated by leaving a notepad with pen next to the index card prompt, so that the supplies needed for the exercise are immediately at hand as soon as he or she gets the reminder to do the exercise.

  58. Yanna

    #3 is the most interesting.

    Lack of happiness can result from factors ranging from Vitamin D deficiency to habitual negative thoughts to an unbalanced lifestyle to sleep apnea to inherited mental disease.

    Suggested Defaults:

    1. Vitamin D Supplementation (Cod Liver or Krill Oil Recommended).
    This has been demonstrated to alleviate dysthymia and depression over a 12 week period. Optional winter default: full spectrum light exposure – replace light bulbs at home, in the office desk fixture.

    2. Habitual Half Smile Expression (Proven to Promote the Release of “Happy” Neurotransmitters).
    Half smiling for less than a minute can cause measurable changes in neurotransmitter levels. Putting Post-Its with prompts in key locations can promote a semi-regular release of happy chemicals throughout the day. Optional: Combine this with “Mindfulness Practice”.

    3. Socially Oriented Physical Activity at Least 2x per Week, e.g. Team Sports or Habitat for Humanity – something that promotes feelings of connectedness and contribution on a regular basis.

    Many of us are suffering from “Affluenza” or its more prevalent variant, “Ersatz-Affluenza”. As Doris Day once sang, “Cry me a river.”

  59. Ka

    1. Deliver a big portion of a high-fiber breakfast to the busy executive’s desk every morning. Food must be directly placed on the desk so the exec will eat it daily.

    Reason it works:
    • Busy Executive will not have time to exercise, thus we must concentrate on diet
    • Busy Executive will have lunch and/or dinner with clients and/or business associates at restaurants. Being with others in a social setting like this makes dietary changes VERY difficult. Therefore, breakfast is the easiest meal to change. Luckily, it’s also the most important meal of the day.
    • Eating breakfast means less caloric intake at lunchtime because the executive will not be as hungry.
    • High Fiber foods have low energy density. Low Energy Density means a person can eat MORE food with LESS caloric intake. More food means person feels fuller and less inclined to overeating later at those business lunches. (Ex of high fiber foods include beans, grains, fruits, and vegetables. Ref:
    • Spacing out meals improve metabolism. Improved metabolism = better opportunity for weight loss.

    2. Work out a deal with the landlord where the “careless 26 yr old” pays an extra 250 dollars of rent per month starting on Jan 1st, 2011. After 6 months there will be a rent credit of $1,500 dollars. On June 1st, 2011, instead of paying rent on that day, he/she will route the 1,500 dollars into a savings account!

    Reason it works:
    • Breaking down the $1,500 into 6 equal payments of 250 dollars makes it less painful.
    • IMO, One of the biggest flaws of the automated savings account method is the ability to easily transfer money from the savings account back to the checking account if the person desires. Automatically routing this into ANOTHER person’s account makes it more painful (and thereby less likely) for the 26 yr old to get access to this money.
    • People are more likely to pay rent than any other monthly debt for fear of being kicked to the street

    Note: Strategy assumes a good, trust-worthy relationship with landlord. If this doesn’t exist, then substitute “landlord” with “family member”. Instead of an additional rent, make the person p ay 250 dollars to the family member.

    3. Wow, default happiness may be the most prize possession since humans roamed the earth. Not sure where to go with this question.

    I’d help this individual by eliminating the three things that make him/her the LEAST happy. Just don’t do it. Simple as that. My default, he/she will become happier.

  60. Maxime

    Hi Ramit,

    1. Help a busy executive lose 10lbs
    a) Ask the executive’s nutritionist to create an adapted nutrition plan. This means specific aliments, quantity and frequency for the next 2 months
    b) Make the executive’s assistant actually cook the meals according to the plan.
    c) The assistant avoids any meetings at lunch time and brings the lunch to his boss.
    d) The executive is not aware that his assistant blocks meetings so he doesn’t feel he is changing anything.
    This can vary depending on how this executive works and lives.

    2. Help a careless 26-year-old save $1,500 in his savings account by June
    a) Ask or find or create an online savings account
    b) Ask the company where s/he works to automatically send $ 300 each month on the savings account and the remaining part of the salary on the checking account.
    b) Ask the company where s/he works to automatically send $ 100 in January, $200 in February, $300 in March, $400 in April and $500 in May on the savings account and the remaining part of the salary on the checking account.
    Negotiate a raise and put it directly on the savings account.
    (Find what’s the best for this person.)

    3. Help someone feel measurably happier
    a) Ask what makes this person happy (ex : spend time with family, paint)
    b) Find what wan be measurable (ex : spend time with family)
    c) Increase the frequency and/or the duration of activities that brings more happiness in his life. Examples :
    Schedule family meetings in advance
    Make this person go out of his/her work sooner (negotiation with he boss if employed or better organization of the day if self-employed)
    Schedule activities with family for the 3 next months
    and so on …

    Hope this helps…

  61. Patrick S

    What’s in his schedule? Must he do everything? Can he delegate specific tasks to free up time? How does he get to work? Could he cycle there? Is he totally career focussed? Maybe his boss could make it an objective to complete in a specific time-frame?

    Does the careless 26-year-old want to save any money? If he doesn’t, ask what he wants to spend his money on? What has he spent in the last six months and what does he desire now? Does he still use what he spent his money on? Am I in the same boat? Shall we challenge each other to save together?

    The only way I’ve felt true happiness is by being with others and helping others, maybe introduce this person to a busy executive and a careless 26 year old?

  62. Dave

    For the exec, no drinking alcohol for any reason. Have is assistant order healthy salad every work day.

    For the 26 year old, sell the car and take the bus or train. He is probably too careless to own and drive a car.

    For happiness, volunteer to help someone in need every day for a week. Every morning, list what they are grateful for.

    • Ramit Sethi

      About the 26-year-old…isn’t that a little presumptuous? A huge percentage of mid-20s people are careless about their money. That doesn’t mean they’re too careless to drive a car.

  63. Joseph Dantes

    I’d more easily believe that helping others makes people think they’re happy, than that it provides lasting happiness. Especially when it comes with an opportunity cost for working on your own status. And I definitely believe that practicing gratitude for the present moment is vastly superior to writing down gratitude lists.

    Here’s one way to permanently increase your happiness:

    “The hedonic treadmill describes the process where we all eventually adapt to a pleasurable event like winning the lottery. Over time, the pleasure we get from it will decrease.
    With two exceptions. …
    Women who get breast implants never tire of the enjoyment it brings them.
    From Eric Weiner’s book The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search For The Happiest Places In The World. ISBN 978-0-446-69889-4.”

    If you’re a man you can just date big breasts instead of getting surgery.

  64. lucinda

    1. Get the busy exec a stand up desk
    2. Set up direct deposit for the 26 year old
    3. Tell the person about targeted spending where you spend your money on what you care about/

  65. Casey Rafter

    I will personally pay the overweight 26-year-old workaholic $1500 cash to allow me to spend 30 minutes a week with him for the next 6 months. I am assuming he makes $250k a year to qualify his exec status, which would make his additional time worthwhile. The executive must operate under one condition… He must allow me to track his progress on a facebook page that will be made public to his 3 best looking ex-girlfriends. He is a rich, successful 26 year old, so a minimum of 3 ex’s is really not that big of a stretch for anyone. During this time I would help him select a diet and exercise plan that matches his lifestyle and coach him weekly. 10 lbs is less than a 1/4 of a pound per week over the course of 6 months. Everyone has Google, so I am pretty sure we will find something that can work. Since the subject is a successful, busy and overweight 26-year-old executive, it is likely that he is driven by competition. The $1500 is entirely inconsequential but makes his time worthwhile. The loss of ten pounds will be achieved by not wanting to look like a loser in front of 3 hot women with who he was once intimate. The increase in happiness is due to a lifestyle challenge that is off kilter and self-rewarding. He will decide to agree to my terms because he is a single, overweight and decidedly unhappy man with lots of money. I will eventually benefit by speaking with you, Ramit, on the phone, as my time and money are viewed as investments in personal development.

    • Joseph Dantes

      That would be the best answer if it had anything to do with changing defaults.

    • Ramit Sethi


  66. DanP

    1) Delivery of a day’s worth of food in the morning, plus all snacks. I’m too busy to make food, and i dont have time to waste going go the gym, or doing a run. My day is busy enough, im not going to bother taking stares, or walk to work, or any nonsense like that.

    2) Set up a direct deposit into an ING savings account. It will get transfered into my savings account the day i get paid. I dont have to worry about it, and i probably wont even notice the money is gone.

    3) Measureable? Can you measure happyness? Weird one, but i’ll use what i would do.

    Find a hobby i enjoy, and dedicate a few hours a week. I enjoy playing soccer and baskball, so i would join a local reg league and meet more like minded ppl. Usually the more similarites you have with the ppl around you, the happier you are. That and i’d have more sex/masterbate more….and i’m not really joking about that.

  67. David

    Let’s say I hire you to change the following behaviors:
    1.Help a busy executive lose 10lbs
    2.Help a careless 26-year-old save $1,500 in his savings account by June
    3.Help someone feel measurably happier
    How would you do it using defaults?

    1. Biggest Loser contest in the workplace. If everyone is losing weight, the default in the workplace is having fun about losing weight. The executive would feel out of place if they weren’t competing with the rest of their co-workers. To avoid employees being overwhelmed to the point of not wanting to do it, only promote small simple ways to lose weight over the long-term (i.e. taking a walk/bike ride, healthier foods). And have a nice prize at the end, that usually works.

    2. As mentioned by many, changing his default from not saving to automatically putting $250 in his savings account each month. But you have to go farther than that. By just making him automatically put $250 in his savings account he is WORSE OFF as he’ll end up overdrawing by $250 because he hasn’t changed his spending habits. One step further would be to set up a notification email each week with his bank telling him exactly how much he has in his checking account, so he knows how much he has before he overdraws. So he’ll see that he has not a lot of money left, and he will be forced to spend less.

    3. Their default right now is completing their daily routine each day. By doing this routine, they are unhappy. Therefore, if they do everything exactly the opposite, they will be happy. It worked in Seinfeld, so it might work for them. All that is needed it to change their default to doing the opposite of what they normally would have done in that situation.

  68. Gary

    Let’s say you hire me as a coach to change the following behaviors:

    1. Help a busy executive lose 10lbs

    Losing 10lbs is simple but changing behavior is difficult, which is why it’s important to use defaults. The entire purpose of using defaults is so that any actual thinking about behavior change is eliminated.

    As a coach, I would devise an individual meal plan for the executive that would lead to the loss of 10 lbs by controlling caloric intake. This meal plan would include the following: exactly when to eat meals and the content of the meal. And to make it even simpler, the meals will be prepared and delivered at the meal times.

    Why does this approach work? Because the executive does not have to use will power and waste time to figuring out what to eat or count calories. For anyone, especially an executive, figuring out what to eat requires you to evaluate a number of choices, with so many choices, falling for temptation can easily happen. Having meals predetermined requires a lot less thinking and requires of your limited will power.

    I won’t get into cheat meals because this is a short term tactic and I won’t even get into exercise because executives don’t have time and simply focusing on eating and having defaults will do the job just fine. Why make it more complex?

    2. Help a careless 26-year-old save $1,500 in his savings account by June
    I would tell him, “Tomorrow at noon you’re meeting with Sarah from payroll to have a portion of your paycheck direct deposited into your savings account automatically. You need to bring an account stub.” Alternatively, if his bank allows, set up a reoccurring transfer to move $250 over to the savings account each month. When money is moved by default, the individual won’t even know it’s gone. Whatever’s left in his primary checking account is fair game. If he has trouble overspending on his credit cards he needs to make carrying cash his default.

