An effective safe experiment rather assumes we have the time, energy and ability to design and implement it. This web site is devoted to information on the ‘how’ of designing experiments to promote change,

We need time to create and design our experiments and it needs motivation, energy,  to pull it all together and to see it through when the going gets tough.  In my own experience, this issue of sustaining my motivation can be a major STOPPER when it comes to making change. I know this from personal experience: even later in life. I have difficulties motivating myself around my health and fitness. You’d think I’d know better, but I’m more a man than a psychologist. Knowledge and experience is not enough to sustain change.

Often there are hidden reasons for knowing what’s good for us,  yet not doing it.  That’s a major limitation when working in therapy and in the implementation of ideas contained in this web site.

Not only do we live with the built-in conservative impulse that holds back change, but also we have competing obligations and desires. This competition can dissipate and dilute the energy we possess. This acts as a brake on sustaining systematic change.    We find it difficult to break out of thinking-about-change toward action to make change. Too much time is devoted to ‘pre-contemplation’, as Proschaska and DeClemente termed it.

Therapists like me can unintentionally block motivation by being pushy; I warn my clients I can be ‘gobby’ and I invite them to raise their hand when it might help if I stop!   I can pursue a line of enquiry that seems right, but, in fact, it may be less relevant to the person in front of me. Recently, I spoke with some-one who was troubled by a prior telephone consultation with a health professional. It emerged that professional had said a lot of useful things – factually sound, it seemed to me, if not totally up to date, but he alienated this person. The problem is that being right is not always enough.

In the words of the song:’ it ain’t what you do, its the way that you do it’.  The pace of giving information can be too fast or it can be too slow. Too fast, is the more likely problem, in my opinion. However, even before that, any motivator needs to hear what is being said.  What does the other person really want for themselves and/or from you?

For example, in modern therapy, there is value in translating the complexities of the central nervous system into digestible and workable knowledge, but making it so, is a challenge to both professional and ‘client’.

The two well-known researchers in this area of motivational interviewing are William Miller and Stephen Rollnick. A key book they wrote is titled Motivational Interviewing. It is popular and readable enough to have reached several editions up to now.

Some initial ideas to prepare yourself to use motivational Interviewing in your experiments include the recommendations to:

  • be curious;  and, if necessary, dissatisfied with things. What do you want or, what don’t you have?
  • selectively attend to the world around you: do this to amplify what you want and/or do not have.
  • Consider the significance of your focus of your attention.
  • Listen to your own reasoning; hear it from your own mouths, not other people! Focus on your own autonomy, rather than wait on others’ encouragement.
  • Be prepared to ask yourself how you can continue to build motivation further.

Some examples of small safe experiments (other than those already found on other pages of the web site) can be found on:

where you will find the Royal College of Nursing four ‘RULES’

  • R – resist the urge to change the individual’s course of action through didactic means
  • U – understand it’s the individual’s reasons for change, not those of the practitioner, that will elicit a change in behaviour
  • L – listening is important; the solutions lie within the individual, not the practitioner
  • E – empower the individual to understand that they have the ability to change their behaviour. (Rollnick et al 2008)

Each ‘rule’ has implications – for instance, note how my ‘pushiness’ – referred to above – is not likely to help. Why? Rule Two advises that it is rather easy to get caught up in our reasons and even trained people can fail to see or hear what the other person is saying. True, it’s tricky when that other person may well not know themselves. It’s not unreasonable to approach a professional in the hope that they may have an ‘answer’.  However, therapy is about finding the route to articulation and realising of our own needs.

Hearing the words is not enough.  Indeed, the words of a therapist often disempower the other person, sometimes called the ‘client’.

Therefore, any small safe experiment needs to identify the small steps that will increase the confidence of the other person in their own ability to ACT.

Other reasons why I like Motivational interviewing (MI)

Results are best obtained by repeated experimentation. This can be trying, even boring,, but motivational strategies are well tested when repeating things.

MI values well-tried experiments such as using SUDS to ‘scale’ of our feelings or sensations when doing a body scan.

It respects the fact that you may be doing things already – before therapy starts, even if the prior outcomes appeared puzzling or confusing.

MI helps us build on solutions that work for us, e.g. promote more self-comfort and self-confidence.

MI places value on editing your own language to improve small victories without ignoring the small defeats.

MI helps keep a sense of proportion in the face of a small defeats (and even sees them as valuable and necessary).


Return to:


What is a Nudge

More on designing safe experiments.