I’ve been thinking a lot about behavior change and applying different mental models to achieve that. While I researching, I read this NYT piece again about an experiment to reduce energy use among people who adamantly don’t believe in global warming.

“Town managers attribute the new resolve mostly to a yearlong competition sponsored by the Climate and Energy Project, which set out to extricate energy issues from the charged arena of climate politics.
Attempts by the Obama administration to regulate greenhouse gases are highly unpopular here because of opposition to large-scale government intervention. Some are skeptical that humans might fundamentally alter a world that was created by God.
If the heartland is to seriously reduce its dependence on coal and oil, Ms. Jackson and others decided, the issues must be separated. So the project ran an experiment to see if by focusing on thrift, patriotism, spiritual conviction and economic prosperity, it could rally residents of six Kansas towns to take meaningful steps to conserve energy and consider renewable fuels.
Think of it as a green variation on “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” Ms. Jackson suggested, referring to the 2004 book by Thomas Frank that contended that Republicans had come to dominate the state’s elections by exploiting social values.
The project’s strategy seems to have worked. In the course of the program, which ended last spring, energy use in the towns declined as much as 5 percent relative to other areas — a giant step in the world of energy conservation, where a program that yields a 1.5 percent decline is considered successful.”

All of us have certain beliefs how the world works. For us, this is the way the world works. Mental models are important to survive in a complex world and society, they help us simplify our lives and save us mental energy. We carry multiple mental models with us. We have mental models how to network, how to pick a good movie, how to find a good book, how to fix Washington DC, how to improve the world.

We think we know how the world works. The NYT has a different mental model than the WSJ. Problem is, we don’t recognize we have mental models. We just believe other people are not getting it. Truth is, the world works different for 6 billion people – we don’t know how the world works, we just have a perception of how the world works.

Once we define a mental model, the universe cooperates and gives us enough evidence that this is in fact the way the world is working. Every positive evidence is accepted, any evidence not fitting the model excused by any means:

– Smokers point out the 95-year old uncle that ran a marathon 2 days before his death while smoking 3 packs for 89 years.

– Organic food fans push away all evidence that the majority of organic food has no health benefits.

There are 6 billion mini-ideologies running around this earth, trying to make sense of the world through their mental models. When we want to change behavior, we need to offer as many mental models to people, allow them to make choices and pick the ones that make the most sense to them. That’s the reason why there’s not one way to lose weight, stop smoking, reduce our carbon footprint or reduce the debt. There are 6 billion ways. Some like gamification, some like a serious approach, some want to be driven by ideology, some want to be driven by altruism.

Your job as a marketer is to find the right balance between giving enough options and not too many choices.