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Financial Decoder Bonus: Special Guest Katy Milkman

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Financial Decoder Bonus: Special Guest Katy Milkman

Mark sits down with Choiceology host Katy Milkman to discuss some of the barriers to change in her new book How to Change.

In this special bonus episode, Mark Riepe talks with Katy Milkman, host of Choiceology and author of a new book titled How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be.

Katy’s book focuses on overcoming the barriers that too often prevent us from making positive changes. Katy and Mark discuss some of these obstacles, including procrastination and the difficulty forming good habits, as well as techniques that research has shown can help us overcome them.

Katy also shares what led her down the path of studying behavioral economics, including the lightbulb moment she had when she first saw this pie chart from a study in the New England Journal of Medicine. She also explains how her research into the fresh-start effect was inspired by her own experiences as a graduate student.

Finally, Katy and Mark discuss which biases Katy sees in herself, in her students, and in her own family.

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Financial Decoder is an original podcast from Charles Schwab.

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Click to show the transcript

MARK RIEPE: Hello, my name is Mark Riepe, and welcome to Financial Decoder. I’ll be back with regular episodes soon, but today I want to share a special bonus episode.

Recently I spoke with Katy Milkman, author of a new book called How to Change, and I wanted to share that conversation with you as soon as possible. The reason is simple: On this show we do lots of episodes about mistakes people make when making financial decisions. After a mistake is made, in the best case, that mistake is pointed out, we learn from it, and move on never to make that mistake again. The best-case scenario doesn’t happen all that much.

Far too often, we make mistakes, we know we’re making them, but then we have a hard time correcting ourselves. How many times have you said or thought, “I know I shouldn’t be doing this but …” and then you plowed ahead anyway? I’ve certainly done that, and I’m pretty sure you have as well.

Today Dr. Katy Milkman is going to help solve that problem.

Katy is the James G. Dinan Endowed Professor of Operations, Information, and Decisions at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and has a secondary appointment at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine.

If you’ve ever listened to our sister podcast, Choiceology, you may recognize Katy’s voice because she’s the host.

Katy is also the author of a new book out entitled How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be.

Thanks for being here, Katy.

KATY MILKMAN: Thank you for having me.

MARK: Katy, you’ve got a really interesting career arc. What was it that sent you down this path of researching changes in behavior, especially since you were someone with more of an engineering background?

KATY: The beginning of my career was in engineering and I was getting this PhD in computer science and business and thought I wanted to study the explosion of the internet and how it was changing people’s lives. And then I was required to take a microeconomics class in graduate school, and I discovered this field of behavioral economics. I had never heard of it as an undergrad, which is a little crazy because it was around, but this is circa 2004—it really was just growing. Danny Kahneman had won the Nobel Prize in 2002. It was just taking off in mainstream economics to start acknowledging some of these behavioral biases that people hold and how they can be stumbling blocks. I learned about hyperbolic discounting and about how people, instead of doing what should be rational, like weighting all of the future utility to be gained and the future value to be gained from investments and decisions that they’ll make against the current benefits of a decision, we dramatically overweight what we’ll get right now, immediate gratification. If I buy that shiny gadget instead of investing in my retirement, for instance, and if I eat that chocolate cake instead of making the wiser choice for my waistline and health. We overweight that instant gratification. That was one theory that was taking off that really captured my imagination. There were others, but that one in particular resonated because I thought, “Wow, that really describes me very accurately, and it can help explain so many of the weird things I do that are annoying.”

So it, honestly, really started as a very self-focused navel-gazing interest, and I was thinking, “Wow, these insights, they’re intriguing. Maybe I can make myself a better human. Maybe they’re more generally applicable, and there’s some interesting theories that I can uncover.” But it wasn’t actually until I was an assistant professor at Wharton that I got really interested in the topic of behavior change. I’d already swerved and decided, OK, I’m going to be a behavioral scientist. I want to study the ways that people make mistakes.

