On a TED Radio Hour podcast episode, I listened to an interview with Richard Thaler, a behavioral economist who co-wrote Nudge, a book about changing behaviors.
His message: If you want to encourage people to do something, make it easy.
For example, to get people to save money in their 401k, set up participation based on an “opt-out” model. This means, rather than having everyone who wants to participate fill out (annoying) forms, enroll everyone. Then, if someone is not interested in participating, they can opt out. The point is, the easiest thing is to do nothing; as a result, participation tends to soar when everyone is automatically enrolled.
In another study he cited, providing sliced apples in plastic bags, rather than whole apples, resulted in a 70% increase in apple consumption by kids in schools.
Here are a few things I do to make it easier to create and stick to good habits, or to avoid bad ones:
- Having a stock of single-serving, healthy snacks at my desk at work. Unhealthy snacks are easy to find in offices; keeping a supply of non-perishable, single-serving, healthy snacks makes healthy eating easier. I also bring an apple to work nearly every day.
- Avoiding stocking my house with unhealthy foods. Though I have been having a lot of success of late avoiding added sugars, like most people I am susceptible to indulging when sweets and other unhealthy foods are readily available. When they are not around, I don’t give them much thought.
- Keeping my nail clipper on my bathroom counter-top. Nail biting is a habit I finally focused on—and kicked—a few years ago. Kicking that habit was aided by keeping the clipper in sight.
- Storing my vitamins in a Sunday-to-Saturday container, which I keep next to my breakfast dishes. Keeping the vitamins in a place I associate with breakfast helps me to remember to take them every day.
- Keeping filled, reusable, water bottles in my refrigerator. We have a bunch of reusable water bottles which I fill and place in the fridge as soon as I take them out of the dishwasher. Storing them full, in the fridge, rather than empty in a kitchen drawer, makes it easier to grab them as I leave the house for work, for an exercise class, or for any other destination.
- Filling my calendar with reminders. I populate my calendar with numerous recurring reminders—from changing the air filters in my house’s heating/air conditioning system every three months, to bringing in my car for an oil change every 3,000 miles, to writing weekly blog posts, to calling my mom—which help me stay on top of these important activities.
What are some of the ways you make habits easier to maintain? Please join the conversation with your comments…