Ask Ariely: On Standing Strategies, Future Feedback, and Sensible Savings

February 6, 2021 BY Dan Ariely

Here’s my Q&A column from the WSJ this week  and if you have any questions for me, you can tweet them to @danariely with the hashtag #askariely, post a comment on my Ask Ariely Facebook page, or email them to AskAriely@wsj.com.


Dear Dan,

I know it’s not good for my health to sit at my desk all day without breaks, so I tried putting reminders in my calendar to stand up and move around. But I usually end up just ignoring them. Is there a better way to make myself get out of my chair during the day?


Reminders are useful when you have actual memory problems, but they’re not so helpful when it comes to changing behavior. I wish this wasn’t so: Just imagine how easy it would be to quit smoking or stick to a diet if all you had to do was remind yourself of your earlier resolutions!

In reality, creating small obstacles that force you to take action is a better way to change your routine than good intentions and reminders. So try changing your work environment in ways that force you to leave your desk. For example, you could set up a separate area for video calls—a spot with good lighting and no chair, so you have to stand up. If there are files you have to consult regularly, store them in another room.

You could also make a habit of using the bathroom that is furthest away from your desk. Ideally you can pick one on another floor of your home or office, so you have to climb stairs to get there several times during the day.


Dear Dan,

I was promoted recently, and soon I will have a meeting with my manager to discuss my first few weeks in the new role. What’s the best way to get useful feedback and make the most of the conversation?


It might seem like the natural approach is to ask your manager to evaluate your performance so far. But research shows that in general, looking at the past isn’t the best way to figure out what we should be doing differently in the future. Instead of asking for feedback, which is backward-looking and usually vague, try asking your manager for advice. That will encourage them to look ahead and give you concrete suggestions and actionable ideas.


Dear Dan,

Many people I know have lost their jobs during the pandemic, which made me realize I needed to set up an emergency savings fund. But my job is secure so far, so it hasn’t felt very urgent to put money in the account. What can I do to make sure I contribute to my emergency savings every month?


Research shows that we are much more likely to save money for a specific personal goal than simply because it’s the right thing to do. Rather than thinking of your savings as a general rainy-day fund, then, try calculating how much money you would need for particular expenses if you lost your income. How much would you need to pay your mortgage or rent for three months, or to buy food for your family?

Once you start thinking of saving as a way to protect your loved ones and meet particular needs, you’ll be more likely to make regular contributions. You can also ease the burden of decision-making by setting up an automatic monthly transfer from your checking account to a designated savings account and promising not to touch it unless an emergency strikes.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.