But I didn’t get passionate about behavior change until I went to a lecture over at the medical school, of all places, and saw this pie chart that had a disaggregation of all the different causes of premature death in the United States. And what blew my mind … this pie chart changed my life, I’m such a nerd, but what it showed is that 40% of premature deaths in the U.S. are the result of behaviors that we could change. It’s the largest wedge. You know, you might think about accidents or genetics, environmental exposure. The biggest issue is all of these decisions we make on a daily basis about what we eat, what we drink, whether we smoke cigarettes, whether or not we’re safe when we get into vehicles. And it absolutely blew my mind the size of that accumulation. It made it obvious, also, that the same issues almost certainly accumulate in other walks of life when it comes to other things I’d studied, like our savings decisions, and our decisions about what to invest when it comes to our education.

And so I became really interested and passionate, really, from that moment on, about a decade ago, in focusing on how can we change behavior? What can science tell us about how to get these things under control, so that we can help improve people’s health outcomes, improve their financial outcomes, improve their educational outcomes and their happiness.

MARK: So it sounds like that pie chart showing the number of premature deaths caused by behavior change, that was kind of the moment that told you this work isn’t just intellectually intriguing, it doesn’t just matter for me, this really has genuine significance in the real world. Is that a fair description?

KATY: It’s a beautiful summary. It was a complete lightbulb moment. And I don’t think anybody else in that room sort of had a lightbulb go off, nobody else. I remember looking around thinking like, “Is everyone else’s head exploding right now?” But for some reason … maybe doctors knew this already. For me, it was a revelation and it really … it made it clear what I should be doing with my time.

MARK: So one of the favorite parts I have for Choiceology, the podcast—but also How to Change, the book—are all of these different real-life stories that really show the impact of this in real-world situations. And some of the best examples, at least in my opinion, involve the fresh-start effect. Could you explain a little bit about how the fresh-start effect works, what is it, and maybe describe a way that the fresh-start effect can help start to change real-life behaviors when it comes to savings and investing?

KATY: Yeah, absolutely. The fresh-start effect is so powerful, and I think everyone can resonate with the idea that there are certain moments in our lives when we feel more motivated to make a change, more excited about pursuing a goal than others, right? Some days you wake up and you’re just going about your usual routine, but some moments we have that extra interest and motivation. And what my research with Hengchen Dai and Jason Riis has shown is that those moments are actually somewhat predictable, at least some of them are. There are moments when we open a new chapter in our autobiographical memory. The way we think about time is sort of like we’re characters in a novel, and instead of thinking, you know, every day is the same as the last, there are moments when we say, “This is a new beginning. I’m starting a new job, I’m starting a new week, a month. I celebrated a major birthday. It’s a new year,” whatever those moments are, whatever those moments are that give us the sense that we’re opening a new chapter, they come with a feeling that we have a fresh start and a new beginning and a clean slate. And we feel like whatever I failed to accomplish, you know, last year or my last job, that was the old me. This is the new me. And what we’ve seen is two effects of this phenomenon where people are extra motivated and extra likely, also, I should say to step back and think big picture about their lives.

One implication is that just naturally at those points in time, we see that people are more likely to do things that are goal-aligned. So, for instance, they’re more likely to search for the term “diet” on Google. They’re more likely to go to the gym. They’re also more likely to set goals on a popular goal-setting website around everything from their health to their finances, just naturally at these fresh-start moments, so the beginnings of new cycles like the start of a new week, month, year, following holidays that feel like fresh starts, following birthdays. So that happens naturally.

But the opportunity is also that we can label a date as a fresh start for someone and say, “Hey, did you notice that this is the first day of spring, and it might be a good opportunity to begin pursuing your goals?” Or “Here, you have a birthday coming up. Maybe that would be a good moment to pursue your goals.” And we can see that that lifts behavior.