    This plan works because there’s no need to battle his will power and he’ll have a piece of mind. Without a plan, what normally will happen is the 26 year old will save a lot the first month and then crash at month 2 or 3. This is why 401k or payroll deduction plans work, because the default are working for him. There’s no need to remember anything.

    I won’t give ask the individual to take the bus, bring lunch, or buy used clothes. The key is to identify the single easiest thing to modify.

    3. Help someone feel measurably happier
    So techniques to make someone feel happier can be debatable and subjective. But first let’s define our approach. Let’s say for example, I know for sure 3 things can create a measureable behavior change.

    1) Volunteering/ Helping other people
    2) Practice gratitude training – making a list of what you are grateful for
    3) Spend time with family members

    Let’s not debate the minutiae because I can write a thesis on any one of these, but let’s assume that these work. Now it’s not about which one works but the key is making a behavioral change. How do we achieve this? Make it simple for the person. Let’s take volunteering for example. As a coach, I wouldn’t just say, “Hey volunteer! It will boost your happiness.” If the person likes animals, as a coach, I’ll do some homework, and come back and say, “Every Saturday the SPCA has an adoption event at the Dolores Park, it starts at 2:00 pm and you can take the 22 bus and it should take you right there. In fact here’s a map with directions and a number for you to register. Ask for Jen and tell her you want to sign up.” By having him volunteer every Saturday as a routine, after many weeks we will have a measurable increase in happiness. (You can use the Revised Oxford Happiness Scale to measure the before and after.)

    By being specific, I’ve already did the hard work by creating the default behavior. Ninety percent of people, if you tell them to volunteer because it will boost your happiness will do nothing. They will go home and be excited and do some research on the web. Then they will debate over whether to help out at can soup drive, paint houses, or tutor kids and get tired and go to sleep. The next day they’ll entirely forget about what you told them.

    As a coach, you need to focus on the long term strategy rather than making tactical moves. For example telling someone to don’t eat out or take the stairs are tactical moves that involve no strategy. They feel great and can potentially work, but do not induce behavioral change which can lead to bigger wins. Implementing these plans will work because these plans are specific, reoccurring, easy to implement and do not depend on will power, trying harder, or thinking.

  69. Juliana

    1) The busy exec needs to exercise more and eat better in ways that are arranged for him/her, because busy execs have underlings/minions/consultants to take care of many things that we do for ourselves. If those people are updated, they can do the work of controlling what the exec eats and how much they exercise. The exec’s PA should update their daily schedule to get more time in at the gym and have their personal trainer work up new training patterns to jump-start weight loss. They also need to remove temptation, since that’s the diet downfall. Whoever does their grocery shopping has to quit buying the things they shouldn’t eat so that the temptation isn’t there to grab it in the middle of night or at the office. They should have a dietician/diet consultant give them a list of meals they can eat at restaurants. That way they can’t self-sabotage by relying on old habits. Busy execs are usually type-A people, so they can also monitor themselves and check off their activities for a feeling of accomplishment, instead of waiting until the end to pat themselves on the back.

    2) Most people have already answered this: automation. (Are you just checking to see who has read your book?)

    3) Increasing happiness. This is an incredibly open and undefined problem, but medical researchers have been working on this one for a while now. Regular exercise makes people happier because of body chemistry. The right amount of sleep (not too little, not too much) makes people happier. Helping other people makes people happier. And being a member of a group makes people happier. It’s possible to combine these things: join a martial arts club, a running club, a gardening club, etc. Or a service organization, or a once-a-month charity get-together. Having regularly scheduled practices or meetings makes it a habit, so you would be less likely to stop.

    But it’s easy just to write this down–doing is something much harder.

  70. DanP

    I think one of the things we’re all missing is by “default”

    Having the exec go to the gym isn’t default, that requries will power. Having him change his eating habits, again will power. The point of the HIV story is that when ppl aren’t given the choice, they do what’s best for them automatically. Same thing with Ramit’s previous example of people that are automatically put into work savings plan with a match and save type situation. It’s by default that they are put into these so they don’t bother to ever cancel.

    Telling the exec to eat less, or healthier or go to the gym…we’ll you’re giving him the choice. By default would mean he has no choice. In a response I gave, I elected to provide the exec all his meals. I assumed if the food is in front of him, and he doesnt have the chance to eat worse food for him, he has to “default” into eating the food i provided. Lots of ppl are suggesting he work out. How many ppl in the world get gym passes but never go to the gym. They know they should, but they lack the will power to do so. We’re trying to create something that essentially automatically happens without any thought.

  71. A.

    The new default is to choose either a morning, lunch, after work or evening for a workout session with a personal trainer 3 times a week. Have your scheduling assistant ensure that you have no meetings/obligations scheduled during this time and have the personal trainer pick you up/ meet you at your location. Select for your undergarments biker shorts and a workout t or cami, and where a adjustable sports bra under your regular bra, so that you can simply adjust it into position after removing professional clothing and add a workout vest preloaded with ipod and sweats/wind shorts if desired for modesty and socks and shoes. Have all sugar eliminated from your diet by having your coffee and pastry turn into a sugar free version and protein rich replacement. Finally hire a personal chef who is an expert in nutrition to prepare meals and research restaurant choices for you had have her coordinate with your assistant to have your meal choice selected with your reservation. The waiter will simply nod that you will have your usual while your business companion receives a menu and orders what they wish.

    The student can save simply by setting up his income to be direct deposited into a savings account.

    For a happiness default you start with making exercise a default in your routine, then socializing with positive people a daily/weekly ritual and finally making all of your passwords symbols of gratitude.

  72. Wayne

    Implement one-time, irreversible (or not easily reversible) changes that will get the individuals close to reaching their goals alone.

    1. Busy Exec–find the “repeat offender” foods that account for the most caloric intake, and instruct housekeeper, personal shopper, or whomever to not purchase those foods. The exec would have to “opt-out” by affirmatively telling the grocery shopper in the family to buy those foods.

    2. Student–draft a detailed budget and adhere to a strict allowance. In other words, pay for all necessities automatically, and pay for all discretionary expenses out of a cash allowance granted once per week. Once the student is out of cash, there can be no more discretionary spending. The student would have to “opt-out” of the system to get more money.

    3. To feel measurably happier, one has to know what makes her or him feel happy in the first place (see Stumbling on Happiness by Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert) and then replicate those scenarios. Such replication normally requires conscious effort (consciousness of the happiness inducing scenarios and conscious effort to replicate them), which is a lot of work. Interestingly, there is an iphone app that prompts users to rate their happiness and takes inventory of the circumstances at that time, allowing for an broad view of what makes individuals happy. The differences could be as minor as walking to work, taking a different route to work, eating certain foods, etc. By learning what those factors are, one can then build new habits to incorporate happiness inducing circumstances into their everyday lives that will ultimately have to be “opted-out” of in order to revert to old habits. The happiness one is the toughest, because it does require affirmative change, unless the difference is simply reducing stress by, for example, automating aspects of life (e.g. management of retirement funds).

  73. thebaron

    Re #1:

    i have a job that keeps me very busy. i normally order breakfast, lunch and dinner at the office. (no, i don’t cook. i don’t enjoy cooking, so i won’t prepare meals before hand.) living such a sedentary lifestyle, i put on a lot of weight. i find the prepackaged diet foods are so convenient that they work. i stock the office fridge with the stuff, and it’s even more convenient than ordering out. some of my coworkers signed up for the diet meals that they deliver right to the office or their home.

  74. thebaron

    i just wanted to add that people here seem to have really strange views about being a busy executive.

    • Ramit Sethi

      Like what?

  75. Lola

    1. Busy executive: Give him the opt-in vs opt-out choice.

    Opt-in: I’d promise, in writing, to have wild sex with him if he loses 10 pounds within two weeks.

    Opt-out: I’d seduce him, secretly videotape it, and later promise to send the tape to their wife if they don’t lose those 10 pounds within two weeks.

    (Shorter time-lines seem to work better with people, thus the two weeks.)

    2. Careless 26 year old: Give them a tough love opt-out choice:

    Opt-out: hire someone to beat them up, and threaten them that they will be beat up regularly every Friday until they come up with $1,500. After receiving the money, I’d keep it till June and give it back to them. Anonymously of course.

    3. Help someone feel measurably happier:

    Give them the opt-out: I’d prepare their breakfast and vitamins, and kindly encourage them to take the vitamins (if they’d like) with a nice cold glass of water. Of course since the vitamins are already prepped, and are so good for the body, and the person is already eating anyway, and everything is right there and ready, they’ll likely take them.
    (They would know one detail though – the ‘vitamins’ would be Paxil.)

    • Ramit Sethi

      I am pretty sure I want you on my side if we ever go to war. Also, you are insane

  76. Lola

    I meant – (They would NOT know one detail – the ‘vitamins’ would be Paxil )

  77. Jonathan Atkins

    1. Help a busy executive lose 10lbs
    Prepackage meals for on the goal and precook meals for at home
    2. Help a careless 26-year-old save $1,500 in his savings account by June
    Sell video games, dvds, books, and unused goods; automate savings
    3. Help someone feel measurably happier
    Daily gratitude list, plenty of rest, and eat well

  78. matt

    1-set up a service to deliver healthy meals to the exec at the desired time of day. He would still be free to eat whatever he wants, but the healthy meal would be the default.

    2-set up an automatic draft for them.

    3-introduce a minor irritant into their life (colder rooms, noisy neighbors, etc.), then remove it once they adjust to it

  79. Chris hugh

    1) busy exec — have her sit on her exercise bike every night while she watches tv. No requirement to ride it, just sit on it. She’ll either ride it or limit her tv watching, probably both. Also, set a timer and eat a high protein sandwich when it goes off every day at 3 pm. This will forestall binge/tiredness eating in the afternoon.

    2) careless student — automatic savings, just set it up with the bank, assuming the kid will only spend what’s in his checking account. Quit going to star bucks. That’ll save $360 or so over six months assuming he spends $3 a day there every weekday and save time and frustration as well. Close his account, that’ll prevent impulse buying. Find someplace other than the mall or a bar to hang out. Library, park or gym would be better, few places to spend money there.

    3) feel happier — stop watching tv. Keep a gratitude journal. Exercise daily. Get into the sun every day.

  80. Tim Rosanelli

    #1 – I don’t know if this is considered an opt-in option but it will help the exec optimize his time. Implement a 20 minute walking meeting first thing in the morning with his immediate staff. The exec should do this on an empty stomach after drinking a cup of coffee (this will optimize fat burning). After the walk, he should eat a high protein breakfast.

    #2 – I have a son that is 25 years old. If I want him to do anything like this, I sit him down at the computer when he visits and ask him to log-in to his bank account and walk him through the steps.

  81. Kevin M

    1) Busy executive – he should pay healthier co-workers to be around him (go to lunch, take him on afternoon walks, whatever), teaching him good habits. Studies show who you associate with has an effect on your health:
    It’s a win/win for both parties – the exec loses weight, the co-workers get paid and earn brownie points with the boss.

    2) Careless 26 year old – take a 2 prong approach. First, go to his/her place and help him find stuff to sell to get a jump-start on the $1,500 goal (a quick win). Offer to sell the stuff for a cut (if he’s careless he may not follow through). Second, figure out a savings plan for the balance and automate it – either a fixed $ out of each paycheck, direct deposit a tax refund – or figure out what kind of odd job he could do to make a little extra money. Put a reminder in his wallet about the $1,500 goal and he’ll think twice before spending.

    3) Interview people close to the person as to when the person seems happiest. From that info, determine a few activities the person should do during each day. Set an alert (email, text, whatever) for each activity.

  82. Jeremy Johnson

    1: Help a busy executive lose 10 lbs.

    –> I would tell the executive that their family and business are dependent on them losing the weight. Without doing so, the risk of an early death and not seeing the family grow up will overshadow the accomplishments the executive has achieved. I’d tell them that the solution is very simple, they will just be part of a new meal and gym plan that will be part of their schedule.

