The Why #13: Why do I keep paying for a gym membership I never use?

By Dan Monheit, 19.02.21

Question submitted by Richard, Annandale

How did it come to this? What was once an enthusiastic commitment to a better body, a better life and a better you, is now but a monthly reminder on your credit card statement of just how far you’ve fallen.

Chin up Richo. It happens to the best of us.

Maybe it’s not a gym membership. Maybe it’s the Foxtel package you signed up for in 2007, the dentist you can’t stand but keep seeing twice a year, or the tendency to just say ‘sure’ whenever you’re offered a dessert menu.

None of these choices make any sense, especially when the better course of action is so easy to see.

Default Bias

What we’re dealing with here is the Default Bias, which describes our tendency to accept pre-set (aka default) courses of action rather than carefully weighing up all of the available alternatives. ‘Defaults’ are so powerful because we’re busy, and we’re lazy. We make thousands of conscious decisions each day. If we stopped to consider each one, we’d never make it past breakfast.

One of the most interesting real world examples of just how powerful default options can be comes to us from the world of organ donations. Many European countries, including Austria, Belgium, France, Hungary, Poland and Portugal, have organ donation rates of 98% or higher. In Australia, it’s a paltry 33% (despite almost three quarters of us being in favour of donating).

The difference is not in the people, it’s in the process. In Austria, Belgium, France, Hungary, Poland and Portugal, as soon as someone receives their driver’s license, they’re a doner, unless they specifically decide to opt out. In these countries, donating is the default.

In Australia, it’s the other way around; the default is we’re out, unless we specifically decide to opt in. This tiny difference has created a tremendous, tragic gap in how many lives are saved each year.

Because of their power, the default options we provide for a meeting time, a serving size, a contract end date or a life altering medical procedure can often have far greater implications than we could ever imagine — like throwing away thousands of dollars on a month to month gym membership we know we never use.

Brands can leverage the Default Bias by including suggested or recommended options for key decisions that customers need to make. Reorder last purchase. Yes, send me updates! This belt with that bag. Mineral water to start? You get the idea — just make sure you’re using it for good!

Becoming a registered organ donor takes about one minute and can be done online here.

Behaviourally Yours,
Dan Monheit

PS If you missed the last edition, you can still check out why people stay in jobs they hate here.

Bad Decisions Podcast
Learn more about the Default Bias on episode 10 of the Bad Decisions podcast.

Got a question?
Is there something you’ve always wondered about?
Send it through to AskDan@hardhat.com.au

Want more?
The Mi3 x Hardhat ‘Built On Behaviour’ Bootcamp is back for 2021. The short, live, virtual course will guide you through 12 of the most important behavioural biases (AKA heuristics) to understand as we emerge from the turbulence of 2020.

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