So I’ll give you one example in the domain of savings that I found really exciting. We ran one experiment where we were encouraging people who weren’t yet saving for retirement in their employer’s retirement program, or who were saving at a very low rate, and we partnered with four different employers on this experiment, and we sent thousands of people mailings, inviting them to start saving or increase their saving, if they were saving at a very low rate. And we randomized whether or not we highlighted a fresh-start date when they could begin. So imagine we have two people, both of whom, say, have a birthday coming up in three months. We’d flip a coin, and one of them would get a mailing saying, “Would you like to save now, or you could start saving in three months?” And the other got the same offer, but it was framed differently, “Would you like to start saving now, or how about after your upcoming birthday?” So it’s exactly the same opportunity that we’re highlighting, and all they have to do is check a box, sign their name, and mail back a postcard, and we’ll take care of the rest. But what we found is that when we labeled an upcoming fresh start for them, either a birthday or the first day of spring as the opportunity, we saw a 30% increase in savings over the following eight months, which is really exciting and suggests that just by highlighting these moments that people might not naturally glom onto and noting that, “Hey, here’s this fresh-start opportunity when you could make a change for the better in terms of your financial wellness,” that increases people’s likelihood to follow through.

MARK: Yeah, I think that’s interesting that you highlight birthdays and the first day of spring. I mean, to me, that tells me this isn’t just another form of New Year’s resolutions. You got to pick dates that really resonate with the individual or resonate with yourself, right?

KATY: Absolutely. And, you know, this is what first drew us to this was the recognition that New Year is important and that New Year’s resolutions change behavior, but that it feels like there was something bigger going on, a bigger phenomenon than just New Year’s resolutions, and that’s what drew us to this.

I should also note that we actually did look at whether we could use New Year’s as a tool, and we actually didn’t find that New Year’s or highlighting it was particularly motivating to people. And I think one of the reasons for that may be, and this echoes in a number of different studies I’ve run, if it’s a date that you’ve already noticed and you already have sort of major plans or set your resolutions because it’s so natural, like New Year’s, it’s a little bit hard to amplify it further. But where we’ve had a lot of luck in increasing people’s interest and motivation, and making a change, is when it’s a date that naturally feels like a fresh start but you might not already be thinking of, like this upcoming Monday, or the start of a new month, the start of spring, the celebration of a birthday. Those are moments where you see smallerupticks in just natural goal motivation, but it’s there, and by highlighting it for someone you may motivate them to make a change they wouldn’t have otherwise.

MARK: One of the lines that I highlighted in the book was “Doing the right thing is often deeply unsatisfying.” It’s kind of depressing, actually, now that I think about it, but that trade-off exists in many, many places. So how do you work around that?

KATY: I think one of the most important misconceptions of behavior change is that even though it’s not often fun to do what’s good for you in the short run, it’s just so important that if you focus on that big goal and search for the most effective way to pursue it, you’ll be able to power through with motivation. Sort of having that big audacious goal and appreciating how important it is to you is enough, even when the actions you need to take to get there are somewhat unpleasant.

And what research by Ayelet Fishbach at the University of Chicago and Kaitlin Woolley of Cornell University has shown is that there’s sort of two ways we could pursue our goals. One is that standard way of just “There’s something new I want to do. It’s important. I’m going to persist. I’m just going to push through. I’m going to find the most effective way to do it, the most effective way to start creating that large nest egg for retirement, the most effective gym routine,” you name it. And there’s a small subset of people who approach change a different way. And they say, “Let me look for the most fun way that I can do this. You know, I’m going to create a club of friends and we’re going to set savings goals together.” Or, “I’m going to go to Zumba class at the gym, and that’s how I’m going to get my workouts in.” And it turns out that if you just encourage people to pursue it the more fun way, even though each individual step they take might be a little bit of a smaller step towards the end goal because they’re not pursuing it the most effective way possible, they’re actually more likely to persist because they enjoy what they’re doing.

So I think it’s an incredibly important insight, is we can’t just say, “I’m going to push through and do this dreadful thing that’s a chore and expect that we’ll really make it,” because we talked already about hyperbolic discounting. People overweight dramatically the present value of whatever decision they make. They underweight those long-term rewards. So even if it’s way better for you, if it’s painful to do right now, you’re very likely to quit. But if you can find a way to make it more enjoyable in the moment to do the thing that is good for you in the long run, you can get much farther.