    The executive is now part of a special meal plan. I’d crunch the numbers and see the executive’s recommended caloric intake and cut it back by 10% (or some number). I’d then have each of the 3 main meals organized and prepared and delivered to the executive personally at very specific times: 9:00 AM, 12:30 PM, and 5:30 PM. In addition, a small bag of snacks (healthy nuts and other assorted items in a small amount), would be delivered at 2:30 PM as an extra hunger fighter. The 3 meals (and the snacks) would contain the reduced caloric amount and be composed of foods the executive liked. A special water bottle would also be given to the executive and must be filled before each meal.

    I’d also inform the executive that they will be going to the gym 3 times a week, Mon., Wed., Fri. at 7:30 AM in the morning with a group of people and a trainer. This would be added to their calendar as a mandatory meeting. At anytime, the executive can fill out several pages of paperwork to opt out of the food plan and gym, so there is no pressure.

    2: Help a careless 26 yr old save $1500 by June

    –> I’d take the 26 yr old to a run-down section of town with homeless people. I’d tell them that in 5 years, they will be living here and have lost most of their teeth unless they save this money and get on track. I’d say that if they get on track, they’ll be able to do anything they want with their life. I’d tell them the good news that getting on track and not being homeless is very simple. I would personally give the 26 yr old $1500 and go with them to deposit it in to their bank account. I would tell them that it’s not that hard and that we’re almost done. We just have to keep that $1500 in there by June. The game is to see if by June there is still $1500 left in the account.

    The game is played like this:

    * I would have the 26 yr old write 6 checks to me for $250 each. Each check is dated the first of each month, January to June of 2011.
    * I would then tell the bank to take $250 each month from 26 yr old’s checking for the next six months and move it to savings – automatic transfers that must be opted out of.
    * Each month on the 1st, up to June, I will deposit each $250 check into my account to reclaim the money.
    * If at any time, a check bounces or the money cannot be deposited back into my account, or June 1st comes (and the last check is cashed) and $1500 is not in the 26 yr old’s account, the game is over and the 26 yr old owes me what is left of the $1500 plus an additional $500.
    * If June comes and the 26 yr old has $1500 in their savings and I have my $1500, they have won the game and I will take them out to a fancy dinner for a job well done.
    * Opting out requires many pages of paper work and doing so immediately transfers any remaining money in their account to mine.

    3: Help someone become happier

    –> By not being happy, this person is damaging their relationship with their family and those they care most about. The good news is that being more happy is seamless and will be part of their daily routine. I would inform said person that they are now part of ‘the happiness plan’. This plan begins now and the successful completion will not only make them happier, but improve their relationship with those they care about. The happiness plan will last two weeks. Without successful completion of the happiness plan, the person is at risk of those they care about leaving them. To opt out of the plan, several pages of paperwork must be filled out and taken to my office, so there is no pressure. The happiness plan is this:

    * Every morning at 9:00 AM, the person must watch a mandatory 10 minute video of babies and children laughing.
    * Before lunch at 11:45 AM, the person must watch a comedian perform for 10 minutes.
    * At 3:00 PM, the person must watch me do Yoga, wearing my “3 wolf moon shirt” and a Mickey Mouse hat on in a McDonalds for 10 minutes.
    * At 9:00 PM, I will call the person and share random stories with colorful adjectives involving animals, aliens, celebreties, and politicians.

    Each of these meetings is mandatory and the missing of one will result in the person having to do Yoga with me in McDonalds. At the end of two weeks, the person will be asked if they are happier. If not (and they did every meeting), I will pay them $100. If they are happier, they must refer me to someone they know that wants to be happier.

    • Matt

      Jeremy, I hate to only criticize here, but I don’t hate it enough to restrain myself.

      I can’t tell if you’re serious or not. While your methods may work for a select group of individuals, Ramit asked how to use psychological defaults to change behaviors, not scared straight tactics. Scaring people and threats don’t make it very far and could even hurt. When people are overwhelmed they tend to take no action at all.

      Do you think overweight people simply don’t know that being overweight can lead to an early death? You say that with the opt-out paperwork there is “no pressure”, but the underlying message you establish at the beginning is that if you don’t do this YOU WILL DIE HAVING NEGLECTED YOUR FAMILY AND ALL YOUR HARD WORK WILL BE FOR NOTHING. No pressure?

      This is precisely the motivational technique that Ramit has been criticizing while emphasizing taking advantage of defaults.

      And for what it’s worth I don’t think happiness is improved by “you must watch a comedian at 11:45AM OR ELSE” or “what this guy do subjectively silly stuff OR ELSE”. And how would you force someone to do yoga with you if they missed an appointment?

  83. Greg B

    Ramit, I’m really amazed at how many people don’t get the concept. Set up a default. Don’t pay someone to do something. Why does anyone think a busy exec will lose 10lbs after you set up even more meetings in his calendar/restrict her food intake/set up gym time? None of that will happen. Business will intrude. Reception food will intrude.

  84. Matt

    My shot, a few days late:

    1. Have the exec select certain healthy meals/snacks that appeal to him/her. The meals and snacks will be delivered at certain times. The exec has the option to opt out of the meal delivery 1-2 hours before. This provides an opt-out situation where technically the exec can eat whatever he/she wants but the default is to have the healthy food delivered. For burning more calories the standing desk option works as a default but they need an option of chairs if someone comes to their office for a meeting. You can also fire-bomb their elevator if they’re not on the first floor.

    2. The best way to accomplish this using defaults is to set up a regular (weekly, biweekly, monthly) automatic transfer of $1500/number of transfers until goal date. This is ideal because can stop the transfer if they really need to but it requires that they go out of their way to opt out. A paycheck deduction has more barriers (dealing with HR) that could make it more difficult to opt out (good) but also more difficult to opt back in should they opt out temporarily (bad). Receiving a “bill” and sending a check to someone is asking for trouble: they would need to eliminate the (however small) barriers of getting their checkbook, filling one out, getting an envelope, etc to simply get the money out of their account – that’s opt-in no matter how much you plan on bugging them if they don’t pay.

    3. The trickiest one. Someone becoming “happier” isn’t as concrete as losing 10 lbs or saving $1,500 by a certain date. I’m mostly at a loss for now. I like the idea of reminders to list gratitudes or things that went well that day but those are constant suggestions of what to do and offer a choice of do it or don’t do it. They don’t involve using defaults. Setting aside 10 to 20 minutes each day to do whatever you want/be creative/dance around without clothes doesn’t make that behavior a default either.

    The best I can come up with at the moment is setting up a recurring appointment with a therapist (or reputable life coach or someone experienced with helping people develop a genuinely positive outlook) that requires a certain amount of notice to cancel. Potential unrealistic/somewhat creepy improvement: have the therapist/whomever waiting for the client when they get home from work to eliminate the decision of going to the therapist’s office.

  85. Joseph Dantes

    Matt, congrats on actually understanding the question.

    I think in general home visit psychiatry is a seriously bad idea, particularly for the psychiatrist.

    May I again suggest my happiness default solution:

    Management of recurring negative thoughts and emotions are a major problem in mental health and general happiness. May I again recommend setting a new default psychological behavior – when hit by a wave of this type, whether it be loss, shame, embarrassment, anxiety, regret, whatever – simply counter by immediately basking in a feeling of contemptuous superiority towards any other parties involved, however peripherally. It is the best anaesthetic to emotional pain I have ever known.

    Paradoxically, it works far better than positive thinking. A healthy, unsuppressed ego allows one to think charitably of others without unleashing a desperate acknowledgment of failure in oneself. Secondly, positive thinking in the face of a crashing ego merely drives the problem beneath the neocortex and lodges it in the roiling subconscious all the more firmly, creating dissonance and panic as control slips away.

    • Matt

      Joseph: for the record, I wasn’t really serious about the home visit. It was more an unrealistic stretch to take the “default” theme farther.

      As for “basking in a feeling of contemptuous superiority”: judging from your comments here you certainly practice what you preach, eh? (not an insult, just an observation)

  86. robert

    1. busy executive.
    Tell person they have a certain day in which to lose the 10 lbs. If they don’t, they have to take time off until they accomplish the weight goal. Your first reaction is that this would be awesome… but probably not to a busy executive. It could present as an interesting psychological dilemma in many ways (which I could explain more if someone wants me to) and chances are they will find a way to meet this goal by themselves. You won’t even have to tell them how to do it.
    2. 26 year old.
    I suppose the automatic deduction is easy enough.
    3. Happiness
    a sure way to insure you are NOT instilling happiness in an individual is to surround them with things like pictures of places they’d rather be or with people they want to be with. That makes “here” seem pretty glum. If there is a way to convey that the only moment in which we live our lives is this one (as I write, as you read) and it’s up to us whether we want to be happy in it or not, that’s the only shot you’ve got. This, I’m afraid, is easier said than done even if the concept is easy to grasp- but it is doable.

  87. Casey Rafter

    I disagree with about 95% of the posters’ interpretation of utilizing psychological defaults to engineer behavioral change. The point of this exercise is to reach the desired goals without adding an additional requirement to the subject that is unlikely to be fulfilled. Focus on the ends and not the means. Automation is merely one solution for engineering behavioral change. It reduces the amount of decisions required to reach a final outcome and can be used to manipulate the perceived importance of an event. Our psychological defaults are the manners in which we as individuals tend to react when presented with certain situations. Everyone is different; therefore you must establish a basis upon which you may leverage behavioral change.

    In the HIV case above, they could have given Ferrari’s to each willfully screened participant. A higher rate of participation could be expected. This still requires a choice, yet the stakes have changed. Their default reaction is now to consider the gain of a sports car rather than loss of social status. We are now much more likely to reach the desired outcome of getting an HIV screening. The same thing goes for the 401k Opt-in/Opt-out situation. In general, a person’s default reaction to paperwork required to Opt-in is that they would rather not do it. It’s both boring and cumbersome, and many people do not consider the potential benefit worth their precious time. When the Opt-out decision is required, people are still reacting the same way. However, the revised system is engineered to more or less predetermine the outcome based on the likelihood of people’s reaction to having to make a decision. To engineer behavioral change using psychological defaults is to establish a reliable mean of causation.

    Consider the psychology of marketing. If you were able to control the advertisement environment of another individual 100%, then you will have the power to drastically guide their behavior so that the end result suits your needs. This is precisely why major corporations spend billions on dollars a year on advertising. Advertising requires no participation from the user, but in the end affects their behavior. How successful a company is in managing the consumer’s behavior is critical in the overall success of the company.

    I am interested to see what others have been thinking…

    • Ramit Sethi

      What are you saying? I seriously don’t understand.

      (Also, surprisingly, offering a Ferrarri would probably not have beaten the opt-out offer. Remember, opt-out produced 99% participation. That is astonishing.)

    • K00kyKelly

      I’m not exactly sure what Casey is trying to say either, but it reminded me of something I was thinking about related to defaults.

      One thing Ramit doesn’t mention in the post is that there are two kinds of defaults: internal and external. Internal defaults are the way you always do things. For example on the drinks front my internal defaults are water or wine. At a restaurant I always ask for water. I wouldn’t really consider it a choice at this point… its just what I always do. In a going out situation if someone hasn’t already decided to pick up a round of something I’m going to get wine. Thats just the way I roll. Gretchen from the Happiness Project wrote about this indirectly when she talked about the abstainer / moderator difference. If it is easy for you to change your default to give up something altogether then you are an abstainer. If you miss that thing all the time and the occasional treat won’t trip you up then you’re a moderator.
      For external defaults Ramit has this covered pretty well with the HIV screening and 401k opt-in examples above. Someone else makes the choice for you and unless you go out of your way to actively choose to do something else thats what happens.

  88. Hilary

    Do 1 & 2 for them.

