Put things in your way

// 2.16 min read

Behaviour change is tricky. It’s hard because we have to remember to act differently, and our brains are unfortunately very good at unconsciously chugging along doing things the same way we’ve done them every other day for the last 5 years.

To get around this, we have to hack the system. We have to identify when there’s an opportunity to interrupt the old behaviour (or lack of action, as the case may be), and hook into that opportunity in such a way that the new desired behaviour becomes the path of least resistance at exactly that moment.

We have to put things in our way so that we don’t have to rely on our memory and willpower, since they often fail on their own.

The path of least resistance

If you’re building a habit of running regularly, put your running gear out the night before, so it’s easier to throw that on than it is to open your closet for regular clothes.

If you’re working on waking up earlier, set your phone’s alarm, but leave your phone charging on the other side of the room so you have no choice to get out of bed to turn the alarm off in the morning.

If you’re trying to drink more water, and less of other things like coffee or soft drinks, leave a full glass of water in front of the coffee machine or next to the fridge, so that whenever you go to get a drink that’s not water, you’ve got an easier option sitting right there. Drink the water, refill the glass, and place it back there again for when you’re back next.

My doorway reminder

my office door setup

One of the things I’ve done along these lines is that I have a pull-up bar set up over the door to my office, with a set of gymnastics rings hanging from the bar at waist height (see photo above), a bit like a hanging fly screen of sorts. I have to navigate past this setup every time I enter or leave my office, and it reminds me to do just one or two reps of an exercise—to “grease the groove” as Pavel Tsatsouline would say—whether that’s a pull up, leg raises, or just hanging from the bar for 15 seconds at a time.

The desired behaviour needs to be easier than the status quo. If you do this right, even the laziest of us can produce radical changes in a very short amount of time. What behaviours do you want to change? How can you interrupt them and replace them with a better option?

Coby Chapple (@cobyism)

@cobyism—a.k.a. Coby Chapple is an autodidact, systems thinker, product architect, pixel technician, full-stack algorithmagician, multi-media maker, cryptography geek, aspiring linguist, and generalist Designerd™ extraordinaire. Read more »