“There is a value we place in our society on exercising self-control and being in charge,” he said Wendy Wooda research psychologist at the University of Southern California and author of “Good habits, bad habits.” “Sometimes the easier something feels, it feels like you’re less in control and it’s less attractive somehow.”
But studies show that when we rely only on willpower and motivation to make changes, we tend to fail. In an ongoing research project, students who were all trying to cut down on their time on social media were given two options. The easy way was an app that basically restricted access. Or they were given the opportunity to simply try harder to control their social media use.
Most students chose the self-monitoring model—and failed. “People love the motivational approach; they don’t like to automate things to make it easier to achieve the goal,” Wood said. But in this study, “self-control didn’t work at all,” she said.
Why plain and simple is best
The belief that success is best achieved through war dates back centuries. Sophocles he said it. (“Nothing succeeds without effort.”) Ben Franklin did too. (“There is no gain without pain.”) And Jane Fonda popularized the value of suffering in her 1980s exercise videos when she sang, “No pain, no gain!“
But the science of behavior change shows just the opposite. When we eliminate or reduce struggle—scientists call it “friction”—we are much more likely to succeed.
Friction usually comes in three forms – time, distance and effort. If something takes time, away from our homes or workplace, and requires a lot of energy, we are less likely to do it. If something is quick, convenient, and easy, we’ll keep doing it.
The food industry has realized this and is using it to our detriment. That’s why fast food companies, with convenient drive-thru windows and stores in every neighborhood, have been so successful.
But you can also use the power of friction to help you achieve your goals. During the month of January, the Well+Being table will offer new strategies to simplify your life, including simple ways to change your eating habits, exercise more, improve relationships and care for your mental health. You can bookmark Well+Being site to see each installment, and sign up for the Well+Being newsletterdelivered to your inbox every Thursday.
Here are three tips for setting easier health goals.
As little as possible time you are required to spend on a healthy behavior, the better. Instead of training for a marathon, start by training for a 5K race. If you want to start cooking more at home, choose 15-minute meals, pre-cut vegetables and quick cooking tools like an air fryer. If you want to read more, set a goal to read just 10 minutes a night. If you want to start a meditation habit, choose a short meditation of one or two minutes to try a few days a week.
Another way to remove time friction is to get organized. If a messy kitchen prevents you from cooking at home, clean it. Organize a fitness drawer to make changing for a run or walk quicker.
It has the added bonus of saving time and simplifying your day. You will have more time to take care of your relationships, which also improves your overall well-being.
“Because of the ways in which we fill our lives with so many things and don’t have time, I think our relationships suffer,” said Tyler J. VanderWeele, professor of epidemiology and director of Harvard University. Human Flourishing Program. “People want to feel connected, valued and loved. That takes time.”
Keep it close to home or work
shorten distance between you and your healthy habit. To avoid eating from the office food cart, put healthy snacks on your desk – you’re more likely to grab food that’s nearby.
If you’re taking a class or joining a gym, make sure it’s close to your home or office. (In one study, even living several thousand feet away from a gym made a significant difference in attendance among college students.) If the gym is far away, a better exercise goal might be to plan a daily walk near the office or close to home. Or look into an exercise bike or home gym equipment.
If something takes too much EFFORTS and it’s not enjoyable, you’re less likely to keep doing it. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try hard things. It just means you have to think of ways to make the goal more enjoyable. If you want to run a marathon, join a running club or train with a friend.
“If you’re miserable doing one thing, you’ll give up,” said Katy Milkman, a professor at the Wharton School and author of the new book. “How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be.”
Easy means keeping things simple too. Don’t set multiple goals and expect to succeed at all of them, Milkman said. Choose something you like.
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