Design Thinking and Behavior: Slow Brain vs. Fast Brain [Interview][Transcript]

Dr_Kyra_Bobinet_Brain_Science_Design_ThinkingGuest: 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”, discusses ‘slow brain’ and ‘fast brain’ in relation to behavior and the reason we don’t do what we should.


Health Professional Radio

Neal Howard: Hello and welcome to Health Professional Radio, I’m your host Neal Howard. Thank you so much for joining us today. The holidays are upon us, Halloween has passed, thanksgiving just a few short days away. Actually it’s a couple of weeks but it seems like just a few short days, I can’t wait to get my teeth wrapped around what I normally get my teeth wrapped around and I can’t wait. And sometimes we eat too much, just because it’s the holidays or maybe there is something else involved when we do the things that we shouldn’t do or don’t do those things that we should. Our guest in studio today is Dr. Kyra Bobinet, a physician turned behavior designer, brain expert and author of “Well Designed Life: 10 Lessons in Brain Science and Design Thinking for Mindful Healthy and Purposeful Life.” And she’s here today to discuss with us some of the reasons why sometimes we do the things that we shouldn’t and vice versa. How are you doing today Dr. Bobinet?

Dr. Kyra Bobinet: I’m doing very well, thank you Neal.

N: Thank you so much for joining us today. Now you received your training and your schooling at several different Colleges, right?

B: Right. I went to medical school UCSF.

N: Uh huh.

B: And found that by the time I was done, starting a non-profit for incarcerated teens who had repeated behaviors that needed to change that I was more interested in behavior change. And there was really nothing for me in writing prescriptions and that sort of things, so I switched over to public health, went to Harvard for my masters on Public Health then went on there as a career in designing and changing behavior through using brain science, neuroscience.

N: Stanford School of Medicine, you’re involved in some teaching there, yeah?

B: I do, I teach at Stanford now. And we develop courses that have to do with this interface for physicians and people in healthcare and health and wellness industries to learn how to change people’s behavior. Because it’s not something that is right now offered in professional degree programs in health education.

N: And I would assumed that a change in behavior is key when it comes to bettering one’s health just like behaviors deplete one’s good health, yeah?

B: Exactly and that’s a thing really coming up recently is that as all of this technology, mobile apps to track your fitness and your diets – those kinds of things are happening. What’s coming up is that people are not using them the way that the app creators thought they would. They’re in fact are abandoning them, wearables and those kinds of things are not being used consistently in long term. So now the industry’s saying “Wait a minute, we built all this stuff. We thought they would come and there is something more to it.” And so that’s shining the light now on behavior science as the solution and also design thinking.

N: Behavior science – that’s not something, it’s not a term that I’ve heard actually ever. Are you part of a movement in behavioral science or are you basically a pioneer in your specific area of research?

N: Yeah, I think for me how I got there was having so many patients, having so many, I mentioned the youth that I would create a program for and even studies that I’ve done in metabolic medicine where a patient in one of my studies said “I’m having such a great time, I’m learning what I should do” she said, then she pauses and she say’s “but I know what I should do, I don’t know why I don’t do it.” And I was like “Wow isn’t that what we all do? Isn’t that what we all face?” And so by asking that question it really led to the brain and how there is this brain behavior gap between what we intend to do and what our brains are on autopilot to have us do.

N: I’ve heard quite a bit through the years about “left brain, right brain” but you deal more with a “slow brain, fast brain.” Talk a little bit about slow brain versus fast brain.

