Behavioural Physics

An extract from the book and presentation '2 Dangerous Things A year'. Buy the book.

“A body in motion tends to stay in motion unless affected by an outside force”. – Isaac Newton

I want to talk about something I call ‘Behavioral Physics’. I don't think anyone else in the social sciences has yet patented that term? I think you're all aware of physics-physics if you can flash your mind back to high school, An object moving at a certain speed in a certain direction will maintain that speed and direction unless affected by an outside force, such as gravity. I think people are the same. Behaving in a certain way in a certain direction, at a certain speed, they will continue to do so for the most part unless affected by an outside force. I'd like you to be your own outside force and to nudge that change earlier on when you need the least energy. Or, you can be the positive outside force for someone else you lead or love.

Getting back to actual physics for just a moment, early nudges would certainly have made the movie ‘Armageddon’ shorter and less dramatic but [SPOILER ALERT], maybe Bruce Willis’ character would’ve made it home. (C’mon, it was 1997!)

Imagine your behaviour is the asteroid. Left alone, it’s highly likely to continue on its path. If it does so, it’s predictable that there will be an impact and Armageddon will ensue with drama and damage. Behavioural physics says that an outside force is needed. The key variables in this metaphor are how much force and when is it applied. Timing is critical.

Ideally, the force should be minimal, as little as is needed to avoid the collision. This is known as a ‘Nudge’. Nudges result in little drama and damage and require little energy. The critical element with nudges is timing.

For nudges to work, early intervention is required. Unfortunately, prime characteristics of those in the ‘Change Sloth’ and ‘Change Strain’ stages are avoidance and delay.

Avoidance and delay mean much greater energy is required and it’s no longer a nudge. It results in drama and damage, even if it is successful, producing scar tissue. It’s also possible that it’s too late, leading to an extinction event. Even though the angle and direction of the change is the same, because it’s so much later it means the collision is inevitable. It wasn’t, but it is now.

In the case of this graphic, then it would be, “Adios Barcelona”!

So, given Behavioural Physics, our ‘Change Evolution’ efforts need to occur early. I will argue that by the time you see change coming at you, you’re already caught up in the gravity of the situation. You must plan to act and then act before then. Doing 2 dangerous things a year, as I’ll define them shortly, is good practice.


(An extract from the book and presentation '2 Dangerous Things A year'. Book available now at )