Design Thinking and Behavior : What Is Behavior Design [Interview][Transcript]

Dr_Kyra_Bobinet_Behavior_DesignGuest: Dr. Kyra Bobinet
Presenter: Neal Howard
Guest Bio: Dr. Kyra Bobinet is the CEO of engagedIN, a design firm using neuroscience to change behavior for which she received the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Innovator Award. Dr. Bobinet is a sought after national speaker who has founded health start-ups and created blockbuster products, health apps, big data algorithms, and evidence- based programs in mind-body & metabolic medicine. She earned her medical degree at UCSF School of Medicine and teaches health engagement at Stanford School of Medicine.

Segment overview: In this segment, Dr. Kyra Bobinet, a physician turned behavior designer, brain expert, and author of “Well Designed Life: 10 Lessons in Brain Science & Design Thinking for a Mindful, Healthy, & Purposeful Life”, talks about Behavior Design and what it means.


Health Professional Radio

Neal Howard: Hello and welcome Health Professional Radio. I’m your host Neal Howard, so glad that you could join us today. Many of us are caught up in why we do some of the things that we do. Be it an addiction, a cigarettes, maybe comfort foods. Any number of things that we do out of habit we look and we say “I really don’t want to do that anymore, why I have been doing this for 20 years when I abhor it so much?” Or others around me asking me “Why do I do this?” I try, I think about it and nothing seems to work. Well our guest in studio today Dr. Kyra Bobinet, she is the CEO of engagedIn. EngagedIn is a design firm using neuroscience to change behavior. And for this work she’s received the Harvard T.H Chan of Public Health Innovator award. And in addition to being a physician turned behavior designer she’s also the author of “Well Designed Life: 10 Lessons in Brain Science and Design Thinking for Mindful Healthy and Purposeful Life.” How are you doing today Kyra?

Dr. Kyra Bobinet: Doing very well Neal. Thank you very much for having me.

N: Thank you so much. When it comes to doing what we should do as opposed to doing what we want to do or at least think we want to do, is it an addiction and just not maybe to drugs or alcohol?

B: Exactly. I think addiction is a perfect metaphor for this because for many of us we have behaviors that are vexing or non-ideal let’s say or we want to have optimal performance out of ourselves or out of our careers and we just can’t get there because we have all of these legacy behaviors, habits, those kinds of things that we would much rather be free of. So it turns out that about 95% of what we do is hardwired and put on short cuts or autopilot so that we can just live. Our brains are dealing with eleven million sensory inputs a second so there’s got to be a way for us to cut that down and filter out most of the noise and just do what we know. So what our brain does is we form little scripts, little algorithms of how we operate and those are very difficult and challenging to break.

N: Many of these scripts are basically forced down our throats for lack of a better term – we’re watching television, we’re on the internet, we’re reading magazines, we’re bombarded with different messages. And when it comes to behavior designed those in the media, in the advertising industry understand quite intimately behavior modification as it relates to advertising and getting consumers to behave in a certain way.

B: Uh huh.

N: Basically sounds like going into battle to undo a damage that has been done in order to gain some semblance of control over our minds again.

B: Right, exactly. And certainly we all have had the experience even with advertisers of things we pay attention to that hook us and things that we ignore. And so what that’s all about is we have a kind of self-narrative inside of our prefrontal cortex that says “I am Neal” or “I am Kyra” and everything that makes the cut gets into my attention. Everything that has nothing to do with me like shaving for beards for men doesn’t have anything to do with me so I ignore those kinds of ads. So it’s really about the resonance and the attention and how much our attention gets hooked by certain things in our environment. And that is all governed by our self-image in the story of ‘me.’ And conversely there’s things that are not me, for example when people lose a tremendous amount of weight.

N: Uh huh.

B: The biggest problem they have is “This isn’t me. I don’t feel like myself anymore.” And it’s a very awkward feeling. And so part of knowing how your brain registers these things as awkward, uncomfortable and be able to tolerate that once you’ve made a change is part of the battle for actually sticking with a change long term.

N: It’s almost as if the change has stuck to you. It’s become comfortable within you and doesn’t want to be cast out. (Laugh)

B: Right, exactly. I mean the first thing is we’re allergic to change. When things start changing we feel groundless, we feel like “This isn’t me, I don’t feel like myself anymore.” Well yeah because I used to sit there and down … potato chips in front of the TV that kind of migrated into my “me” space for over the years. And so to undo that and do something different I have to be willing to recognize “Oh this weird tickly feeling, that’s just the not me and if I stick with it long enough it will start to become more familiar and I’ll integrate it into my sense of self.”

N: Now you’re an author, physician, public speaker. Your book “Well Designed Life: 10 Lessons in Brain Science and Design Thinking for Mindful Healthy and Purposeful Life” available on Amazon and also at your website as well.

B: Yes, our website is

N: As the author of Well Designed Life, the title – it implies a step by step. It’s 10 lessons in brain science and design thinking. Could you briefly just give us a little brief shot as to what we can expect when we open your book? Are you gonna take us through journey of bettering our health to better thinking or offer us anecdotes? How is it structured?

B: Yeah, absolutely. So the 10 lessons are basically 10 aspects of neuroscience of how the brain works that one could use to apply to their desire to change behavior. So for example there is one on “self-compassion” that is super essential for being your own designer of your behavior and without that people tend to fall into being stuck in self-loathing or guilt or shame or those kinds of things. And so if that’s what’s up for you, that chapter is the best first chapter for you.

N: Okay.

B: And so my intention is for people to be able to pop around against different topics that are resonating with them, much like they would observe textbooks where there are different chapters on different topics.

N: Okay.

B: And then they can use that material for what’s present and what’s most pressing for them at that time.

N: So basically it’s an excellent guide to find out exactly which techniques, methods work for you uniquely yeah?

B: That’s right. It’s combining science and design in each case. It’s saying here’s the science behind self-image, here’s how you design for self-image, here’s the science behind compassion and empathy here’s how you design for those things. And in both case you’ve got sort of the science, the hard evidence behind what you do and how you do it. And then you have the artistic side, the creative side, the design side of how do you solve the problem differently using design thinking?

N: Now how much of thinking design or behavior design has to do with being around those that want to change like you do or in the same way that you do? Is that something that is addressed in your book or in any of your lectures?

B: Yeah, it’s definitely easier. I mean there are certainly cases where somebody has such a strong sense of intention or a strong purpose, passion for what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. They tend to find friends and peers and supports but it’s hard to do it alone. So I would suggest for anybody who’s on that path or inquiring how to do things differently to find other likeminded people for sure.

N: You’ve been listening to Health Professional Radio, I’m your host Neal Howard. We’ve been in studio today talking with Dr. Kyra Bobinet – Physician turned Behavior Designer, she’s also a Brain Expert and an Author. The author of “Well Designed Life: 10 Lessons in Brain Science and Design Thinking for Mindful Healthy and Purposeful Life.” And we’ve been in studio talking about behavior design and basically what it means to each individuals who’s trying to make a change in their life to better their health or simply change the way that they think about a certain situation. It could be anything but Dr. Kyra Bobbinet says that she is absolutely sure that taking a look at her book “Well Designed Life: 10 Lessons in Brain Science and Design Thinking for Mindful Healthy and Purposeful Life” will give you some true insights into yourself. It’s been great talking with you today Kyra.

B: Absolutely. Thank you Neal.

N: Thank you so much. Transcript and audio of this program are available at and also at and you can subscribe to our podcast on iTunes.