MARK: Katy, explain more about “making something enjoyable in the moment”? Does that include rewarding yourself or combining unpleasant tasks with more enjoyable ones or something else entirely?

KATY: Yeah, so I studied, as a graduate student, actually, this was something that I did, and I’ve studied since, this idea of temptation-bundling, which is one way to make something that feels like a chore a bit more enjoyable in the moment, and that is by literally linking it with something that you look forward to. So the way I initially temptation-bundled as a graduate student who was struggling with the motivation at the end of a long day of classes to get myself to the gym may feel very familiar to others, too. I only let myself enjoy indulgent entertainment when I was exercising. I did it with audio novels. Lots of people do it with TV shows. That’s just too much sensory input for me, it turns out. But I would listen to these cliffhanger audio novels. So think The Hunger Games, or Twilight, or James Patterson, like the Alex Cross series. What I would find is that at the end of a long day, all of a sudden, I’d crave trips to the gym to find out what happened next in my latest thriller, and I would stop wasting time at home and, instead, turn right to my work as soon as I got back from the gym and I had my entertainment fix. So it was this magical solution to me to multiple problems.

And I’ve found in research since that temptation-bundling doesn’t just help me. It can help lots of people form more lasting, robust habits around doing these things that are inherently not so fun, but if you link them, if you link something that you find to be a chore with something that you really enjoy, it no longer is a chore. And so we’ve shown this in my work that this can work for promoting exercise. There’s other research showing that if you give kids fun activities in class, like they can listen to music, and use markers, and eat snacks while they’re working on problem sets, it actually gets them to persist longer, even though their teachers are sure it will be a distraction.

So finding ways to self-reward in the process of pursuing your goals can be really valuable. And I mentioned earlier that one way to self-reward is by creating a social component to an activity you’re pursuing. I think that’s also really important to know. But you can do it by letting yourself have special treats, certain snacks that you reserve only for when you’re, you know, making your monthly budget. That would be one way you could think about doing this in the realm of finance. Whatever it is that makes it something you look forward to and enjoy, rather than a chore, is likely to help you persist.

MARK: One of my favorite chapters was the chapter on procrastination because I think that’s a pretty universal pathology, if you will, that we all suffer from. And I also found the results a little bit surprising. I wasn’t aware of all the tremendous work done on the difference between hard commitments and soft commitments, so I was hoping you could talk a little bit about that. Explain what those are and why that matters.

KATY: Yeah. This is a really interesting area, and still economists sometimes get, I’ll say, tangled when they talk about it, because it’s so counter to everything in standard economic theory. But what the basic finding is, is that there are situations where people prefer to restrain or constrain themselves in order to help them achieve a long-term goal. So, for example, people might prefer to have deadlines with penalties imposed on them or prefer to have a savings account where they actually can’t withdraw money because it prevents them from giving into temptation and dipping into that savings. So those kinds of things would be what’s called a hard commitment. If you say, “I actually want to be prevented from taking some action that would be harmful to me in the long run because I have some goal, and I know I’ll be tempted to do what’s not good for me when it comes to that goal, and I want a hard restriction.” And we’re used to governments imposing these kinds of hard restrictions on us. Like a fine if you speed, we’re very used to that, or you’ll go to jail if you do X. We understand someone else imposing on it, but it can be counterintuitive to recognize sometimes we prefer systems where those constraints are imposed on us, and we’ll even opt into them.

So a hard commitment is opting into that kind of a system where you’re going to be constrained. Like you buy yourself smaller dinner plates so that you won’t, you know, you’ll have to get up and get seconds if you want a larger meal, or you choose an investment option where it’s hard to take your money out, it’s not as liquid, in order to prevent yourself from dipping into it when you have any little impulse to buy something. That is a hard commitment.