    1. Explain that fat loss is a temporary state (you wont be on a diet forever, let’s get in and out asap) and then feed the executive their meals on my schedule so they don’t even need to make the decision to eat. Remove the temptation by taking it out her hands and make it opt-less.

    2. Set up the automatic withdrawal for them and tell them the tax laws changed. Surprise them with “this is how you save money” in June.

    3. Ask person to write down their happiness level on a scale of 1 to 10. Then ask the person to tell me what would make them happiest. Keep asking them to be more specific until they start to cry, make a list of 10 things they can do RIGHT NOW to achieve happiness based on their cry-thing. Tell them to act on one thing every day for the next 2 weeks (follow up at noon to see where they are with it).

    After 2 weeks of acting on happy-making things (taking control of their choices) get them to write down the 1-10 scale again.

  89. Kate

    1. Break the elevator in the executive’s building so its out of commission for a a couple weeks. Then, when it is repaired make it go SUPER slow and play obnoxious pretentious music, much more painful and out of the way than walking up the stairs…

    2. Set up automatic deposits into savings account to happen as soon as the paycheck is received. Cut up the credit cards; only debit cards allowed.

    3. Tilt their full sized mirror up a little (instead of flat against the wall) and change the power-saving blue light bulbs to the more flattering LED variety ( so it makes our sad subject look taller, skinnier, and rosier everyday.

  90. Wayne D

    1: Get the executive to fill a two litre bottle of water before bed and leave it beside their briefcase/laptop bag and then go to bed as normal.
    Get the executive to wake up every day 25 minutes earlier, have a glass of water and then do cardio for the first 20 minutes after they wakes up. This is exercise will burn calories, it will also speed up their metabolism for the day and can become part of his/her routine. No matter how busy you are you can always sleep 25 minutes less and the health gains from exercise will offset the loss of sleep. Throughout the day drink that 2 litre bottle of water, because all that water will help you flush crap out of your body and we often mistake thirst for hunger and eat when we are thirsty. Finally quit anything with sugar from Monday to Saturday and reward yourself with a pig out day on Sundays where you eat every sugar product you wish.

    2. Set up $250 to leave the guys account just after he gets paid into a savings account that he cannot touch until June with the highest interest possible. He will quickly adjust to having that $250 less and also he will have more than
    $1500 come June.

    3. Get the individual concerned to play a game. In this game they have $1,000,000 to give to the happiest person in the world. But they must define the attributes of somebody who would be the happiest person in the world as well as describe what kind of life that person has in as much detail as possible.
    When this is done we know what real happiness means to them. So get them to adapt as many traits as possible of their ideal happy person (Even if this means faking it till they make it), as well as working on designing their life so that it becomes more like their ideal happy person.
    Happiness is subjective, so they must work towards their own version of being happy.

  91. Treacle

    Case 1: If losing weight was as easy as *knowing* the right thing to do, everyone would be thin. Execs are busy people,and I imagine s/he has more immediate things to think about than those last 10 pounds. So I would make it easy for him not to think about it.

    If the exec has a chef/personal cook/meal delivery service, talk with him or her about the meals they’re preparing and make sure they’re low calorie. If the exec’s partner or spouse is in charge of meals, talk with them about changing what’s made for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If the exec has a business meeting that involves food, call the restaurant or caterer ahead of time to prepare a special low calorie menu and/or offer low calorie options for all the guests.

    10 pounds isn’t a lot of weight, and won’t require any drastic interventions (which tend to be kind of intimidating anyway). Integrate any changes into the life the exec has already, and preferably the parts of their life they’ve already delegated control of to other people.

    Case 2: Speaking as a 26 year old who would like $1500 in my savings account by June (but who doesn’t make enough money for that to realistically happen), my first question would be “Why isn’t this person saving?” Is it because their wages are so low that $1500 isn’t a realistic goal or is it because all their money is going towards impulse buys and purchases? Is this person slinging all their extra money towards credit card or college debt? Are they in graduate school?

    Once I had a better sense of their situation, I would recommend 1 of 2 things. 1) If “willpower” is an issue, set up an auto direct deposit into a savings account *today* that you cannot easily access. 2) If funds are an issue, create a side hustle. And whatever you make from that, divert it immediately into a separate savings account so it never touches your regular money (i.e. what comes from your dayjob).

    Case 3: Making someone measurably happier doesn’t mean they’re starting from a place of unhappiness. It just means they could be *more* happy. Assuming the person isn’t suffering from clinical depression or a life situation that’s supposed to make you unhappy (like, say, your parent dying of cancer), I would ask them to keep in the back of their mind the times they feel most happy. Don’t sit down and make a list or “practice” optimism (that seems really forced to me), but when you notice yourself feeling happy, make a quick note (whether physical or just in your head) about why you’re feeling that way. And whatever that is, do more of it.

  92. Jenny Ji

    1. Help a busy executive lose 10lbs

    Work at a standing/treadmill desk, it’s proven to be a healthier alternative to most office chairs and the sudden change will burn more calories.

    I would put conspicuous weights in the office as well, so he/she can take a few minutes to lift in between meetings or whatever.

    2. Help a careless 26-year-old save $1,500 in his savings account by June

    If the 26 year old has their own home, I’d suggest to rent out a room and put that money in a separate account that they can’t touch. Otherwise, I’d tell him to split rent with a friend until he can buy his own place. There’s great goal setting programs on and that make it fun and offer a great rate of return for tracking your savings targets. Smartypig takes automatic savings out of your accounts and you can’t withdraw those funds without a penalty until after your goal is reached.

    3. Help someone feel measurably happier

    Offer to be his/her personal assistant for a month. Then give a detailed evaluation of their life and see what changes and simplifications can be made. For example, see if their bills could be streamlined, or if they are spending time and money on things that are not adding value, you can point those out. My services will allow them time to spend with their loved ones and maybe they’ll realize they need to change some of the priorities in their life. Dan Gilbert often talks about how bad we are at guessing the things that make us happy so why not set a fresh pair of eyes on the task?

  93. Kate

    Sorry. I would like to make 2 more explicit.

    2. Go to Click “View my Account”. Click “Open an Account” on the left. Under Orange Savings Account, click “Open Now”. Follow the instructions to open the account.

    Next, log in to the account. Click on your account nickname. Click the link that says “Direct Deposit form for this account”. Fill out the form. If our 26-year-old makes $60,000/year, he’ll need to put “5% of paycheck” to save $1500 in 6 months. Then he needs to print and give the form to his employer. DONE.

  94. KillerQueen

    1.) Each month, the company automatically takes $ XXX out of each executive’s paycheck to fund a personal dietitian/cook for them. The dietitian/cook prepares three healthy low-calorie meals a day for the executives and delivers to their office. The meals are tailored to their health needs and weight loss goals. Also, the company charges a $ X gym maintenance fee to maintain the gym on-site. The company executive has an incentive to take advantage of these service and not waste money on services he/she does not use. There is only an option to opt-out of the meal plan, but not to opt-out paying the small gym maintenance fee.

    2.) Assuming the careless 26 year old always spends money with his debit card, enroll him a reward program that adds a 25% charge on all purchases, and places the “extra charge” money in his savings automatically. If he buys a $5 latte, that means that he will be debited $6.25 for that purchase (makes him think twice when making purchases because he would not want to pay expensive overdraft fees in his checking account), and that extra $1.25 will go into his savings account. Assuming he will now start to make sensible purchases within his means, he should be able to save up $1500 by June.

    3) Trick them into thinking they are happy with fake physio-analysis. Assuming this person has an iphone or similar smart phone that can use custom applications, create an application called “The Happy Meter” for them. It is sort of like a mood ring on your phone. The first time the user tries the application by placing their thumb on a sensor on the screen, the application will read ‘You’re sad and hopeless like a penny with a hole in it [insert other corny phrases that would humor user]” You can only try this application once a day to prevent them from figuring out it is not based on any real science. The next day the person uses the sensor, it will give a false reading that indicates that they are slightly happy. This person will think, “hey! biologically, I am happier!” Of course, the application will not gradually say you are happy everyday, but will throw in some random “you are sad” days. After 30 days, they will think they are really happy, and therefore will become happy.

    hey, I tried! lol


  95. Joshua Skaja

    Since we’re trying to change defaults (and not just suggest new behaviors to adopt):

    #1 – Get a dog. Foster if you can’t commit. Now you’re suddenly responsible for a creature that needs two long walks each day.


    #1 Make a pact with someone to give up alcohol for 30 days (or make it a competition to see who can go longest). I do it every January. It’s really not that hard, and I’m a drunk.

    #2 Get a savings account at a different bank than your primary. Don’t set up the online banking. Not seeing the money is the best way to not spend it. I paid off $22k in debt in 18 months this way.

    #3 Weekly dinner at home with friends/relatives. Make it a ritual. A recent study showed this is one of the best ways to promote happiness in your life.
    Rotate houses if you don’t want to clean yours each week (or don’t rotate if you want yet another positive default change––you’ll have to clean the house every Tuesday for Wednesday’s dinner).


    #3 Learn the ukulele. Clearly I’m biased (I own a company that makes them), but it’s cheap, fun, there’s a huge online community and monthly jam sessions in almost every town.

  96. Katie M

    Hey Ramit,
    Here goes. Thanks for the brain fodder.
    To lose weight, this busy executive needs to set up defaults related to a) energy he takes in, and b) energy he expends.

    For controlling energy he takes in, you can set up a default situation that makes it difficult to access foods that can sabatoge his effort to eat fewer calories. So get rid of junk in his office, and have his secretary arrange for fresh chopped fruit delivery each morning instead. Also ask his secretary to automatically order him a healthy meal for lunch each day unless he opts out. Finally, make sure his secretary always keeps spa water (flavored with something like lemon or cucumber) at easy access, since studies show it’s easier to lose weight if you drink more water, and it’s easier to drink more water when it tastes good.

    For upping the amount of energy he expends, you could automate personal trainer appointments two times a week, paying all classess in advance. Also, ask his secretary to download on his ipod each day his favorite podcasts he works in (that way he won’t feel he’s losing time while going to work out).
    Help a careless 26-year-old save $1,500 in his savings account by June

    Definitely automate direct deposit from work to put away $300 of each paycheck into a bank account. (By the way, I know this is possible for practically anyone, even on a nonprofit salary living in pricey NYC: last year I automated direct-deposit stashing through my company of something like 30 percent of my paycheck of around $1800/month after taxes. Through this act alone I was able to save enough to move to Argentina in April–3 days before I turned 26!!–and live off savings for several months while changing careers. I like Ramit’s suggestion of creating an inaccessible savings account that is harder to raid, but as a prime example of a careless 26 year old [don’t believe me? I tried to make cookies a few days ago… but failed b/c I left the dough out overnight and had to throw it all away] I don’t even think that is necessary. I also think that as long as this person is putting away a little money to reach $1500 savings he should round up, because he’ll never know the difference.

    Help someone feel measurably happier
    This would depend on the person, of course.

    I’d say getting a dog would be a good way to automate needing to exercise (one of Gretchen Rubin’s surefire ways to help you feel instantly happier) because you have to walk your dog! Plus you’d have a cuddly animal… plus it would be an icebreaker to help you meet other people-with-dogs who are out walking, too. Just make sure it’s a friendly dog, like a labradoodle or a golden retriever. Anyway, the endorphins will get you happy in addition to the sunshine and the quality time with el perro, so that even if you step in dog poop once or twice if you are measured for happiness you should definitely see an increase.

