Build Or Break Habits With The Power Of Friction
Set yourself up for success
We’re almost a week into 2022, and as with any new year, many are trying to incorporate new habits into their lifestyle. Getting more exercise, eating healthier and increasing productivity are popular resolutions for many to adopt. However, willpower alone can’t win the day for you. While it’s true that some people have more discipline than others and can withstand the temptation to slide back into their ‘old way’ of doing things, willpower is a finite resource (1). The good news is there is another tool at your disposal to aid your journey into creating new or better habits; friction.
The concept is simple, the less friction between you and your new habit, the easier it will be to sustain. The reverse is true for breaking a bad habit, the more friction between you and that habit, the more painless it is to stop. By reducing or increasing friction, you’re also saving on willpower. Let’s start with an example of reducing friction to start a new habit.
Suppose you want to commit 30 minutes a day to start a walking regimen to increase your physical activity. After reviewing your daily routine you decide that first thing in the morning is the optimal time for you to walk each day. You can reduce the friction by having yourself set up to get out the door by prepping the night before.
* Have your clothes and shoes laid out beside your bed so when you wake up, they’re right there. Or try sleeping in the clothes you want to wear and slip on your shoes and go. Be sure to check the weather so you have appropriate clothing.
* Also on the day before, write down your walk as part of your schedule as you would any other important task in your planner. Having tangible evidence of your intentions will help you follow through.
* Reward yourself by using your walking time to do something you enjoy, like listening to one of your favorite podcasts, audiobook, or music. Or if you are able to walk in a natural area like a park or the woods, soak in the sights and sounds of the nature around you, it’s good for you.
Now let’s take a look at how creating friction can lead to breaking up with bad habits. I’ll use myself as an example of something I recently did. For the month of January, I’m not eating any sweets. Of course, the Christmas season has our house littered with an assortment of goodies, but there’s an easy solution. I create friction by taking all the candy and placing it in a bag then storing it in the attic. Having to climb into attic for a sugar fix definitely tampers the craving. Also, the old saying ‘out of sight, out of mind’ certainly applies here. If I don’t see it every time I walk into the pantry, the thought of eating it can’t even come to mind. Basically, the harder you make it to partake of the habit you want to break, the less you chance you have of succumbing to temptation.
Another trick is to find a substitute. I’m a dark chocolate lover, so that was my go to when I needed a treat. I’ve substituted a 100% chocolate bar with zero sugar. I still get my fix, and I’m not left wanting because my desire has been fulfilled, making it that much easier to stick to my pledge of avoiding sweets. Not everyone is a dark chocolate fan, but that’s ok, there are plenty of options to use as a substitute. Fresh oranges, which are in season, provide an intense sweetness that’s hard to beat. Another great option is an RX bar. They contain nothing but real food, but taste like a candy bar, and to boot they’re pretty good for you as well and come in a variety of flavors.
To surmise, lean ways to lessen friction between you and your goals if you’re looking to build a new habit, and increase friction if you want to stop a poor one. A little planning and forethought can go a long way in helping you achieve your ultimate objective either way.
- Neal, D. T., Wood, W., & Drolet, A. (2013). How do people adhere to goals when willpower is low? The profits (and pitfalls) of strong habits. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104(6), 959–975. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0032626