There are many ways to nudge. The picture above offers an infamous one.
There are several books and websites offering you others. There are plenty of examples of shoving others along. We can all do that.
The UK government spawned a behavioural science unit devoted to this! The now-privatised Behaviour Insights Unit exists to create nudges so you help the government achieve its governmental goals. It uses the ‘nudge’ to attain mass goals, often with an ‘eye’ to the large economic benefits.
As I see it, this unit – very profitable for its Directors – is less concerned with empowering you as an individual.
Design your own
This website is only concerned with nudges, or small, safe experiments, you can design for yourself. For me, nudges are safe experiments, or do-able things, to move yourself along a scenic route to change. It’s ‘scenic‘ as it does not necessarily follow in a straight line.
So I repeat: the nudges I want for you are not ones intended to shove other people along; they are concerned with how you might want to shove yourself along. I do offer one direction you might like to consider, but please do the ‘considering’ for yourself.
The outcomes you might want to reach might be very different. I want this website to support you in that more personal enquiry.
It is not what you can do to others, but what you can do for yourself (with apologies to John Kennedy, and the Romans!).
INTRODUCTION to safe experimentation
All the material in this website has been generated by a large number of people over decades; I am only one of them. None of this material would have been tested without the support of many clients, colleagues, supervisors, teachers, family and friends.
The practical nudges, or safe experiments, included here have worked for somebody, at some time.
Please chose your own way to use this material. Make it your own and find out what works for you – in the knowledge that no-one can tell you what will work until you have a go. You will need to cast around to find material most suited to you and your present circumstances.
When you take a step, it may develop your ability to build on success (a ‘small victory‘) and to adapt when you get it wrong (a ‘small defeat’). There could be a mixed result so make what sense you can of that!
What’s the ‘do-able’ thing?
Where any technical details I provide seem to flummox you, just ignore the words. Focus on the ‘do-able thing’. That may emerge from my other words, diagrams and illustrations.
DO things, rather than think too much about them – with a few obvious exceptions.
Please keep looking for your ‘do-able thing’ even if doing is not all and everything.
Also, there is a page on research into what is helpful therapy.
Take a look at some pages listed in my alphabetical Index. That’s a challenging experiment in its own right!
If this helps, fine: but this website is a road to designing and implementing your own safe experiments – to focus on your understanding of your own world.
The smallest step
Keep in mind: what, for you, is the next, smallest ‘do-able’ thing you could work on?
The material you are about to generate can provide a tool for your own personal development.
However, some of it may have an emotional impact on you.
Therefore, you may want to work on your personal development with a consultant. If you need some leads to follow up, then let me know. There are many people who can act as a consultant. The important thing is to find some-one reliable and discreet outside your immediate circle of friends or family.
WHAT’S NEXT – ACTION
I would advise you to record results emerging from your experiments. That way to collect data can help you build your own MY-NUAL.
It can be argued that without results, there is no experiment. You can keep your records brief: use concrete, short sentences, even bullet-points, to help keep your focus. I have included some detailed headings on another page.
A diary or a journal is not needed. Journals and diaries are detailed documents; they can help a lot but you may not be used to that sort of thing. The important thing is to make a start and have some record to supplement your memory.
In my experience Post-Its will do just as well, as long as you can organise them so the information remains coherent as you may need to come back to some of your results.
Such data can be used, and re-used, to move things along. Keeping the material in your head sounds convenient, but it might not work. The results can arise from fleeting experiences – valuable for moving things on – yet too easily missed. We forget stuff or overlook it.
A similar ‘lesson’ or opportunity may come again, but the process of change can be slowed or fragmented.
Write down the following items on a piece of paper, in any order:
Experiment; outcome; records; commitment; just noticing, small details; building on victories; acceptance of defeats.
Come back to your list in 24 hours. How many items would you have recalled if you had not written them down?
If in doubt, try just remembering the items and see how many you can recall twenty-four hours later – without consulting your list or this blog. Which one(s) do you leave out? Do you think the forgotten items might be ‘telling’ you something about the way you work?