A soft commitment also imposes some penalty on you if you go back on your decision and don’t take actions aligned with your goal, but the penalty is more psychological in nature, rather than a hard penalty. So, for instance, you tell someone, “I have the goal …” like maybe your partner. “I have the goal of making sure that my savings account shows this balance by the end of the year, and I want you to check and we’ll look at it together, and then I’m going to feel shame if I don’t achieve it.” So that’s a soft commitment. You know, I’m not going to jail, I’m not losing money, I’m not prevented from taking money out of my account, but I am going to experience some displeasure because I’ve made a soft commitment to you, telling you my goal, for example. And both have been shown in research to add value, though, naturally, the harder the commitment the more effective it is in actually helping you reach that long-term goal.

MARK: At Schwab, Katy, we like to talk about investing as a process, as opposed to being a one-time event or a single task. You’ve got a whole chapter about habits and the importance of turning some of these behaviors into habits. How do you go about doing that, from not falling into the trap of just doing the right thing once and then kind of falling off the wagon, but turning it into a day-after-day, year-after-year habit?

KATY: I love that question. It’s such an important question. How do we put behaviors on autopilot that are good for us in the long run so that they will be our natural tendency, as opposed to something we have to effortfully motivate ourselves to pursue? And what the research on both animals and humans really says is that it is possible to deliberately create habits using, I think, a technique that was first popularized in the bestselling book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg—I think he wrote about it really beautifully—that you want to create an association between some sort of cue in your environment. It could be sort of waking up in the morning, or having had your morning coffee, or right when you get home from work, and then engaging in the behavior that you would like to engage in, whether that’s, you know, checking your portfolio or thinking through how your budget worked out for the day, or setting up plans for when you’ll have your next conversation about investments, whatever the behavior is you would like to put on autopilot. You have that cue, then the behavior, and then you give yourself some sort of reward, or the world gives you some sort of a reward, but if you’re trying to engineer a habit, you’d probably figure out how can I reward myself for it, whether that’s by sending a note to a friend to say, “Guess what I accomplished?” or letting yourself have an extra treat. And you do this repeatedly, and you do this repeatedly long enough over time. Once you gain that motivation, after a fresh start you say, “OK, I’m going to build this new habit.” And it actually will become natural. It will become automatic. That’s how we build habits, sometimes unintentionally around things like drinking coffee, or there are bad habits that are formed that way, too, right around nail-biting, it’s a relief from stress, or smoking cigarettes, that they’re formed in the same way using the same loop, but when we try to build good habits we can do it very deliberately.

And there’s a lot of debate around, “OK, so how many times do you have to repeat this before a habit is formed?” There’s this myth in the literature that it takes 21 days to form a habit, if you just repeat that behavior 21 times. That is not true. It was based on research, apparently, that was done on how long it takes people to get used to having a new face after plastic surgery. There’s actually not evidence that that is how long it takes to form a habit. Instead, in research that I’ve been collaborating on with Colin Camerer from Caltech as the lead, we’ve been seeing that the amount of time it takes to build a lasting habit really varies by context. It’s much faster in, for instance, hospitals, in settings where people are trying to build routines around washing their hands, or trying to build a habit around sanitizing behavior, that seems to form over a matter of weeks. Whereas if you’re trying to build a gym habit, that takes more like months. And so the frequency with which you perform the behavior, the degree to which it requires a lot of cognitive reasoning versus motor skills, all of these things matter. But the loop seems to be the same, no matter what, that you want to create that loop, and that those rewards and cues and repetition will eventually form something that you no longer have to think much about.

MARK: And I guess that’s a little bit of a theme that runs throughout the book, that there are science-based methods to accomplish these goals—you don’t have to kind of go it alone. There are techniques that have been studied. There’s a literature about what works and what doesn’t work, and that’s very valuable, I think.

KATY: Yeah, I hope so, and, you know, it’s what really motivated me to write the book is there’s so much out there about, I’ll call it self-help, and how do you create change in yourself, and also in others, right, in organizations or if you’re a coach or a teacher? And some of it is grounded in science but a lot of it is guruism, and I wanted to make sure that we put the best evidence together in one place, so that if somebody is ready to create change they could go, and basically find what does science say and follow those principles, instead of just using their best intuition or following whoever’s advice they happen to find on the internet that day.

