By Gerry Murray. 19-01-2020
(Scroll down for a laugh)
“There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.” ~ Buddha
Like many of you reading this post I have habits that I’m happy with in my life and also ones that I’d like to change. Maybe you can think of one of your own now?
And, guess what? January is our favourite month for starting to do something about our unwanted habits. And, I say “starting” because this is what we all frequently do at this time of the year. We start things, whether this be diets, fitness programmes, less screen time, stopping smoking, drinking, etc…
Sadly, there’s a body of research out there that shows that most of us do not succeed. One of the distinctions the research makes is between our ability to initiate actions in the short-term (getting started) versus maintaining them over the longer term.
However, there’s hope!
Two things that have a profound impact on habit formation are contexts/environments and cues/triggers. It’s that familiar desire for a coffee to accompany a slice of cake. Smokers will tell you that they have a high association between drinking alcohol and wanting a cigarette - they often take their pint outside with them at the pub.
These are, of course, all learned behaviours in those contexts. They start out being goal-orientated because they get us something - a reward. But, our brains learn fast and create a pattern that makes the trigger create the unwanted behaviour completely out of our conscious awareness.
I can almost hear you saying “But, what about willpower?”. Well, research suggests that willpower will not do it for you. One of the reasons is that willpower takes a lot of conscious effort and conscious effort requires a lot of energy!
What can you do?
You really need to make the new behaviours unconscious. The most useful thing to work on is eliminating the environmental cues for the unwanted habit and creating new ones for the new habit. And, here’s where friction comes in.
Why do we reach into the cupboard for that bar of chocolate? Because it’s easy, because it’s there! Your hand automatically reaches in and breaks off a bit of chocolate!
In other words, there’s little or no friction.
One way to create friction is not to have any chocolate in the house in the first place. Remove the temptation!
Friction works the other way too. If you want to create a new habit - probably to replace an old habit - you need to minimise the amount of friction for the new habit. Make it easy to nibble at a more healthy snack e.g. raw carrots, red peppers, etc. It might not be pleasant at first but over time your brain will form a positive association between the new snack and satisfying a hunger craving in the afternoon.
I’ll end with some examples of the impact of friction on behaviours.
In the US, some time ago legislators attempted to get people to eat more fruit and vegetables by running a campaign called “5 a Day”. The result: awareness of the benefits increased. However, behaviour did not change. There was not sufficient friction.
In contrast, efforts to get people to stop smoking were more successful because they introduced friction. Three factors, in particular, had impact. The removal of vending machines meant you had to ask for cigarettes. The banning of smoking in offices and public places meant that you had to find designated smoking areas. Finally, increasing taxes on tobacco products hurt the pocket. Smoking rates have declined significantly.
According to other studies, if you live 3 miles from a gym, you’re likely to exercise at least 5 times per month. If you live 5 miles from a gym the frequency goes down to once per month. That extra 2 miles of friction seems to be the difference that makes the difference.
So, perhaps take a look at the degree of friction in your life, especially in relation to habits, and test out how this awareness helps you in 2020…
Choose your friction wisely this week!
I bought the book titled "How to beat procrastination" to fix my procrastinating habit.
It's been 5 months already and I haven't opened that book yet.
Does anybody know if making clothes for nuns is habit forming?
Just asking for a friend.
A cowboy rode into town and stopped at a saloon for a drink. Unfortunately, the locals always had a habit of picking on strangers, which he was.
When he finished his drink, he found his horse had been stolen. He went back into the bar, handily flipped his gun into the air, caught it above his head without even looking and fired a shot into the ceiling.
"Which one of you sidewinders stole my horse?!" he yelled with surprising forcefulness.
No one answered.
"Alright, I'm gonna have another beer, and if my horse ain't back outside by the time I finish, I'm gonna do what I dun in Texas! And I don't like to have to do what I dun in Texas!"
Some of the locals shifted restlessly. The man, true to his word, had another beer, walked outside, and his horse has been returned to the post. He saddled up and started to ride out of town.
The bartender ran out of the bar after him and asked, "Say partner, before you go... what happened in Texas?"
The cowboy turned back and said, "I had to walk home."