Data from our devices gives us instant feedback on our behaviour and actions

There’s a good chance that you made a goal to get fit and eat healthier. And it probably worked. For a while. Most of us give up on those goals and go back to our old routines. Capilano University’s Dr. Laura MacKay, a health psychologist, says part of the problem is that it takes too long for people to see the positive results of their fitness programs.

What motivates a long-term change in behaviour?

Results matter. “If you could exercise like crazy today and be stronger tomorrow, everybody would do it,” says Dr. MacKay. That’s also why it can be difficult to get people involved in conservation and sustainability initiatives, she adds. The impact they can have is not tangible to them. 

How are we influenced by data?

The data we get from our devices provides us with instant feedback on our behaviour and actions. There’s no need to wait for six months to see the effects of your daily jogs because your wristband tells you how many steps you took today. Home energy monitors and smart thermostats can tell us how much electricity we’ve used in real time and convert that information into the amount of money we’ve saved. 

How does data help drive change?

It can be difficult to know what motivates us, according to Dr. MacKay. Adjusting cost and convenience are the most effective ways of motivating a change in behaviour, which is why fines for violating watering restrictions in summer are effective. 

Once our behaviour is consistent, says Dr. MacKay, our attitudes and beliefs start lining up. So even you started watering your lawn only three days a week to avoid getting fined, after it becomes a habit you may start telling people that you’re doing it because of your strong beliefs in conserving water.

Make the Switch

Use a power strip for electronics and unplug it when you’re on vacation or away for the weekend. When left plugged in, electronics can draw standby or “phantom” power even if they’re switched off. Take it one step further and use a smart power strip, which automatically switches off power to devices when they’re not in use.