MARK: So you’re spending a lot of your day, you know, conducting ... you know, you’re an active researcher in this area, but you’re also spending a significant amount of time teaching this material to MBA students. These are, you know, kind of smart, capable people, but I suspect, you know, they’re walking in the door with plenty of biases of their own. Do you have any sense as to what are the more common biases that you’re seeing amongst your students?

KATY: I think one of the most pernicious biases that I see in myself and in others and in my students is actually overconfidence, the tendency to believe that we are better than we really are in any walk of life. You know, “I’m better at making investments than everybody else. I don’t need advice. I’ll be fine.” Or “I’m going to ace this class.” So we tend to think we are going to perform better than average. We all do. And, of course, on average, we can’t all be better than average, and we also tend to think the information we have is more precise than it actually is. So if I ask you to estimate how many miles away is the moon or how many people do you think have ever won a Nobel Prize who are female, you’re going to think your estimate is closer to the truth than it really is. You’re going to put confidence intervals around that estimate that are too tight relative to your actual information. So those two kinds of overconfidence I think are among the most pernicious biases that I have seen among my MBA students and in myself. They’re really, really hard to get rid of.

And so that makes it actually extra funny that there is a chapter in my book all about the opposite problem, which is the challenge of under-confidence, which can get in the way of achieving our goals. But I do think, in general, overconfidence is one of the most common biases that limits our ability to make great decisions and to recognize when we need help from others or from experts and can actually prevent us from seeking out scientifically proven techniques for making better choices.

MARK: Among those techniques, are there any that have really resonated with the students where you see, you know, sort of a … you see, you know, kind of a light in their eyes, like, “Oh, yes, I can do that. I can implement that. I can correct the situation?”

KATY: In general, when I’m teaching students about debiasing techniques in all walks of life, I think one of the things that resonates most is this idea of temptation-bundling and making it more fun to achieve their goals. If you’re thinking about the bias of overconfidence, I would say we have pretty limited resources available to figure out how to fix that, beyond making people aware of it, and trying to get them to widen their confidence intervals and recognize their limitations. So that one I think, actually, I’m looking forward to more great research on how to fix that.

But when I teach my students for 28 class sessions at Wharton about all the different biases we face, all the different techniques and tools that we know can be useful, I think that perhaps the biggest lightbulb for them does have to do with this topic of hyperbolic discounting, of self-control challenges, and the power of finding ways to make it really fun in the moment, and perhaps to temptation-bundle as a technique for achieving more. It’s very appealing because you can see, “Oh, wow, it’s going to be more enjoyable to pursue my goals. I love that aspect of it.” And everyone also can really recognize themselves in the problem.

One of the things that’s interesting about self-control challenges is unlike many biases, this is one that we’re inherently very aware of. Ask almost any person, most people at least recognize to some degree that they have self-control challenges. They may not be willing to do a lot about it, but they at least say, “Yeah, I sometimes struggle to get to the gym even though I know I should go.” Or “Sometimes I overspend and blow my budget, yeah, I’ve done that.”

So because it’s so easy to understand and recognize in yourself, I think it’s one of the reasons people are particularly eager for solutions to it, whereas things like overconfidence, which I just mentioned, the first revelation is even that it’s a bias. And so you have extra steps you have to go through to then try to figure out how do we convince someone, “OK, now you believe me, but how do we fix it?” And we, again, don’t have as many tools available there, I think, yet.

MARK: All right, so here’s where it gets real. You mentioned that you suffer from overconfidence. What bias does your husband suffer from the most, and has he tried any of the techniques that you’ve got in the book?

