Change the Default: The Easiest Trick for Successful Habit Change

January 26, 2017 by John Andrew Williams

If you want to be successful in your habit change, the easiest way is to change the default option from opt-out to opt-in. You know those little checkboxes you have to make sure you click on checkouts to avoid another newsletter update? You have to opt out, and research shows that on average only 18% of people make a different choice than the one presented.

If you have an opt-in, you can expect 18% of people to sign-up. For sure those signups are going to be more committed, but you’re only capturing roughly 1-in-5 visitors.

If you have an opt-out, you can expect 82% of people to sign-up. Research shows that signups are less committed overall, but you’ve got nearly four times as many people on the list.

Let’s look at this graph of organ donation per country.

It’s not that the good people of Denmark are really 95% more adverse to donating organs than neighboring Belgium. The difference is a little checkbox of a default opt-in or opt-out.

If you’re really trying to change a habit, either adding it or subtracting it, an easy way is to change the default.

Drinking water

Opt-out: Have a full water bottle or glass of water ready to go on your desk the night before Opt-in: Have to get up off, walk downstairs or to the office kitchen, get a glass, wait to fill it up, then drink it, and decide what to do with the empty glass

Work out

Opt-out: Arrange to meet a friend or trainer. In order to cancel, you have to call someone to cancel it. Opt-in: Get all your stuff together the morning of, make a plan of what kind of workout you want to do, and get to the gym.

Using a planner

Opt-out: Have it open on your desk all day or for each class and study session. Opt-in: Have to remember it, find it, get it out, find the right page

To accomplish a creative or far off goal:

Opt-out: Have a standing weekly appointment with a coach to clarify weekly steps and hold you accountable. Opt-in: Do it yourself. (Good luck.)Changing the default doesn’t ensure 100% follow through on your habit change, but it does make follow through 5 to 20 times more likely.

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