You may ask why I used that particular itemised list. In my opinion, it contains the key ingredients you will need if you want to nudge your life in a different direction.
A more humourous version of this experiment is: stop for a moment and see how many of the seven dwarves you can recall from Snow White? A lot of folk cannot get to five and most of us struggle to name a seventh.
Let me now get to a word of caution. Progress may not be evident unless it creates some discomfort. That feeling can motivate us to do something else (“no gain without pain?”). Consider that feeling as a ‘small defeat‘ if necessary but – whatever you do ……
…. don’t blame yourself or me!
Instead, decide what you might do differently next time
That attitude will lead to your next experiment. You can still make useful change even though you are disappointed by the first results. It is easy to be deterred and feel put off. A record of the successes and failures arising from your experiments provides a balanced record of results that can help you to move forward.
There are some unexpected challenges; for example, getting things right can lead us to brush off our successes with false modesty! With any result, encourage yourself by saying “what more might I do… what might I do differently“. When you succeed, please enjoy it and consider how to build on that ‘small victory’.
A WORD ABOUT MODELS
There are hundreds of models of therapy.
Examples such as Gestalt, Body Psychotherapy. Mindfulness, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), or Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) come to my mind. There is even a movement to integrate different models but, even then, it often seems an excuse to invent another name – without having enough respect to acknowledge others who preceded them!
For a commentary on groups of models have a look at:
Some models may be more helpful than others; I am thinking, here, of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) – less a model and more a way of going about things. ACT is consistent with the dominant ideal in this web-site so I have written more about this approach. Similar things can be said about Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT).
If you do the research you may find ‘models’ offer a coherent and ordered way to understand what makes us ‘tick’. They offer guidance on how to behave differently if our ‘tick’ becomes erratic. So ….. models are fine, but they do tend to use assumptions and assertions to explain human behaviour in general, but not specifically your behaviour.
Safe experiments will help you test these basics. The results will help identify what model might best apply to your current life and what seems not to apply.
Tomorrow? You may need to change the working model!
Models find it difficult to respect the uniqueness of each of us. They offer general observations. Models, by their nature, cannot apply to all people, all of the time, across our globe.
With any model you will need to decide where you fit in. Do you fit the majority pattern or do you see yourself in the minority – an awkward fit, at best? Beware the tendency to fit yourself into what is available. Instead, use the ‘bits’ that work for you.
For many years, research has consistently demonstrated that models are less reliable indicators of success in therapy, when compared to the quality of the relationship created by therapist and client.
In short, models are not a ‘be all and end all’, but rather a means to learn how to be skillful in the art of safe experimentation. For some detailed information on how to continue with safe experiments, take a look at:
getting it together: or
I have said that success with your safe experimenting may mean feeling rotten. That is unavoidable. Please make a point of noticing how you feel – whether good or bad. This is the key safe experiment of just noticing‘. Record your reaction, your feeling, as a ‘fact’ – nothing more. Later, you may find an experiment that helps to explain what that reaction might mean to you. – what your body is ‘saying’ to you.
The art of ‘just noticing’
The art of ‘just noticing‘ is seeing, hearing and becoming aware of something, however small, especially the small and fleeting experiences. Just noticing can turn your awareness to your advantage. Furthermore, planning small steps may, only may, reduce the intensity of good or bad feelings and help us to avoid a ‘hard’ landing.
Safe experiments that promote small changes make it possible to step back and redirect our energies when we have moved in the wrong direction a little bit. Beware of learning to tight-rope your way over the Grand Canyon, only to find yourself at the wrong destination. Take pleasure in deciding what you are going to do differently, tomorrow, fully accepting that you will have to live with the consequences.
Practise through repetition of small victories will be necessary. Decisive and visible change rarely arrives first time around. The brain needs to learn and absorb what it means to be different. Our brains operate at quite a speed, but learning is a complex process. Consider how long it took you to ride a bike?! Only practice can build confidence.
