About that Last Challenge…and the Science of Changing Behavior

6 Mar

Trying to convince yourself or someone else to bike more for transportation? For most people “baby steps” are the way to go because it’s too easy to give up before you’ve started if the goal is too big. Start with biking to work one day a week, or changing one trip on the weekend to a bicycling adventure. Photo from Bicycles and Bicycling: (bike-riding-guide.com).

So I ended my last post with a “challenge” to find a trip this week that you might have done by car but could choose to do by bicycle… Given the way the weather looks out there right now, I can only say, “No excuses!”

But seriously, maybe that challenge was a bit premature in terms of the weather.  It won’t be too long, however, until the weather is perfect for more biking!

The message still stands, though (and this is meant for those you might try to convince if you’re already an shining model of cycling for transportation): you don’t have to get rid of a car or commit to a bike-everywhere lifestyle to make a difference for yourself and in general.  Baby steps are okay!  That’s how it works for most of us.  Sure, some people just dive in and change everything at once, but most people change their habits gradually.

This seems like common sense, but it’s something that people who are trying to change behavior — and that’s what bicycle advocates are partly out to do — sometimes forget.  I’ve been thinking about this after stumbling onto a slide show from Stanford University’s Persuasive Tech Lab called “Top Ten Mistakes in Behavior Change.”  What I take away from this is: it works better to offer short-term, do-able, concrete, rewarding actions that over time could change habits over the long term.

With cycling the biggest thing is to nudge people’s thinking in the direction of “I can bike to get somewhere I want to go and I will feel really good when I do that.”  Don’t get me wrong, cycling for fun-excercise-recreation is great, and that might be a first baby step too.  But I think the biggest hurdle for most of us in this country is thinking of a bicycle as a normal means of getting around.  Unlike regular hurdles, however, you don’t have to take this one in one big leap.  It can be surmounted with, say, a step ladder of small changes.

Maybe one of the ciclovia events coming up this spring and summer will be that for some Richmonders.  In addition to changing the ever-powerful environment (if only temporarily) by closing streets to cars, this kind of event allows us to say, “Hey, why not come to this fun event with me?” instead of “Why don’t you ride your bike more?”

I’ll be sure to post more details about these events as they become available.


2 Responses to “About that Last Challenge…and the Science of Changing Behavior”

  1. Bob Burch March 21, 2013 at 4:38 PM #

    I have been advised that riding on the Canal Walk at the start of the Capital Trail and Browns Island is prohibited.This seems odd since it’s a great way to miss a very busy section of downtown. (Must admit, I use it frequently)

    • bikeablerichmond March 21, 2013 at 6:45 PM #

      Don’t quote me on this, but I’m pretty sure that the Riverfront Plan that was completed recently calls for opening the Canal Walk to bikes and actually making it easier for bikes to ride there (e.g. ramps in some places where there are only stairs). So that may be in the works.

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