A Guide to Using Behavioral Design: Tweaking Your Environment for Change Part 1


As you envision your best life, consider the world around you. You might be wondering, “Yeah, but why?” The basic question to ask yourself is “How does my environment support or hinder me and my intentions?” That can be a tough question to answer, much like change itself can be a challenge. In this article, I’ll guide you through the basics of behavioral design, explore three tenets about leveraging your environment to support change and development, and offer tips on how to apply these lessons in your own life.

What is behavioral design?

Behavioral design is all about understanding how our environment shapes our behavior. It’s based on the idea that there is a reciprocal relationship between our environment and our behavior. In other words, behavioral design is all about leveraging your environment to support your highest self and best life! When we want to achieve this outcome, we need to create supports and tools on multiple levels that work together simultaneously.

When it comes to change, we often focus on our willpower and inner resolve. How about not making them the foundation of the plan? Willpower and resolve are not sustainable forces. If we want to make lasting change, we need to look at the bigger picture and understand how our environment influences us.

Our behavior also has an impact on our environment. That’s good news. Really good. It means what we do can make our environment more or less supportive by, say, bringing our focus to our intentions versus perverse incentives that divert our attention and energy.

The big 5 of behavioral design

Behavioral design considers our behavior, our environment, and the back and forth between the two. Let’s explore 5 main areas where behavioral design makes an impact.

  • Attention Architecture
  • Perception Planning
  • Emotional Engineering
  • Bring on the Behavior
  • Intentional Integration

Attention Architecture:

Attention is a limited and precious commodity. It’s one of the most valuable things we have, and it needs to be used thoughtfully. Attention architecture is the first step in behavioral design, and it’s all about grabbing and channeling attention. This includes using attention to set the stage for change, to create focus, and help you be successful. The more you can leverage your environment to direct your attention toward positive actions, the better!

Perception Planning:

Ask yourself how you will perceive your options. Plan to make those perceptions possible. You can make something stand out as the attractive option between other choices by tweaking a few things. It’s not always easy, but it can be done! You can create a path that’s easier, more compelling, and enjoyable to take. And when you want to bring attention to the positive in your life, well, it’s a win-win.

"Every great design begins with an even better story."

Lorinda Mamo

Emotional engineering:

Emotional engineering is the process of engineering the environment to trigger emotions that support our intentions. It can be used to incentivize action or to reduce stress or uncertainty that gets in the way of an excellent decision. When it comes to making lasting change, emotional engineering can be a powerful tool!

Bring on the Behavior:

One of the most important aspects of behavioral design is figuring out the cues. A cue is anything that signals the intended behavior, and when it comes to making lasting change, it’s essential to use cues that are as strong as possible. (“An ounce of cue is worth a pound of correction.”) Triggers can include an alarm on your phone, the presence of someone else, or seeing a symbol you choose as a cue. If your cues are chosen well, then you can bring on the behavior!

Intentional Integration:

Integrating new behaviors into our daily lives and sustaining them are essential, long-term outcomes for behavioral design. Most behaviors require much more than a one-time event, they require a state, say having an open mind, being kind, living authentically. To make behavior change sustainable, we need an environment that supports our intentions and choices. We can build them into our routine and make sure that reinforcements are set up to catalyze the choices we want and throw a wet blanket on those we don’t.


We explored five main components of behavioral design that support personal development. These include attention architecture, perception planning, emotional engineering, bringing on the behavior, and intentional integration. Each section is important in its own way, and when used together, they create a powerful tool for making lasting change. Attention architecture helps to direct our attention toward positive actions, perception planning makes the attractive option stand out, emotional engineering incentivizes positive actions, bring on the behavior using cues that are as strong as possible, and intentional integration makes sure the new behavior is sustainable. When used together, these five sections create a powerful tool for making lasting change in our lives.

Stay tuned for Part 2

Well done. You’ve learned about five main areas of behavioral design and how you can use them on the path to living your best life. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article where I will share how you have leverage your environment to support personal development and transformation.


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