    Another idea is to set a standing date with loved ones, again levying the advice of the lovely Gretchen-the-happiness-Expert along with the brilliant psychological defaulting tips of Sir Ramit. This can be as easy as setting up monthly dinners with your 3 best friends from your running team (planned around exploring different pizzerrias, different Chinese food joints, or if you have some cash maybe different swank bars or organic restaurants), setting up weekly Skype dinner-dates with your brother (I have done this, it is great, especially when your brother is a good cook and you, ahem, are not), or trying to set up a yearly get-together with friends from elementary school. The process of planning all of this, I think, is as much fun as actually doing it, and it’s rewarding when it actually happens, of course, too.

  97. Ryan

    1. Have the busy exec eliminate only full calorie soda from his diet.

    2. Have the 26 year old sell one rarely used possession every Sunday on ebay for the next few months.

    3. Have the unhappy person commit to volunteer at an animal shelter once per week for a month.

    • Ramit Sethi

      “Have 2 hot girls do me at the same time.”

      See how “have you” delegates responsibility to…nobody?

  98. Mike

    1. Skip lunch every Mon, Wed, Fri.
    This is a black and white way to eat less calories overall and requires no extra willpower the rest of the week.

    2. Set up auto transfer to savings/investment account after each paycheck.

    3. I think most people’s hapiness is heavily influenced by how they perceive themselves relative to those around them. So, to improve hapiness by default, you could change their environment so that they are more wealthy, successful, better looking, etc. when compared to their peers.

  99. Zach

    Great article. The opt in vs. opt out is really tweaking my brain. It makes total sense! It is easier for people to do nothing (have the 401k automatically set up) rather than do something (filling it out at a later dateor cancel out of a 401k plan)! Here is my shot about using opt out on these situations.

    1. Helping a busy executive lose 10 lbs.

    He is a busy executive. He has his schedule planned out from morning to night. Take a good look at the schedule and plan his workouts in his day. Make it an automatic part of this day. meeting 10-12. Workout 1215-1, ETc, Hire a trainer that will be there at those set times with workouts in hand. Now the exec has to call the trainer to cancel. He has to do something to opt out.

    2. Helping a careless 26 year old save $1500 by June.

    I see careless as the key word. Plan the work, work the plan. 1500 by june, starting Jan 1 (for conversation, assuming he is starting NOW) is $250/mo, or roughly $84 a week. Set up an autotransfer of $84 a week into an online savings account. This is also on the assumption that the 26 year old has a job and income. If not, the same thing can happen, but by cutting spending. Now, if they want their money, they have to take action and do something.

    3. Help someone feel measurably happier.
    I have no idea on this one. reading over a majority of other postings, most people don’t have any idea either! Sure, you can do all the opt in things (GET a done, TAKE a class, LEARN something), but getting an “opt out” for an emotional/mental factor is quite hard to create, at least in my opinion.

    How did I do?
    Ramit, what are your answers? How

  100. Vijay

    1. Help a busy executive lose 10lbs
    If he has to lose that in 2 weeks, I’ll put him on the No carb diet for 2 weeks. No bread, no pasta, no rice, no wheat for 2 weeks. Done Deal…and then hand him the 4 hour body book 🙂
    2. Help a careless 26-year-old save $1,500 in his savings account by June
    1) open a free ING account and set it to automatically withdraw 100$ every pay check from his checking account.
    2)Collect all the “stuff” and put it up on ebay or craigslist. Ebay currently has a promotion wherein you don’t have to pay any listing fees, if it does not sell.
    3)Write down what he is interested/good at. Write up a flyer and post it on craigslist offering his services(writing,tutorials,lessons,drawing,accounting). Do it everyday and he is bound to get clients.
    4) Set up the tax refund (if any) to go into this ING account.

    3. Help someone feel measurably happier
    How do you even measure happiness? People use different measuring sticks.

    Randomly pick a girl in the metro and tell her that she has the most beautiful smile, eyes, bag 🙂 . She’ll have a bounce in her step and a smile on her lips all through the day.

    • Juliana

      Randomly pick a girl in the metro and tell her that she has the most beautiful smile, eyes, bag 🙂 . She’ll have a bounce in her step and a smile on her lips all through the day.

      This is not a good idea. Some women may feel complimented (but no one I know ever has) but others will feel threatened (that’s every woman on the metro). The creepy dudes on the train who harass you and slide all up in your personal space and then try to follow you when you get off start off by saying something like that. Or if you’re in NYC you could get hollabacked.

  101. Elizabeth

    #3: They should default to smiling. Set up their email and phone to give them reminders periodically throughout the day — SMILE! It will gradually become their natural expression and improve their baseline happiness. (It’s not only physiological, although it is that; others will also treat them better.)

  102. Jeff Sepp

    1), 2), 3) challenge all of them by either inspiring them to make the changes themselves or telling them to prove you wrong.

    I personally changed my life by identifying people who had qualities that I wanted and set about to show myself that anything is possible if I want it bad enough. Competition is a huge motivation.

  103. GC

    1. for the busy exec, set up an account with a diet food prep company that will deliver fresh meals, 2-3 meals per day for two weeks. Ask exec to use only stairs and get off the metro one stop earlier if possible or park further away from the office building.

    2. for the young person who needs to save money, I would set up an online savings account and set it to withdraw $70 on a weekly basis or $140 immediately after each payday biweekly. I would also set up his/her checking account to send bill payments in a timely fashion so that there would be fewer late payment fees. This would make the $70 less painful. He/she might not even miss it.

    3. To help someone feel measurably happier, I would schedule a massage or spa treatment~at least for 45 minutes. For this to be effective on an ongoing basis, I would encourage the individual to purchase a package deal of perhaps 5 or even 10 treatments and then schedule them for the next several months. In fact, I think I better go and do this for myself right now.

  104. Attila

    Busy Exec: Photoshop his picture into a slimmer and nicer version. set it up as his desktop wallpaper, put it up on his fridge. He needs to change his inner view of how he looks and he’ll correct by himself

    Young person: setup automatic saving plan which draws the money up-front from his paycheck.

    Unhappy person: sign him up to your newsletter. Ought to change him for better wouldn’t you agree?


  105. Stephen

    This is the first time I have been on this site and it is very interesting. I always have lots of ideas and looking and without reading previous posts my suggestions would be to keep things simple.

    1) Portion control is key – anything over 3% fat should go or be limited to a small amount each day. No alcohol for the first week and portions sizes can increase slowly each week time as metabolism speeds up. A little more exercise is needed so walk/cycle to work or park further away and walk a bit. Leaving the office at lunch time for a 40 min walk is healthy for body and mind. After 3 weeks you should have lost 10lbs and keep it off – Good Luck Ramit 😉

    2) Before you buy something think of three other things that are more useful that you could buy for the same amount, that should help you rationalise that you are wasting money and walk away. Give yourself a goal to get $100+ into your savings by the end of the month, then when the month end comes transfer everything left in your checking account into your savings account —did you beat the $100? now your wages go into your checking and you can not touch savings see if you can beat your previous months savings and repeat the transfers at the end of the month. ALSO START USING MY NEW SITE when it comes online 😉

    3) remember there are always people worse off than you, but to make you measurably happier I would make you laugh, and laugh a lot 😉 smiles and laughter bring joy to the soul and relieve stress.

  106. Dave

    I think for all of these we need to do as Ramit says and identify the big wins. And in this case, the easy ones are needed.

    Scenario 1. The exec eats on the go. Big wins are
    1. reduce hidden calories that come with eating out (i.e. fried or baked food).
    2. reduce junk food consumption by using an invisible barrier.

    For reducing hidden calories, there’s many companies/people who will make meals for a week that can be put in the fridge. They’re great and cheaper than eating out. They’ll charge your credit card and deliver the food in containers for the week. Just remove from freezer day before and they’ll all be ready to go. Healthy, tasty and automated.

    The invisible barrier for junk food is you can’t buy it and store it. If you want a chocolate bar, you need to go and get it each time. By not having junk in the office or at home, you won’t eat it when you’re bored or stressed (which is when people normally do eat it). If you want one, go for it. But you need to go get it.

    Scenario 2. Careless 26 year old is probably getting dinged with late fees and spending all money
    1. Big Win is Automate EVERYTHING

    All bills – rent, cell phone, cable, car, gym pass is taken from checking account on the second day of the month. At the same time, 10% of the income goes into a savings account of some sort. Cut up credit cards and only spend money in the checking account.

    Scenario 3. Happiness. Needs to be measurable.
    1. Big win – sign up to do one thing you’ve always wanted. Sign up and schedule it into your day. By just signing up, you’ll be happier. Better yet if you can do this with someone.

  107. Caitlin M.

    I would ask the exec to get on a treadmill (in his office that the company has paid for that he has been told to use only when checking e-mails and using the phone) while making personal and uplifting phone calls including but not limited to the young intern he or she has taken under his or her wing.
    The young intern’s job is keep him in touch with friends/family/pets and gets a modest income, including required weekly financial and goal setting phone sessions with the exec (he or she admires for being cool but together, even if a little pudgy) but not limited to daily tips on how to save 50 dollars for weekend fun and automatic savings.
    If our youngster manages to save for four weeks in a row, then 3mos, then 6mos, then omygosh 1year, through automatic savings he can pick the spot for the whole family to vacation no matter how weird a spot; and our exec manages to drop that first ten (bcs it really is just a start to another fitness goal) that exec and intern can have a trek to Maui or wherever and have beach bum costume wearing company charity marathons.
    The intern gets to set his or her own schedule as long as the cat/dog/parrot gets fed and grandma who-had-the-wild-life-but-managed-to-save-a-little-funmoney-tells-tales-about-the-cool-exec gets a chance to get out and hang out with others of her kind.
    Exec keeps in touch with intern (child of family friends), gets on treadmill without a big deal, keeps tabs on what friendoffamily’s grandma is saying…
    Intern is painlessly initiated to the working world, learns that saving can be fun because he/she gets a little fun money, and a savings account in her/his own name, learns that other critters (that we assume this person likes) enjoy his or her company, learns from somebody else’s grandma that having a good life and saving are compatible….
    In this scenario, everyone is happier and reasonably more fit and the grand has a good time seeing friends of the family make good fools of themselves..

  108. gina

    I see a lot of good suggestions but it seems that many people are missing the point of the article – remove the need for willpower or opting in vs. opt out.

    1. Exec –
    a. hold meetings standing up.
    b. hold breakfast, lunch, or dinner meetings that are catered with healthy food only
    c. require executive meeting be held at a gym twice a week.

    2. Careless Kid – $1500 by June
    a. Do all the work to setup a transfer from checking to a savings account in another bank. Put the paper in front of the kid, make them sign it and it’s done.
    b. Or like the companies that now automatically enroll new employees in 3% 401k deductions. The company default is direct deposit and the company sets up accounts at partner bank for a savings account and x% is auto deducted every check unless kid opts out.

    3. happier person – thinking more ‘nudge’ here than opt out (I’m actually shooting in the dark here)
    a. send an email a day/week, etc. with joke, daily puppy picture, greatest sports flub of the week — get smiles from them.
    b. person’s circle of friends – each month one person picks an activity for the group, volunteering, movie, place to hike,etc, dinner/dancing. — each person is ’empowered’.
    c. invite them/drag them along to a fun class, volunteering day, get them to explore different things-new books, new restaurants, working with animals –eventually something will click that they will discover they enjoy doing. But it’s definitely a time investment for the “nudger”.

  109. elana

    Help a busy executive lose 10lbs

    Set up a treadmill outside his bedroom in a locked room that will only be unlocked by his watchfull housemaid after half an hour of exercise after getting up from bed each morning. She will free him with a protein shake. On weekends, or just Sunday, an organized taxi will take him to the river for kayaking.

    Help a careless 26-year-old save $1,500 in his savings account by June

    Ask his employer to withold $250 a month in pay until June – no exceptions.

    Help someone feel measurably happier

    Organize a clown call every day for a week. Take them out to strange locations every day. Stick happy face notes and letters of appreciation on all their foodstuffs. Get a million pink flamingos in their front yard.