B: Right, exactly. So we’re lucky to live in an era where there is enough evidence coming, bubbling up to the mass consciousness around this kind of in system one, and system two thinking is how behavioral psychologist first described it FMRI, which is way of visualizing the brain. It has discovered neuroplasticity which is the lifelong ability to change your brain. So there is a lot of effort right now around ‘change your brain and make your brain better’ and even memory testing and things like that, have gotten better. And how it relates to behavior is that you have a bunch of we’ll call it “super highways.” And much like a highway these are paved with something called myelin which makes the signal in the brain superfast. And so my shorthand way of referring to this is kind of lubricant if you will for electrical wires in your brains. And so the things that we do habitually are all myelinated, they’re covered in myelin and then goes super-fast. And so how they show up in physical life is “I promised myself yesterday I won’t eat cookies. And then today I throw a cookie in my mouth just habitually using my fast brain.” Before my slow brain who made the promise yesterday realizes “Oh I meant to not put cookies in my mouth.” And so then shame comes up, then we feel badly about ourselves. And what I want to do is just tell people “No, no, no, no that’s just the architecture of your brain. And if you know the architecture then you can set more realistic patterns for how to change your behavior and not hold yourself accountable for things that are not under your control right now.”

N: Okay. Now we’re talking fast brain, slow brain, which side of the brain or which speed brain should we concentrate on when we’re really looking to change our behaviors?

B: Right. So ‘fast brain, slow brain’ is a metaphor and just it just describes anything in the brain that is set up to be automated versus things that takes some thought or takes some problem solving

N: And that’s my question.

B: Yes?

N: Which should we focus on? Should we focus on changing that which happens kind of automatically or begin to start thinking about thinking?

B: Right, exactly. So that’s where behavior design comes in because behavior design is really about making what needs to be fast, fast and making what is too fast slow. So in the case of the cookie, if I freeze the cookies or I throw away the cookies, then I’m giving away my slow brain a chance to catch up with that by using something called friction. You put friction in the pathway to give you a pause to catch up with that moment so that you don’t do what’s habitual. In the case of something I’m trying to do that’s completely new, if I make it as easy and frictionless as possible to keep friction out, like putting my running shoes by the door if I want to go running or those kinds of things – that helps our slow brain intentions become faster and more competitive with the existing fast brain habits.

N: Okay. So are we talking subconscious and conscious mind here?

B: Absolutely. So our unconscious mind runs 95% of our behaviors whereas our conscious mind is only in charge of 5%. So it’s really this inequity that we’re trying to control for when we use friction to slow down the unconscious. To slow down what’s habitual, and the take out friction and to make it easier when we want to do something new.

N: Now you’re a Physician turned Behavior Designer, Brain Expert and so much more, including an Author. You’re the author of “Well Designed Life: 10 Lessons in Brain Science and Design Thinking for Mindful Healthy and Purposeful Life.” Why did you write this book as opposed to or I guess in addition to public speaking and just your practice in general, why a book?

B: Right. So the question I kept getting after keynotes, so I do keynotes in front of hundreds, thousands of people. And they kept asking me in the Q&A, “Where can I learn more about this? How can I understand this further?” And there’s a lot of people who are either in charge of themselves, their families, it’s the work they do, they’re physicians, they’re nurses, whatever their role is, and they want to change behavior in some level and they wanted to know the science and the patterns. So the book is really about distilling down 100’s of articles, dozens of books, decades of experience into a pithy sort of “Here’s the best hits of behavior science and neuroscience.” And translating it in a way that is accessible and usable and translatable.

N: Great. Now as we wrap up this segment, I’d like you to give our listeners as much information as you can about where to get more information about you, your practice, and your book as well.

B: Absolutely. So the book is on Amazon, both available of paperback and kindle. And then the website for looking into more is

N: Great. You’ve been listening to Health Professional Radio, I’m your host Neal Howard. We’ve been in studio today talking with Dr. Kyra Bobbinet 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. She’s also a sought after national speaker and has founded health startups, created block buster products, health apps, big data algorithms and evidence based programs in mind, body and metabolic medicine. And she’s been here today talking with us about some of the reasons why we do some of the things that we should and why we don’t do some of the things that we should be doing. (Laugh)

B: Absolutely.

N: It’s so great having you here with us today Dr. Bobinet.

B: My pleasure Neal. Thank you for having me.

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.

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