KATY: I talked with him about this on Friday night at dinner, and I was like, “What do you think your most pernicious bias is? Which of all the things that we’ve talked about over the years bothers you the most?” And we both agreed that, actually, one of the things he does most that we’ve covered on Choiceology, and that I cover briefly in the book, as well, is that he recognizes in himself he’ll forget and not prioritize his tasks properly if he doesn’t use checklists and make really detailed plans. And so that’s one of the tools from the science of behavior change that he has glommed onto most. My husband is an astrophysicist, so he has actually an amazing memory, almost photographic. And so it’s extra amazing to me that he is someone who recognizes the importance of checklists and the importance of planning, even though maybe compared to most people in the world, forgetting is not a big barrier. He knows that to get the priorities right, to get the ordering right, to make sure he can follow through, it’s really important to create checklists and structure around his decisions.

MARK: That’s fantastic. I think I share that, as well, now that I think about it. And I think people don’t appreciate that, because in so many different professions these days, even volunteer activity, so much stuff is interdisciplinary, requires collaboration across lots of organization, lots of other people with their own priorities and schedules. I think that’s probably something that everybody could benefit from.

Thanks for your time today, Katy. The book is How to Change. It’s absolutely fabulous. So is the Choiceology podcast. I appreciate you taking the time to speak with us today.

KATY: Thank you so much for having me, Mark. This was really fun.

MARK: Overcoming the barriers to change begins with an acknowledgment that our minds often work against our own best interests. Certain “mistakes” that people make are systematic—we repeat them over and over—but once you start to think in terms of which biases are at play in your everyday behavior, it gets easier to identify those patterns.

What makes Katy’s research so exciting to me is her focus on how to change behaviors and overcome those barriers. Here are some examples of the techniques we covered earlier applied to financial decisions.

Checklists and financial plans work well together. A financial plan can seem overwhelming. Make it easier by making a checklist of the plan’s component parts. Take that list and do the items that are most important first.

Another approach is to take that list and do the easiest ones first so that you get some quick wins under your belt and build some momentum. After you complete items on the checklist, use another of Katy’s suggestions and reward yourself with a fun activity.

Katy also talked about hard and soft commitments to help with self-control problems.

A nice example of this are retirement savings programs like 401(k) and IRA accounts. These types of accounts have hard commitments built into them because it’s difficult to get your money out once you make a contribution. Skirt your self-control problems that cause you not to save enough by having money automatically put into those accounts.

Finally, form good habits. We’ve done a few episodes on active trading. In those episodes, we’ve talked about various techniques to prevent your trading from being overly driven by emotion. Season 2 Episode 6 and Season 7 Episode 1 are good examples.

Go back to those episodes and listen to some of Randy Frederick’s advice. Write down his tips and make it a habit of looking at them before you make a trade. If you keep doing it, it will eventually become a habit, and you’ll do it automatically.

There’s a lot more in Katy’s book, How to Change, than the techniques we covered today.

To learn more about it, visit katymilkman.com—that’s K-A-T-Y M-I-L-K-M-A-N dot com. While there you can also subscribe to her free monthly newsletter.

And if you don’t follow Choiceology already, you can check it out at Schwab.com/Choiceology or search for it in your favorite podcasting app.

That’s it for today’s episode. Thanks for listening.

If you’ve enjoyed the show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts.

You can also follow us for free in your favorite podcasting app.

You can also follow me on Twitter @MarkRiepe. M-A-R-K-R-I-E-P-E.

For important disclosures, see the show notes and Schwab.com/FinancialDecoder.

Important Disclosures

The information provided here is for general informational purposes only and should not be considered an individualized recommendation or personalized investment advice. The investment strategies mentioned here may not be suitable for everyone. Each investor needs to review an investment strategy for his or her own particular situation before making any investment decision.

All expressions of opinion are subject to change without notice in reaction to shifting market conditions. Data contained herein from third-party providers is obtained from what are considered reliable sources. However, its accuracy, completeness or reliability cannot be guaranteed. Supporting documentation for any claims or statistical information is available upon request.

Examples provided are for illustrative purposes only and not intended to be reflective of results you can expect to achieve.

The book How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be is not affiliated with, sponsored by, or endorsed by Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. (CS&Co.). Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. (CS&Co.) has not reviewed the book and makes no representations about its content.

Investing involves risk including loss of principal.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results and the opinions presented cannot be viewed as an indicator of future performance.

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