  110. dart

    This is really opening my mind to come up with solutions with my dog training business. My process (ala dog whisperer) involves changing habits and attitudes of owner first and it works very well with those who are desperate to have a better dog.

    But with dog owners who are not yet desparate, even if I provide them with all the information and show them my process works they do not follow through.

    Im thinking of automatically enrolling them to my weekly dog tips and reminders.

  111. Brian

    Eh, what the heck? I’ll throw in my 2 cents. For each of these challenges, we’re not given all the information (for example, is the 26 year old employed? What are his monthly expenses? etc.) So I’ll say what I assume the defaults are and how I would change them.

    I assume that by default, the exec has a personal chauffer drive her to the office, meetings with clients, then home to her mansion. By default she overeats unhealthy food at expensive restaurants every day. She has a poor diet and a lack of exercise. Originally, she would have to “opt in” to go to the gym or to eat healthier. I would change the defaults in 2 ways. (1 Diet): The exec has a one-time consultation with a nutritionist. She pays the nutritionist to prepare her healthy meals every day (I assume the exec can easily afford this.) Now by default she eats healthy. The exec could “opt out” by choosing not to eat the prepared meals, but she won’t because (a) eating prepared meals is even lazier than making dinner reservations, and (b) she will feel bad because by throwing away the prepared meals, the exec knows she is making a conscious decision NOT to lose weight. (2 exercise) The exec asks her chauffer to drive her to the gym every day after work instead of home to her mansion. Now by default she exercises every day. The exec could still “opt out” by asking her driver to take her straight home on a given day, but she won’t because by doing so, she would admit OUT LOUD that she doesn’t care about losing weight. The cool thing about this plan is that her 2 steps (calling the nutritionist and talking to her chauffer) are both one-time hassles much like setting up automatic transfers to an ING savings account. Then everything is automatic. Diet and exercise. It’s not sexy, but it works.

    I assume that the 26 year old is employed and is paid once a month. By default she saves nothing and spends her money on going out with friends. The key to this one is that the 26 year old wants to save $1500 BY JUNE. It’s now December, so that gives her 7 months. $1500 / 7 is about $215. The 26 year old sets up direct deposit to a Charles Schwab high yield savings account. Then she opens an ING savings account and sets up an automatic monthly transfer from checking to savings of $215. By June she has $1500 plus any interest earned. The cool thing here, is that the 26 year old’s goal was $1500, but she’s unlikely to cancel the automatic transfers after June. Why? Because she’s lazy. So her savings continues to grow. Automatic. Default. Boom.

    This last one is tricky. Different things/experiences make different people happy. I’ll put myself in this guy’s shoes. What makes me happy is spending time with friends, but I don’t see them as often as I’d like because we all have jobs (and we make excuses, of course.) Currently, by default I come home from work, prepare dinner, watch TV, and go to bed without seeing my friends. I would change the default by making a one-time call to a group of friends: “Hey I just found this great new restaurant, let’s go check it out on Thursday.” We go and have an awesome time. At the end of the meal, (after a couple of drinks) I say “This was awesome. Let’s meet again next week, same time.” This becomes our default behavior. Now by default I have a group of friends to hang out with every week. Automatic happiness.

  112. Lucille Morgan

    Busy executive: needs to get less busy eg. edit / simplify life – take some thinking time and ditch the car!

    Careless spendthrift – invest in raising their self esteem; spenders are usually insecure; focus on abundance

    To be happier all you need to understand is that need is an illusion – no one needs anything if they harness the power within

  113. Zach B

    Stop thinking so much – ride your bike to work every day.

  114. Laurel

    1. For the busy executive, I would consult with his wife. She is likely the nutritional gatekeeper in the home. The first thing to do is send her shopping for new dishes- smaller plates, tall slender glasses… elegant stuff. People unconsciously eat until the food is gone, so that problem is mitigated with smaller plates (and hence smaller portions.) Likewise, I would tear up the Costco membership, with the understanding that larger packages means more quantity cooked and eaten. (Yeah, can’t let that giant tub of Red Vines go to waste!)

    And since we’re likely talking about a Silicon Valley exec, the next thing I would do is have “Farm Fresh to You” deliver a box of seasonal fresh fruits and easy to prepare vegetables once per week to their home ($31.50 per week for a regular box.) The box is different each week, and has an “opt out” strategy for items that folks may not like. FFTY also delivers to the office, so there is a great opportunity to provide fruit, nuts and healthy snacks to all of the employees- instead of nutritionally-empty vending machine junk.

    2. For the careless 26 year old, I would help set up the direct deposit into the savings account. $125 per bi-monthly paycheck would suffice. I might also recommend some better investment vehicles than a savings account, such as peer-to-peer lending with, or getting him started with a Sharebuilder account and an automatic purchase of S&P500 index funds.

    3. For helping someone feel measurably happier, I would advise them to quit their life-sucking job. Of course, this takes time and preparation… folks still need to have money to eat, pay rent, etc. (As a case in point, my own husband just quit his job on Monday to go work for a biotech startup and 1/3 of his former salary- with my full support and enthusiasm!!) We’ve been preparing for this day for 2 years, with enough savings that we could both quit for a couple of years. Just having him *enjoy* his day job will make his wife and kids happier, and he won’t have to endure the life-sucking 2 hour commute, either.

    • Anonie

      It freaking breaks my heart that you assume the executive is a married male.

    • Laurel

      Why a broken heart? It’s simple probability. Are you equally upset that I put him in Silicon Valley? (Or should I be upset that it’s obviously a woman that needs to lose 10 lbs?)

  115. Edwin

    1. For the busy executive: assuming that the executive is going to make some of the effort: Some things I would introduce into their life… weighted bracelets and anklets. Schedule conference calls in the morning and use a treadmill while on the call. I find that I think much better when my legs are moving! Introduce smarter eating. Five snacks a day instead of three meals. Cereals and carbs in the morning, more protein and veggies and fruits as the day progresses. Only salad after 7.00. Set a water alarm every two hours and down a glass of water. all of these also improve performance. Get this person hooked to the 100 pushups ( or 200 sit-ups or 200 squats or whatever works for them. Worked for me.

    2. Automate a recurring deposit account from her savings account. Use ECS for all payments, specially those that attract fines or late payment fees.

    3. Have them make two lists at the end of the day: a list of good stuff, and a list of bad stuff. Put up the good list on a peg board for a week, and then throw it into an envelope. Throw the list of bad stuff into an envelope.

    At the end of the month or three months or so, get the stuff out of the envelope and build a reality tree (as explained by Eliyahu Goldratt), which is a sort of fishbone, state diagram in order to align the bad stuff to identify problems that need fixing, and to identify big-ticket, unacknowledged blessings. This worked for me too.

    I’d really prefer to work with the individual though, because there are so many variables to people that can determine success or failure. One of the worst fuck-ups in corporates is the (high) incidence of folks taking up best practices and retrofitting them to “fix” problems, of which they have only an anecdotal understanding. Some of them work, but most don’t. Further, I believe the logic behind why the AIDs campaign worked is explained (the behavior, not the specific example) in the book Predictably Irrational… by Dan Arielly.

  116. Eddie Quiñones

    1. Switch to black coffee, unsweetened (or unsweetened tea).
    2. Daily ritual: Pack lunch & brew (black unsweetened!) coffee at home into a thermos. (Can save almost $10 daily, net)
    3. Switch Alarm Clock (e.g., using AlarmClockPro) and Ringtone to favorite songs.

  117. Diana

    Ask exec Ed and careless Cal about their two major pitfalls in reaching the goals that will make them happy. Focus on those two things.

    Effortless defaults: automate item #1 (e.g. exec Ed is too busy for exercise; careless Cal is careless with spending). Swap Ed’s desk chair for an exercise ball! (burn 200 calories more/day = drop 10lbs in ~175 days. Put an exercise ball in Ed’s living room too!). Automatically move a portion of Cal’s monthly/biweekly pay (~$250/month, totaling $1500 by June) to a special savings account (labeled the goal’s name).

    Add minimal effort if you’re daring: minimize risk of using only 1 tactic by spearheading item #2 (e.g. Ed eating healthy and Cal earning more). Make Ed and Cal solve each others’ problem. Cal creates a monthly menu based on nearby healthy restaurant choices; Ed approves; Cal calls restaurants to establish recurring deliver system and sets calendar reminders for ordering and checking Ed’s satisfaction (weekly at first, then monthly). Ed thereby reduces calories by another ~150/day (and will now reach his 10-lb goal in ~100 days. Cal earns an additional ~$100/month, totaling $600 by June, which is also automatically sent to his “goal” savings account. This additional income cushions Cal’s carelessness or allows a reduction of the “Effortless” option from $250 to $150/month to reach his goal.

    Assess results: predetermine with Ed and Cal what milestones will make them “happy” (e.g Ed: 1lb @ 10 days, 5lbs @ 50 days, 10lbs @ 120 days (a cushion); Cal: $250 by end of month, $800 by March, $1500 by June). Set biweekly calendar notifications to track progress, celebrate a couple of early wins, and even request that Ed and Cal check in with each other during those quick menu approval calls.

    Go Ed and Cal!

  118. Susan

    Come on, guys.

    This is the most discouraging thread. Barely 5% of the respondents, if that, are actually doing what Ramit asked – change behaviour using *defaults*. How the fuck is “change the way you eat” using defaults? If *I* have to change something – writing in a gratitude journal, or getting a new job, then that relies on will power, which is just what Ramit is trying to get AWAY from.

    Example: @Edwin: “For the busy executive: assuming that the executive is going to make some of the effort…” You missed the point. The point is 180 degrees the other direction. The point is to put solutions in place such that the executive DOESN’T have to make some of the effort!

    Sorry for the shouting, but sheesh.

    OK, I’ll grant it – most everyone got the 2nd question right. But still.

    • Anonie

      You’re getting tripped up over semantics, Susan. There’s nothing intrinsically clean or unambiguous about the concept of “default behavior”: switching to a new norm will sometimes require a shift of some kind in conscious behavior, assuming there’s no deceit or coercion involved. The only way someone can truly “passively” lose weight is if we surreptitiously interfere with metabolism (caffeine, drugs, illness), force obstacles on the person (e.g., broken elevator, kidnap them every weekend and leave them in the countryside with no cash), hypnotize them, etc.–hardly elegant solutions, but anything else is going to require at least a *little* bit of conscious change and deliberate effort.

  119. Zachary


    1. I would have the entire company of the exc have a hour off after lunch for a workout with company time paid. And It can be on a trail basis to see if the company likes it or not. And also let the whole company know that the exc wants to lose 10 lbs and he/she will workout with the whole company. Afterward it can go back to normal business hours. Of course everyone will scream!

    2. 26 old to save, have the 26 yr old read tim ferris blog and sign up for Rambit’s freelance course. Then One hour reading and one hour of action on creating a freelance biz. for four days to two days a week. By the end of June he’ll have saved up 1,500 more than he already earned. No college classes needed.

    3. Happiness is subjective, so somebody would have to set themselves a goal to make themselves happier by doing this x, y, and z. Establish a weekly requirement to spend two hours once a week doing whatever he/she wants to make them happy. Take notes afterward if it worked. Why/why not. From the book, “artists way” we deny ourselves happiness most of the time or somebody will deny it to us. After all we should be able to spend two hours a week doing whatever we want. Happiness itself will snowball.

  120. How do you stick to your goals when encountering setbacks? « Real Grad Life

    […] found that when managing behavior changing the defaults is more effective than using willpower, e.g., when HIV tests became part of prenatal care in the Sub-Saharan Africa, 99% of the women were t…. When the reward is unhealthy food then a way to avoid breaking your goals is to eliminate all such […]

  121. Irena O'Brien

    Procrastination can be due to a number of reasons: perfectionism so that if it can’t be perfect, I can’t even start; all-or-nothing thinking so that if I’m not sure I can complete it, I won’t even start; a decision strategy that relies on a long period of time so that if it takes a long time for me to decide to do something or if I can’t decide what to do, I don’t do anything, having a need to have things complete, etc.The first two (i.e., weight loss and savings plan) are “do nothing if I’m not sure I can get it all done” strategies so I would get them to reduce the “get it all done” to bites of, say 2lbs or $25, something small enough so they feel they are “getting it all done”.

