Why Some People Get Robbed at the Beach and Others Don’t.

Summer’s in town. With temperatures rising, people flock to the beach amass. Including thieves looking for their next loot. The beach visitors can be divided in two groups. There is the group that gets robbed and the group that doesn’t. In this blog I will explain the difference between these two groups and how this insight can be used to create consistent healthy behavior.


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Imagine you go to the beach (or to the park), find a nice spot in the sun and put down your blanket. You may sit there for a little bit, perhaps using your mobile phone and chatting with your friends on Facebook. When you decide to take a swim and leave your mobile phone with your blanket, you take the risk of your mobile phone getting stolen. How can you decrease your chances of your mobile phone (or other possessions) being stolen?

Beach visitors and thieves

This is exactly the question that psychologist Moriarty asked himself. He set up an experiment where an accomplice of the researchers behaved in much the same way as I just described. Let’s call him the beach visitor. Then another accomplice, pretending to be a thief, would approach, grab the mobile phone and walk away. The researchers than observed the behavior of another visitor at the beach; they were the experimental subjects in the study. Under these conditions only 4 out of 20 people challenged the thief.

However, the results were completely different when the beach visitor asked the experimental subjects nearby to watch his belongings, something that everyone agreed to. In that case, 19 out of 20 experimental subjects behaved consistent with their commitment. They ran after and stopped the thief, asked for an explanation and often snatching back the possessions of the beach visitor.

So, now you know what you have to do next time you go to the beach and have a swim. Just apply the principle of the need for consistency.

Need for consistency

We all have the need to behave in a manner that matches our past commitments and decisions. This has been known for decades. Psychologists Knox and Inkster had people rate their chances of winning at the racetrack. Right after they had placed the bet they were more confident in their horse’s chances of winning than before placing the bet.

This happens because we want to be (and to appear) consistent with our choices. When I publicly declared that I will run three times a week, because all the squash courts were closed, I was more likely to actually do so in order to be consistent with this commitment. We all have the need for consistency, therefore respond in ways to be in accordance with our earlier behavior.

Consistency is highly valued in our culture. And there are good reasons for it. Without it, our lives would be difficult, erratic and disjointed. So, how can you apply this principle to your health and wellbeing to create consistent healthy behavior?

Consistent healthy behavior

I have been running three times a week ever since the first corona measures. I have been enjoying running more and more. I’ve increased my distance from a little more than 5 kilometers to 8,5 kilometers. Also, I enjoy it when my five year old daughter joins me on her bike. How did I accomplish this? I used three steps to create consistent healthy behavior.  

Step 1. Initial commitment

The first step is to make an initial commitment. It is especially important that your initial commitment requires (1) minimal effort and (2) is easy to do. The initial commitment should require minimal effort. For example, I already knew I could easily run 7 kilometers and probably more. However, the initial commitment was to run 5,2 kilometers.

It should also be easy to do. That means you have to minimize obstacles as much as possible. For example, I planned my weekly routine for running. If I have to decide on the day itself whether to go running, the answer is to postpone it to the next day (with the same answer when I ask that question tomorrow). So I decided to start running on regular days: Sunday mornings, Wednesday evenings and Friday evenings. Furthermore, I decided to go running as soon as I got up on Sundays or had put my daughter into bed on Wednesdays and Fridays. Building a specific routine is immensely helpful to overcome the obstacle of procrastination.

Step 2. Include feedback

The second step is to include feedback. This helps you to track how much you are progressing towards your commitment. You could do this with personal feedback, where you keep track of your progress. Logical choice would be the use your mobile phone for that. For example, I use the Runkeeper App to keep track of my progress towards my commitment. In the figure below you see an image of my progress after my Wednesday run: completed 2 runs this week versus 3 completed runs last week.

My Runkeeper App shows me that I only have to complete one more run this week

You could also do this with public feedback by making your commitment public. Your friends or family may remind you of your commitment, but having publicly committed yourself is in itself a powerful driver to keep your commitment. You do not want to be seen as someone who does not keep their promises, do you? That is why I publicly committed myself in one of my earlier blog post. I have experienced this is a pretty strong driver to keep my commitment.  

Step 3. Scale up your commitment

The thirds step is to scale up. However, only increase commitment after you are successful. If it is starting to become easier, you are more likely to follow through, so do not increase your commitment to soon. I have ran the same route for months. The reason to scale up, was only because that same route was becoming boring. A more interesting route was a couple of hundred meters longer, so I scaled up my commitment.

Happy to play squash again! Or not?

So now that the corona measures have been partly lifted, I am very happy to be able to play squash again. Well, I am happy and not happy at the same time. I love playing squash, which makes me happy, but I have also been enjoying running more and more. Playing squash more often, means running less often and therefore breaking my commitment to running three times a week. This does not make me happy.

However, sharing my initial commitment about running has helped me to stick with it, so I expect that sharing a new commitment will also yield good results. So, I commit myself to doing a sports activity three times a week, whether this is running, squash or perhaps even something else. Who will join me?

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About the author

Niels Vink (1975) is a behavioral economist and sports enthusiast. He has Master degrees in Social Psychology (Leiden University) and Industrial Design Engineering (Delft University of Technology) and holds a PhD in Consumer Behavior. He lives and works (out) in Haarlem.

Want to know how you can get your marketing, communication and sales in better shape? Drop me an email at niels@behavioralinsight.nl

Source of top image: Shotstash



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