This notion of experimenting, here, is saying that effective therapy does not need to provide an immediate or ‘complete’ solution. Problem resolution can emerge from some change and the ability to experiment. Russell L. Ackoff put it like this: “the way to make a big change is to start with a very small change or ‘input’ and just see what happens”
Now, is there anyone thinking: Oh, that’s interesting but what about these experiments? When will they really get going?
That’s an important question. Didn’t you notice that you have already started! You are reading this web site and I am fairly confident you are thinking about it. The thing is – there is no need for me, or my words – to give you permission to get started.
More importantly, some of us get started …….. and don’t notice.
NOW THAT IS A PROBLEM – something’s happening, but you did not realise it.
You are missing an opportunities to move out of your Window of Tolerance and to explore new possiblities. What do I mean by this?
Take a look at this illustration. It appears a few times on this web site:
The Window of Tolerance (WOT)
Safe experiments cannot begin until we commit to moving out of the Window of Tolerance (WOT). When we do this, we move into the working area. You can do this accompanied by any one you trust and/or with a therapist.
Sometimes the experiments are simple and easy to do – the word ‘experiment’ can make it all sound too fancy!!
So, consider this. You are reading this part of my web site; to a degree you have chosen to read this bit, and not anothe bit. You could have done something else with your time, and you’ve been reading this instead. Therefore, you have done something a little bit different and that’s a basic feature of ‘safe experimenting’.
When you record your experimental results, you could notice how much time did you give to reading my web pages; which help and which one appear to hinder.
After all, you did not have to visit my web site. You chose to do so and doing so may well be described as a safe experiment, even if you did not label it as such.
Consider: did you skip a section? Did you read the page through it like a book, or dip in and out? Was there one sentence, or part sentence, that grabbed your attention?
These approaches would each represent a different ‘experimental design’ – a step on the way to implementing a plan to make a small change in your life.
If you were not aware of this possibility, then let me challenge to make a note of any sentence (or idea) that had impact on you. Making a note is essential; that is the one way to make an experimental ‘result’ manifest:
Observing or just noticing, how you are already reacting to my writing is an experiment in itself.
Even if you are reading the material for the second time, there is still a chance your experience will have been a little bit different. There is a saying that ‘you cannot step into the same river twice‘. Rivers move – imperceptibly – the running water changes it constantly.
EXPERIMENT: Go back, or ahead, randomly, to some part of the page. Your reactions to it may change. Your feelings about what I have to offer may be different or, maybe, there are sensations in your body that are different. Perhaps you are sick of it or excited by it. I don’t know, but you will; as long as you take time to notice it and record the fact.
The point about the experiment you’ve just done is that it has an outcome. It becomes a safe experiment when you’ve noticed what that outcome is and have learned to live with the result. You’ve created a ‘result’.
Two features of an experiment are:
1. doing something a little bit different; and
2.. noticing the result or outcome.
I’ve repeated this a few times, but it’s something that may be so central that it deserves repetition.
It is easy to think that experimenting is something only scientists do. In a science laboratory, experiments are much more controlled. However, in our real world, a high level of control is not possible. What is possible, however, is to notice something a little bit different and to learn from it. That is the’ experiment’ and that is the reason for doing it. Experiments can be very ordinary and some can be quite extra-ordinary.
On this web site, safe experimentation helps anyone to become aware of their thinking and actions and to work out how to investigate those experiences differently.
What is safe experimentation?
- listening as deeply as we can to ourselves and to others.
- bringing a quality of openness into our lives.
- introducing some small, different behaviour into our daily action.
… and doing it without choosing sides; not being for or against the results you get!
‘Experimenting’ has become rather trendy in recent years. This arises from growing evidence that our brains are rather more flexible than we once thought. This flexibility is referred to as “neural plasticity”. The practical implications of ‘plasticity’ are becoming increasingly obvious.
Take a look at a book by Leonard Mlodinow’s “Elastic: flexible Thinking in a Constantly Changing World“. He has said “we must welcome experimentation – and be tolerant of failure“. Sounds a bit like me, doesn’t it, except I am saying that you can, or you cannot, rather than you must!