    No. 3’s default is unhappiness and he/she probably discount his/her gifts, accomplishments, circumstances, etc. I would change the default by having them keep a gratitude journal and/or sharing their accomplishments/what they are grateful for with others.

  122. Mary Ann


    I’m only going to speak on the behaviour that I want to (and am interested to) help change: HELPING THE BUSY EXECUTIVE LOSE 10 LBS.

    I do want to say here that a loss of 10 lbs doesn’t involve just the measurement of weight. Just like we look at our bank account balance, it is at that certain balance for a number of reasons (shopping sale, unexpected birthday party, transportation emergency) AND/OR money is sent to a retirement fund, education trust etc.

    I also want to emphasize that other metrics can be used to identify success, i.e how does the executive feel in his/her suits? Were inches lost? Does s/he have more energy to be more productive in his/her day? Has his/her blood pressure gone down after 2 months of eating clean and working out?

    I did a write up ( ) a few years ago on why we know we need to change but why it is also hard to make it a daily habit. Motivation was my answer at the time, the key…

    Had I known then what I know now from what you taught Ramit, steps to the road to success may have been written to be more specific and actionable.

    Here is what I recommend be done:

    a. OPT IN AND AUTOMATE. Change doesn’t happen overnight. A busy executive needs to create the lifestyle changes needed to lose 10 lbs and then keep it off. It’s not losing the 10 lbs that’s hard… It’s keeping it off. (Same as saving that first $100. It’s not hard to take $100 and put it in a savings account — it’s keeping it there for the identified goal and length of time!).

    So, the first thing I would do is have the busy executive OPT IN and AUTOMATE to hire me (his fitness nurse) for 3x/wk for 6 months. In order to lose 10 lbs and keep it off, s/he will be REQUIRED to do weekly check ins that involve personal training, nutritional counselling and goal setting 3x/wk. How will the opt in happen? *** Through the signing of a personal training agreement and use of an automated system that sets up the appointments for myself and the busy exec. ( I wouldn’t do a set schedule for the entire 6 months. After all, he is a busy exec and things change by the week. Use of a system that identifies mine and the exec’s schedule is more realistic and flexible; I use Volo right now and it’s great!). It not only keeps the exec accountable, but myself as well. I would want to ensure that my changes are client focused, not “trainer focused”.

    b. You made absolute sense when you said “use behaviour to change attitude”. We are stubborn individuals and think “I don’t eat thaaaat bad. I’m pretty active and workout”. Ha! Sorry to disappoint you people, but ALL of us THINK we are , but ACT the total opposite – especially when it comes to food and activity. Have you read “Mindless Eating?” by Dr. Wansink? It’s a bad habit but also a “soft addiction”. (Ask me more about this…) So what behaviours need to change first?

    I suggest a 2 week system to start, evaluate, change and redo. I call it the Learn, Grow, Transform system.

    For the first 2 weeks, I don’t care what the exec eats, so long as certain foods are ADDED to their daily schedule. I call it the “Add to Lose” program. We don’t like being told what NOT to do and feeling deprived is not rewarding or exciting. So, for example, for the first 2 weeks, I suggest (a) drinking water with lemon AND (b) eating oatmeal and 2 eggs each morning. Not that hard for a busy executive to accomplish no matter where s/he ends up being for the day. Don’t have oatmeal or eggs ? Have them available in packages for the executive to get from you each week. Each 2 successive weeks, evaluate what works, what doesn’t and move forward from there. Was there weight loss? What other success indicators were noted in the training agreement and were they met? Why not? (This is an example I took from you in scrooge strategy as the 2 headed fit lifestyle approach) 🙂

    c. Review, replan, redo. I am in the process of setting up a 4 week, 8 week and 12 week system of clean eating and fitness training. It would be great to talk to you about how systems could be set up.

    Another suggestion during the review stage would be to set up a “failure plan”. You mention this too, Ramit, in your blogs, and I want to find ways to do this in my field. I think money and health work in many ways when it comes to behavioural change. Both are highly affected by many psychological factors rather than lack of education.

    Call me . Let’s talk. 🙂

  123. Mary Ann

    Sorry, I didn’t mean OPT IN, I mean the OPT OUT option. ( whoops, blush ). There is only ONE plan that the exec would have to sign up for. S/he’ll have the option to out out after the agreement but with stipulations. (similar to the HIV example you provided above).

  124. Irena O'Brien

    The solutions suggested are surface solutions and would apply only to those specific issues. The real question to ask is “Is the procrastination limited to this area only or does this person procrastinate in other areas of his/her life?” Most likely, procrastination is a general problem and if the underlying beliefs or thinking patterns are not dealt with, it will keep on surfacing. For example, I helped one of my clients discover that her procrastination problem was not procrastination at all but an inability to say “no” to work she never wanted to do because of a need to be liked by everyone, and a thinking pattern that had her say “yes” automatically. If we had used a strategy or trick to deal with procrastination, she would still be saying “yes” to work she didn’t want to do.

  125. K Keyes

    1. Loose the executive parking spot. Use the parking lot a 15 minute walk down the street. Extra great lakes bonus, if sexecutive lives in the snowbelt, there’s the added exercise of scrapping ice and snow off your BMW! I would have the administrative assistant stock up on apples and oranges, sorry no candy or donuts at meetings. Have “walking” meetings where feasible instead of sit down meetings.
    2. Have a portion of each pay check directly deposited into a savings account (that’s not connected to a checking or ATM card)
    3. The baking of cakes and cookies, and the subsequent eating of them will make you happy. Following through a plan (ex. cake) and receiving benefit.

  126. Yanna

    Congratulations, Ramit.

    With this post, you’ve brilliantly illustrated your point about how we all love to debate the minutiae of personal finance and weight loss. Sigh.

  127. Gurgling Snurg

    1. Hire nutritionist to prepare meals, personal trainer to provide artificial drive during workouts. Behavior is changed via 100% external means.

    2. Payroll deduction rolled into savings. Behavior is changed via 100% external means.

    3. Trick question as the entire question is too vague. How do you “help” someone “feel” “measurably” “happier”?

    Two possible attempts to answer, nevertheless:

    1. A quick read through “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy.” Cured my bouts with depression instantly and permanently (14 years now) by changing depression-inducing thought patterns.

    2. Hire a life coach to analyze the specific circumstances of the particular individual and suggest alternative behaviors to presumably incrementally (‘nudgingly’) create a vastly improved life over time, thus generating circumstances for increased happiness. (Whether the person chooses to feel happier is another matter.)

  128. Justin

    Still drawing a blank for #3, but here’s my crack at #1…

    Remove all bath towels from the exec’s apt. or house.

    If you can’t shower at home, you’re going to have to get your ass to the gym to use the shower there. And odds are, you’re not going to go there and shower without working out (at least, not every time, and probably not even most of the time).

    An easy-to-set default, the ignoring of which would require the exec to take the trouble to buy new towels.

  129. Zac Sullivan, M.A.

    Be the Expert: How would you engineer behavioral change?

    Let’s say I hire you to change the following behaviors:

    1. Help a busy executive lose 10lbs
    2. Help a careless 26-year-old save $1,500 in his savings account by June
    3. Help someone feel measurably happier

    How would you do it using defaults?


    First of all, thank you for hiring me to correct these behaviors for you in this scenario. I could tell these people are very important to you, so here is the status update as promised with the current action plans:

    1) I will incentivize Mr. Goldberg by recommending the default of an exercise monitor, which he will wear and shall be directly proportionate to how much he is rewarded in Amazon gift cards, which were obtained en masse through the affiliate links on my site expressly for the purpose of employee incentivization. He will receive a personal bonus for me (to be determined upon evaluation of his motivators) if he loses the 10 pounds within 2 weeks, of course, at no additional cost to you, Ramit.

    2) I have solved the issue with your 26 year old’s finances by meeting with him, obtaining his consent at my judgment, and dividing the amount of money evenly over the 7 month time period. I have set up an ING Direct account with him from his checking into his savings for automatic deposits of $215 every month (rounding up to the nearest dollar). By June he will have at least $1505, plus interest in his account. I personally guarantee it. I have instructed him that if he has any money problems to contact me ASAP so that you can focus on your business and your blog.

    I am in charge of these defaults for the next 7 months. Since I established the account for him (and with him), he will not be allowed to have the password with your consent is given before June, or in June. He will of course, have access to his other bank accounts, and any other supplemental income he might have.

    3) I have scheduled a meeting with your friend, whose life you wish to enhance, to get a feel for personality type and life goals. The Mrs. Lesshappy will be asked to rate the current happiness levels as honestly, accurately, and precisely as possible on a scale from 1-10 in regard to the most common interpersonal communications. If you like, I can have a professional nurse inject Mrs. Lesshappy with sodium pentathol for an additional fee, but this could be costly, and is probably not necessary, so unless you deem it necessary for the purposes of measurability of happiness, the default on this will be a no-go.

    I find that people need other human interaction in order to be happy and lead healthy, fulfilling lives and be successful. I will interact with Mrs. Lesshappy every day, and in person at least 2-3 days a week, depending on Mrs. Lesshappy’s schedule and my own.

    Mrs. Lesshappy’s will be asked to keep a gratitude journal every night listing 5 things Mrs. Lesshappy is grateful for on that day.

    If Mrs. Lesshappy has been depressed I might suggest Mrs. Lesshappy’s participate in a paid study of depression I saw advertised at the UAB Kirklin Clinic, but that is likely as unnecessary as the truth serum.

    I’ll follow up with you Wednesday. Rest assured the necessary adjustments to diet (such as Vitamin D and supplement optimization), exercises, and finances will be made accordingly to the best of my ability. Over the course of the next 3 months you will see the daily measures of happiness as recorded from her daily surveys on her happiness levels rise in a way we can chart (and even graph) based on her responses. It is my goal to have her happiness levels rise more starkly in the first two weeks and to have them optimized in 3 months.

    By the way, if the stars align properly, I do know a healthy middle-aged eligible bachelor by the name of Mr. Gluecklich. He is a member of the Optimist Club in Homewood and a fun guy to be around, so maybe his optimism would rub off on her.

    Sound good, Ramit? Let me know if you have any additional questions, but I’ll be in touch.

    Happy Holidays,

    ~ Zac Sullivan, M.A. ~

  130. onna

    The first two seems quite straight forward and there’s already great answers above, so I’ll “default” to those reasonable thoughtful ones so I can focus on the third one.

    Measurably happier by default behaviors. Aren’t we all ultimately trying to do this? Using paths such as developing behaviors that make us richer or healthier, so the 80% of our time is spent on behaviors that create a happier lifestyle and mindset?

    1)Create a default environment of positivity. Only have access/ default to ccomedy and inspirational movies. Radio-stations are preset to those that only provide music rather than news. Music in the ipod don’t include any whiny boy bands or anyone rapping about pimps and hos or bad mouthing your mother. Sign up for daily emails for a beautiful photo or an inspirational poem or a quote.

    2)Create default positive relationships. Name 2 people that have positive influence on you or care about your well-being, then pre-arrange weekly or bi-weekly lunch or dinner dates with them for next 2 months, then either pick new ones or continue dates after 2 months. Sponsor a child in need or support an organization that send monthly updates and correspondance to remind you how you’re affecting their lives.

    3)Create default exercise program. Studies have shown exercising 4 times a week for at least 20 min of raised heart rate can do amazing things to your brain chemistry and keep your body healthy. Take public transportation, bike to work, get a dog.

