If you’ve ever had an inbox full of newsletters you inadvertantly signed up for and never bothered to remove yourself from the list, you’re familiar with the fact that going along the default, easiest route is human nature. It’s just easier to delete the email (or just ignore it…) than to take that two extra steps to open it and click the “remove” link. Even if all those newletters bother you, chances are excellent you STILL go with the easiest (aka laziest) option. This is just how we’re wired.
So, why is this relevant in life? Because you can USE this “weakness” to your advantage.
I’m very fond of saying “If it’s not easy, I’m not doing it!,” but that doesn’t mean things don’t get done. What it means is, I am always looking for ways to turn “difficult” tasks into “easy” ones, ways to train my default behavior into one that serves my *long-term* interests. Sometimes this involves editing my internal dialogue to reflect a new mindset, but just as often it involves creating barriers. Or, more to the point, HELPFUL barriers.
For example, if my goal is to stop eating ice cream, how do I make that easy for myself? Well, ice cream is yummy, so trusting my willpower is NOT a good plan here. If it’s in the house, I’m going to want to eat it! Constantly! So, instead of having to constantly fight my own impulses (and inevitably fail!), I make it easy on myself: I don’t buy it at the supermarket, period. Now, I only have to exercise my willpower ONCE, while grocery shopping. (And the easiest way for me to do THAT is to avoid the ice cream aisle TOTALLY.) By making this one small change, I was able to drop a fiendish (several pints a week) ice cream habit pretty easily.
Now, I didn’t ban myself from going to the store to get ice cream should I desire it one night, but the fact is, my inherently lazy self would rather NOT take an extra trip just to go get ice cream, 97% of the time. And if I really REALLY wanted it, enough to go out and buy some, than hey, I’m okay with that.
So basically, previously (ice cream in the freezer) all I had to do was “opt in” to having ice cream – it was already there, it was the default. Having it was the easiest thing. Now that the default is NOT having it, to “opt out” of my default requires enough steps that I generally won’t bother.
What happens if those few steps are “too easy” for you? Add some more barriers.
Let’s say that now, once you’re home, you’re ok, but you now buy ice cream at work. You can create a barrier there too: Stop bringing your bank card and limit the cash you carry. This works wonderfully too if you’re struggling to stick to a budget: keep your debit and credit cards HOME. You can’t spend money you don’t have access to, after all!
There are many MANY ways to make your default match your desired actions and make it HARD to veer from the desired default. Think about the habit that you want to change and start brainstorming. Keep in mind that it will probably take some tweaking along the way, and don’t forget that your mindset is an important aspect as well (that is, if you’re trying to eat vegan but still identify yourself as an omnivore, that’s going to be a conflict and your default won’t change that easily). The more ways you can make your desired default EASY and your old default HARD, the better!
Aside from the grocery shopping trick (which I’ve used to cut out junk food of all types as well as “boxed mixes” of any sort) and the cash-only trick, some others I have used include:
– keeping mail in my hand until I sort it over the garbage (otherwise it ends up on a surface…and not dealt with)
– getting dresses and making my bed in a 1-2 punch immediately on waking up (makes it quite a bit harder to snuggle in bed for “just five more minutes”!)
– fold the laundry while standing at the dryer (why it’s easier to put the already-folded laundry away ASAP when I get upstairs versus folding it upstairs and putting it away I could not tell you…but when I bring it up unfolded I am 82% likely to leave it in the bag for AT LEAST a day before dealing with it, so I’ll take whatever trick works!)
I have quite a few more I plan to try soon. 🙂
Do you have any ways to trick your brain into a new “easy” default? Let me know!