Moving in the Right Direction: The Power of a Positive Nudge

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For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

William Shakespeare, Hamlet


We have all fallen victim to the power of “should.” We say it all the time. “I should eat better.” “I should work out more.” “I should be saving more money.” “I should be spending time with my family.” It is natural to want more, or to think that things “should be better” than they are. Edwin Locke’s Goal Setting Theory says we want to be better, do better, feel better, and have better, so we set lofty goals for ourselves to achieve these things … and often getting started proves more challenging than actually setting the goals. So, how do we get moving in the right direction towards this better version of ourselves?

In the past, I have often set health-focused goals for myself. Pretty much every year, I put an emphasis on eating good foods and adopting healthy habits, only to have these goals fizzle out after just a few months. Sound familiar? The initial thought (“I should eat better/exercise more.”) isn’t strong enough to sustain the actions that would lead to a healthier lifestyle. Those “shoulds” are not directly connected to a creative pathway to success — and sometimes can feel more judgmental than inspiring.

“Small shifts in thoughts and actions can effect great directional changes.” – pLink Leadership

I have decided to try something different this year. I am tapping into what it means to focus on positive, sustainable change for myself – my thought processes, my actions, and my intentions. And instead of “should,” I am embracing “would” and “could.” As in, what WOULD eating better look like? What exercise WOULD make sense for my schedule and lifestyle? What resources COULD help me be more successful, and what WOULD make that success be a permanent change in thoughts and behaviors?

By asking questions like these, our thoughts shift to possibilities instead of problems. Thinking this way infuses our thoughts with a positivity bias, expands our perspectives, and opens up awareness to a wider range of possible solutions. By thinking positively, we can harness the power of positive emotions like hope, optimism, and curiosity to expand our choices and achieve better outcomes.

Let’s go back to our healthy lifestyle example. When the pLink team looked for resources that COULD help improve our chances of success, we discovered multiple options that help people stay on track with their healthy lifestyle goals – apps like Calm for the mind (mindful meditation), Fitbit for the body (sleep and movement), Noom for eating (rethinking food habits). When we make the small shift from focusing on the goal itself to focusing on many possible pathways TO that goal, we have a better chance of experiencing tangible, measurable results after only a short time. Results like these leave us thinking about what COULD be possible in the coming year and feeling optimistic about the road ahead.

The same process is relevant to whatever goals we are setting for ourselves in 2019. We can apply a positive shift to the direction of our thinking, whether the “should” is saving money, traveling more, intentionally enjoying downtime, or quitting smoking. Small shifts, like moving from “should” to “could” – literally one letter to make a different word – can be the positive nudge that leads to lasting change.

Jennifer Schneider

A founding member of pLink Leadership. Jennifer leads a determined and cohesive team of designers and experts who bring pLink Leadership’s signature ideas and concepts to life and enhance the delivery and acceleration of positive change in the world, As Chief Design Officer, her leadership and design principles inform every piece of company collateral. She lives in the Chicago area with her husband and cat where she enjoys Cubs games, Six Flags, and visits from her college-attending daughter.