    4)Create new experiences. Travelling to new places and having new experiences allow the brain to release chemicals that simulate falling in love. So, when you make lunch dates with peeps in #2, pre-arrange in new restaurants, or, make room in schedule once every few months for a small weekend getaway.

    5)Create default space for self reflection and relaxation. Block out a day a week or an evening for no appointments or plans. Then see what happens.

    BUT, none of the above will work, if that person doesn’t set the intention that he/she truly wants to be happier. And sometimes, having the right intentions might just be all that person needs in order to be happier, none of those default stuff.

  131. Katie

    It’s hard to give yourself a scenario where you have to opt-out. In the case above, the doctors imposed the scenario to benefit their own goals. If you want a true opt-out in your scenarios you’d have to have the employer impose default savings deposits for the 26 year old (or some such thing). In which case, my answer for all three would be to find someone to be your mommy. But for those of us that have outgrown our Pampers, we have to get things started ourselves (even if they can continue automatically from that point). Hate to be a Debbie downer but, your money, body, and happiness are all results of your own effort. Sorry, I know that’s not sexy. Since none of us were born under the right star to have an opt-out happen to us, here are my ideas for automating after the initial effort:
    1. The Busy Exec—He needs to find something at least moderately healthy that he LOVES to eat. It should be something that fits with the way that he already accesses food (fast food, frozen, etc.) Whatever he picks he should just keep eating it until he gets sick of it and then pick another dish that he equally adores.

    When I studied in Italy I lost 25 lbs over the course of a summer this way. I put breakfast (bread, fruit, cheese) in my bag to eat in the morning, came home and made pasta w/veggies for lunch, and ate what I pleased for dinner (sometimes still pasta. I LOVE pasta). I still ate gelato and chocolate. At no point did I even consider that I might be on a diet. I didn’t ever weigh myself until I got home. Almost overnight I went from Mrs. Butterworth to the Land O’ Lakes lady. Just found a good meal (healthy, cheap, easy) and ate it every day. I didn’t work out like a maniac either, I just walked to school in the morning and through the markets on the way home.

    2. The 26 year old– Okay, EVERYONE has been saying this because it is so freaking obvious! Just get the direct deposit! It’s not brain surgery! If this “counts” for her savings goals she should just put it in her 401k.

    3. Happiness—This usually comes from fulfilling some goal you have in your life (even if that goal is to have less goals). Figure out what that is and get a friend to do it with you, or get all your friends to leave you alone (depending). Find a way to make that goal a regular appointment. Once you actually start doing what you want to do–instead of just thinking about it–you change your outlook on yourself. You go from victim of circumstance to master of your own destiny. It feels incredible.

    In summary
    a) Figure out what you want
    b) Figure out a system to automate whatever you are doing once you start
    c) Put the Fritos down and get it started!
    It’s easier to put effort in the beginning I-can-do-crap-zeal phase than in the two-hours-later-just-logged-off-facebook-distractibility phase.

  132. Susan

    Anonie et al – again, missing the point.

    From Ramit’s email today:
    “for 99% of people, “trying harder” is a source of guilt, anxiety, and worst of all, poor results…”

    I don’t think I’ve seen a single option for #1 (losing weight) that actually takes the full burden off the executive for “trying harder”, and that’s what Ramit is getting at. Personally, I think #1 a question without an answer; the only way the executive can exist completely outside the ability to choose the wrong food would be to lock him up. The default food becomes whatever his jailer feeds him. And as for getting him to exercise – well, unless he hooks up a slot on the Biggest Loser, I don’t think there is an answer for that.

    #2 – obviously.

    #3 – I like some of Helen’s suggestions. She gave some suggestions that, once set up, could have a measurable impact on happiness. If you can afford a cleaner, as I now can, a few things happen:
    a) once a week I have to scurry around and tidy up my house in preparation for the cleaner (if the house isn’t tidy, then she can’t clean and I’ve wasted my money). Some weeks this is the only brisk activity I get! And that sudden burst of activity always makes me happy.
    b) I encounter another living breathing human being whom I like. Living alone I really suffer from not enough human contact; fortunately I enjoy the company of my cleaner so when we talk I always come away feeling better. I also suffer from chronic migraine; even if it’s a migraine day, just a short conversation with Jen boosts the painkilling endorphins and I feel measureably more pain-free. Note: this is a default – she comes whether I do anything or not; I have no choice in the matter.
    c) I end up with a clean house, nice-smelling house when I come home from work. She also folds my toilet paper into a triangle! It only lasts for a short while, but it always makes me smile.

  133. Zac Sullivan, M.A.

    Hey Ramit,

    Well, it’s Wednesday and I’m following up with you as per my last comment post. I hadn’t been notified that my post was the winning one yet, so what’s up with that? Is the jury still out?

    Merry Christmas,

    ~ Zac Sullivan ~

  134. Sunil from The Extra Money Blog

    1) Help a busy executive lose 10lbs

    Do all reading on a static bike – sweat while getting work done without losing any time, or instruct his / her butler to cook only with healthy ingredients (assuming he/she has one).

    2) Help a careless 26-year-old save $1,500 in his savings account by June

    Schedule a % of paycheck into savings account

    3) Help someone feel measurably happier

    Identify the cause of unhappiness, and then communicate to them others in a similar boat who have it much worse to remind them how fortunate they are

  135. Andrew Leung

    Q1. Help a busy executive lose 10lbs
    Replace his lunch with low cal food, prepare the low cal menu for his secretary, every time he order from office, its would be low cal. Build Bicycle Car Park near office, encourage other staff to use bicycle, buy a few bicycle and let the CEO to use it in peak hours to avoid traffic jam. Change his office to 2nd floor, and disable the lift for 2nd floor.

    Q2. Help a careless 26-year-old save $1,500 in his savings account by June
    (=,= I am 26….its great to start my plan NOW)
    Ans: 1. starts a part-time job earning 200 a month, and told the boss to make dated cheque on June, he can only cheque in on june.
    Ans: 2. consulting him for 400 dollar a month, save 200 each month for him, and give it back to him on June.

    Q3. Help someone feel measurably happier
    I don’t think i can help, happiness is a choice by himself.
    Who can tell if this man/woman is not enjoying the current situation? who am I that disturb him?
    I think if he/she follows his heart and he/she will be happy.
    I can try to remind him that.
    A1. Phone him every day, and ask for a happy experience he got today, play back to him on every Sunday.
    A2. Take all his possession, and slowly give back to him.
    A3. Discuss on his goal, check with him every week.
    A4. be his friend, love him
    A5. Listen to him
    A6. Be a happy person and influence him
    A7. Share your joy to him
    A8. Accuse him whenever he neglect his goal/Heart
    A9. help him whenever he needs help

  136. Marisol Perry

    1) Help a busy executive lose 10lbs Do all reading on a static bike – sweat while getting work done without losing any time, or instruct his / her butler to cook only with healthy ingredients (assuming he/she has one). 2) Help a careless 26-year-old save $1,500 in his savings account by June Schedule a % of paycheck into savings account 3) Help someone feel measurably happier Identify the cause of unhappiness, and then communicate to them others in a similar boat who have it much worse to remind them how fortunate they are

  137. Nona Mills

    Anonie et al – again, missing the point. From Ramit’s email today: “for 99% of people, “trying harder” is a source of guilt, anxiety, and worst of all, poor results…” I don’t think I’ve seen a single option for #1 (losing weight) that actually takes the full burden off the executive for “trying harder”, and that’s what Ramit is getting at. Personally, I think #1 a question without an answer; the only way the executive can exist completely outside the ability to choose the wrong food would be to lock him up. The default food becomes whatever his jailer feeds him. And as for getting him to exercise – well, unless he hooks up a slot on the Biggest Loser, I don’t think there is an answer for that. #2 – obviously. #3 – I like some of Helen’s suggestions. She gave some suggestions that, once set up, could have a measurable impact on happiness. If you can afford a cleaner, as I now can, a few things happen: a) once a week I have to scurry around and tidy up my house in preparation for the cleaner (if the house isn’t tidy, then she can’t clean and I’ve wasted my money). Some weeks this is the only brisk activity I get! And that sudden burst of activity always makes me happy. b) I encounter another living breathing human being whom I like. Living alone I really suffer from not enough human contact; fortunately I enjoy the company of my cleaner so when we talk I always come away feeling better. I also suffer from chronic migraine; even if it’s a migraine day, just a short conversation with Jen boosts the painkilling endorphins and I feel measureably more pain-free. Note: this is a default – she comes whether I do anything or not; I have no choice in the matter. c) I end up with a clean house, nice-smelling house when I come home from work. She also folds my toilet paper into a triangle! It only lasts for a short while, but it always makes me smile. c)

  138. Behavioral Defaults | Pat's Health Fix

    […] I have been pondering a solution to a clever blog post about helping a busy executive lose 10 pounds by changing his defaults. […]

  139. Patrick

    After reading a significant amount of Tim’s new book the 4HB, I was wondering what you thought about the following approach for the busy executive losing weight:

    Create a list of “allowed” foods like Tim does in his book, these are okay to eat as much as he wants until satisfied. However, anything that this executive dude eats that is NOT on the list (excluding his cheat day), he must jot down into a notebook and pay some amount (either a monetary amount to a accountability partner, or some exercise, etc.) as repentance for not following his plan.

    This way, if his default action is to eat ONLY the foods that are allowed, his life becomes easier because he doesn’t have to go through the pain and time waste of paying his repentance penalty. Every time he eats something that is not on the allowed list, he must think about the penalty of his action and this should deter his unhealthy actions.

  140. Matt Scranton

    1. Help a busy executive lose 10lbs

    Because the busy executive doesn’t have much time, and can’t try harder or focus on this, playing with his eating “defaults” would be a key method. Three key solutions that could have the 10 lbs off within 4 weeks (assumptions: average height man, slightly obese, poor exercise and nutrition knowledge, diet is of the “average” American, he is “too busy” to exercise)

    1. Eliminate simple carbohydrates from his meals. Take all the bread, rice, cereal, bagel, jam, and fruits from his house and throw them away. Have his secretary automatically substitute these out from any meal. If he eats any at any meal, he is fined $10, which will be donated to a political cause that he does not support.

    2. Use his blackberry to take a picture of everything he eats. Becoming aware of what’s going in his mouth will make him less likely to put junk in there. One of my key takeaways from Tim’s 4HB book.

    3. Wear a pedometer and achieve 10,000 steps each day. For each step he records over 10,000, he can bank the steps to not take them on another day. For example, 14,000 today means only 6,000 needed tomorrow.

    2. Help a careless 26-year-old save $1,500 in his savings account by June

    Set up an automated withdrawal for $250 from his checking account on the day after his paycheck gets deposited. As he is careless, he probably spends not on what he wants or needs, but on things that do not give him value or meaning. When the money isn’t there for him to waste, he won’t miss it.

    3. Help someone feel measurably happier

    As measurably is included in the question, have the person quantify their happiness through a survey. The survey should be max. 10 minutes long (so as not to frustrate the person), but detailed enough to gather exact data on what areas of the person’s happiness are deficient or lacking. After analyzing the data, select the three areas where large gains are most plausable. Then design simple, non-confrontational, and relatively easy activities that can positively affect these components of happiness. For example, skydiving would probably be a bad idea because it might make the person anxious or scared. Single events should be avoided, as there may be little long-term affect. If the person is lacking a sense of belonging, a club or group-based hobby should be included as to foster a sense of community.

    Laughing helps too.

  141. mature

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  142. how I’m conditioning myself out of depression & you can too | janna marlies maron

    […] not about willpower, he insists. We cannot will ourselves out of depression or any other behavior. He did this thing last year where he asked his readers to comment with a solution to each of three different hypothetical […]