So there is a problem with this growing interest in living with ‘plasticity’. It prompts another generation of writers and professionals to find increasingly sophisticated ways to tell you what you should do!! Beware this “mustabation”, as it has been termed; you can do as you are told or you can use any advice, from anywhere, to design your own safe experimenting, and learn to live with the consequences. Your own impulses and intuitions are able to inspire you as much as other people.
The opposite of experimenting is assuming—assuming that we already know how things are. Us humans are good at that. We establish a present normal (see my inverted tree) and work hard to stick to it, not realising that it has become an ‘old normal’. Be prepared to test the obvious; when you do, your experience may become less obvious.
Like the outcome or not, us Brits voted for Brexit and the Americans tried a large experiment by electing Trump as their President. I do not recommend you to do the same thing with your own life. Those election outcomes were not small steps! Whether they were safe has yet to be assessed. Notice how, in 2020, we faced the global crisis of the corona virus. This has forced governments to experiment with unprecedented strategies. Government actions have a large knock-on all of us. It is difficult for governments to devise small and safe experiments. We can do better when the focus is on me. We can be less cautious and still live with the consequences.
The main qualities of a small, safe experiment
Experiments are open trials; they have a quality of quiet and provisional probing. Think of them as generating a quality of affectionate curiosity in you. It comes out of caring about ourselves and others.
It is not a cold, superficial analysis; it’s affectionate, it’s warm, it’s intimate, and even playful. It is an investigation into the nature of your life. This quality of investigation is, of course, strong in most children. They are good at not assuming things and they are often more able to let go of a treasured perspective (often through energetic crying in the first instance!).
Each one of us has the ability to observe and that includes observing your emotional experience when experimenting. It is not an easy task to stay with a discomfort until you see it change, but it is possible to learn from it. An important part of any investigation is observing those experiences we find difficult to focus on.
With experiments we are not trying to make anything happen. We are simply open to something happening and remaining vigilant – to notice the result. This includes paying attention to important relationships and the attitudes and preconceptions we hold towards others. In a later experiment, you may notice how our attitudes, and attitudes of those close to us, can prevent us engaging in relationships in an open and direct way.
An idea of a relationship is not THE relationship
Consider this challenging assertion: when we think we really know someone, I assert that we are no longer in a relationship with a living, changing being!!
Instead we have arrived in a relationship with an idea of that person —- our own idea, at that! It is our map of that relationship. Others will likely view it differently.
Safe experimenting can bring new energy and joy to relationships when we pay attention, with curiosity, to changes in ourselves and the relationship we are generating together.
It may not be right for you, but its MY normal
The issue, here, is that I sit in my world and, however it looks, I tend to assume it is normal. This can lead to acceptance – a reduced ability to question things that are in plain sight. The context in which I operate becomes a ‘given’ – not a suitable case for treatment.
This is not a new idea: the philosopher, Wittgenstein (1953), said:
“The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. (One is unable to notice something – because it is always before one’s eyes.)… and this means: we fail to be struck by what, once seen, is most striking and most powerful.”
When you design and implement a safe experiment, you are disrupting that ‘normal’ by some action. That action will expose the ‘social context’ in which we live to observation once we ‘just notice’ it. You will be using, in part, a sophisticated research method called Linguistic Ethnography!!
There is no better way to stifle investigation than to become caught up in our fears and anxieties. This can deter us from practising new skills, diluting our courage to take other actions. The aim is to remain open to the experience – being a little different with ourselves or that other person – just for this moment.
Space, Time, Body and Spirit
Now I want to continue fitting more experiments into this organised approach using the dimensions of SPACE, TIME, BODY and SPIRIT. To explore these dimensions, please review the pages of interest to you – as listed on the right.
Each plays a part in determining who we are – the problems that are presented to us, the way we face them, and what milestones we achieve (or not) as we develop and grow.
Please see hyper-linked pages, some listed just three lines up, to research some of these elements.
You, too, can make your own on-line inquiries if you want to deepen your research and to investigate a ‘nudge’ in more detail. The page on:
should be worth visiting now as it is intended to help you go on designing your own safe experiments into the future.