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109. Secrets of Motivation and Incentives, Tim Houlihan Interview

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Today features an interview with Tim Houlihan, cohost of Behavioral Grooves podcast and the Weekly Grooves podcast, also the founder of Behavior Alchemy. Behavior Alchemy is a consultancy helping companies to incorporate behavioral economics into their businesses, we will talk about some of his work and past projects – including one with Dan Ariely.
In life, I think it is important to find joy and humor in the small things. So when there was an opportunity for some with this episode, we took it. You see, I was a guest on the Behavioral Grooves podcast for episode 109 of their show, and even though this was recorded several weeks ago, Tim and I agreed it was worth holding onto for a bit so we could have this crossover episode of sorts be the same number.
In our conversation, Tim and I focus on goals. Something you have heard covered a lot on the show, and while he has some similarly aligned tips, the stories and studies he references are mostly going to be new to the show. And in my opinion, reinforcing tips is important to help you find the right way to achieve more of your own goals. It is a good thing to revisit in as many ways as we can so everyone can find the thing that resonates with them specifically. I am sure you will find some interesting and useful tips and tidbits in this conversation with Tim.

Show Notes:

  • [01:32] Habit Weekly shared their top behavioral science content of 2020 so far. There were only 4 podcast episodes included, and my interview with Dan Ariely on the Shapa numberless scale (ep 101) was one of them! Thank you Habit Weekly! 
  • [02:51] In life, I think it is important to find joy and humor in the small things and so when there was an opportunity for some with this episode,we took it…
  • [04:37] 20 some years ago, Tim got involved in a business designing incentives and employee engagement programs, rules and rewards. That led him down a path of falling in love with behavioral sciences. 
  • [05:59] They use the Behavioral Grooves podcast to expand their own learning and it has become a public service about application of behavioral science at work and life. 
  • [06:20] On the Behavioral Grooves podcast they talk to researchers, practitioners, and “accidental behavioral scientists.” 
  • [08:26] Think as big as possible when you are setting your goals and vision. When you are looking at actually moving forward, you want to go as small as possible, especially when executing. 
  • [09:29] Tim uses Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs). These light up our prefrontal cortex which gets our imagination engaged. 
  • [10:18] If you don’t break those big goals down into small bricks you can’t build the cathedral. 
  • [10:29] The articulation of the plan is most important in any goal development. 
  • [11:27] Self-selected goals are the richest kind of goals we can have. 
  • [13:01] Since the half marathon Melina has been training for is pivoting to a virtual half marathon she is having to revisit and reshape her vision based on what the world will allow. 
  • [15:21] Social media is going to help people to stick to their commitments and achieve their goals. 
  • [17:12] If people are not given due dates they often procrastinate and struggle to meet the goal. 
  • [20:03] Many people would do the bare minimum to hit their goals at the call center. 
  • [21:39] The environment and context was shaping their decisions. 
  • [23:42] A More Beautiful Question talks about using questions instead of answers and some schools that have come up with alternative models to teaching. 
  • [25:03] Tim recommends the fewer the goals the better and no more than three goals at one time. (Matching Melina’s advice! Narrow down to your three goals with the free Master Your Mindset Mini Course)
  • [25:46] Goals need to be time specific and time manageable. Tim suggests month long goals or quarterly goals. 
  • [26:25] The shorter the goals, the more likely you are to achieve them. We rely on achievement to propel us to take on the next goal. 
  • [27:41] We can do so many things to contribute to our goal if we are thoughtful of our goal, our daily activities, and have a plan. Failing to plan is planning to fail. A goal also needs to be measurable. 
  • [30:39] Start small with something that is totally achievable. 
  • [31:34] When you set up your to-do list with 35 things and you only get 3 done you feel like you failed. 
  • [34:36] Everything we think should work tends to backfire and often make things worse. Melina shares the example about the day care. 
  • [34:49] Tim is a big fan of using non-monetary incentives in the corporate world. 
  • [36:10] The best way to motivate team members is with their emotions and that is a non-monetary incentive. 
  • [37:21] The group that was given gifts worked 30% more and delivered more effort, and created better results than the group that received cash. 
  • [39:02] Every time you reconsume the gift it takes you right back to that great feeling of winning the item the first time. 
  • [41:29] If you have employees and you are giving things away and you can retrigger the memory it increases motivation and draws out extra effort. 
  • [43:16] Even if we buy something, it wouldn’t mean nearly as much if we win it in a contest. 
  • [46:07] Tim’s band is back in songwriting and recording mode in their individual houses (now you get where the “grooves” of Behavioral Grooves podcast comes from!) 
  • [48:19] Want to listen to what Melina is listening to while she is working? Check out her carefully curated “John Mayer Pandora Station” here: https://pandora.app.link/UrWQ28B6l3 .

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2 thoughts on “109. Secrets of Motivation and Incentives, Tim Houlihan Interview”

  • What a great episode! And while I might be biased, loved the whole discussion on self-selection of goals and the use of non-monetary rewards! Wow! Only beef is that Behavioral Grooves name – the “groove” part was not just for music – it also reflects the way that our mind creates grooves that help drive our behavior…

    • Thanks so much Kurt! Appreciate you listening and leaving a comment. And, apologies if I misspoke and implied the grooves was “only” about music – love how multi-faceted and detailed your podcast is.

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