After the last article, I received a bunch of stories from readers. Some of you wrote me about your experiences “wiping the slate clean”, while others regaled me with tales of transformation after moving to a new city.
But I also received a couple of notes from people asking me whether there’s a less intense, more cost-effective way of shaking things up and building new habits.
The short answer is yes.
As many longtime readers know, it’s my belief that choosing the right behavior is the most important thing you can do in any behavior-change initiative.
Sounds obvious, doesn’t it?
Yet this is one of the least thought-through things in most behavior-change projects. Most attempts at behavior-change start with a behavior in mind, and most of the thinking and planning is around how to get this specific behavior to stick using various tips and tricks (nudges).
But relatively little thought is put into the most fundamental of all questions: Why are we asking people to do *this* behavior in the first place?
Is it really the best choice for the given group of people we’re trying to influence?
The same thing is true when we’re trying to change our own behaviors. We all have a long list of “should do” behaviors in our minds—aspirational activities that we, for whatever reason, have added to the resolutions list. But most of these activities are not a good fit for us. Usually they’re things we see our friends or coworkers doing, and feel compelled to do out of social pressure.
So we try to get into the habit of them but they just don’t stick.
We feel like we need to get more cardiovascular exercise, so we decide to start going on 45 minute runs three days a week. But we have a hard time doing it, get bored halfway through, and worry whether our knee-pain the next day is normal.
Or we believe that meditation is something that everyone should do every day and so we try guided meditation tapes, fancy apps (Headspace, Calm), meditation meetups, and so on… but the habit just won’t take.
In both cases, we’re likely to do some searches on the internet for “habit hacks”, and we might decide we need to take advantage of loss aversion, social pressure, etc. to make things work.
So we decide to give a friend of ours money each time we miss our goal (loss aversion) and we look hard to find a running or meditation buddy so that we feel pressured to show up regularly each week (social pressure). But after a month we’re back to where we were before.
Our friend stopped running and meditating. He no longer texts us to schedule our sessions.
And we decide to stop sending over the $100 to our friend after each missed running session… because isn’t it silly we decided to start running or meditating in the first place!? Jack won’t miss this cash… He has a good job…
At this point, we can continue to look for psychological tricks and repeat this whole exercise, or we can ask the simplest (and wisest) question of all: Is running (or meditating) right for me?
If you tried to do a behavior and it didn’t stick, the answer is “probably not”.
Which leads us to the next question: What are you trying to gain from running and meditating in the first place?
If it’s stress relief and relaxation, then there are thousands of other things you can do to reach that goal.
You can lift weights. You can join a soccer team. You can read. You can paint. You can write poetry. You can go on hikes. You can sign up for a spin class…
You get the idea.
And chances are one of these behaviors is going to be a better fit for you and your specific personality than running and meditating.
When you find the right behavior, things will just work. You won’t have to build triggers into your life. You won’t have to use all six of Robert Cialdini’s influence tactics. You won’t have to hurl every nudge known to humankind at the problem.
You’ll just need to do, and enjoy, the behavior.
Because you’ve found a glove that fits—and a glove that fits is awfully hard to take off.