Video: For Habits, the Strategy of Convenience.

I’m doing a video series in which I discuss the various strategies that we can use for habit-formation.

Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life, and a significant element of happiness. If we have habits that work for us, we’re much more likely to be happy, healthy, productive, and creative. My forthcoming book, Better Than Before, describes the multiple strategies we can exploit to change our habits. To hear when it goes on sale, sign up here.

Today, I’m talking about the Strategy of Convenience. This is one of the most powerful, straightforward, and popular strategies of habit change.

People often ask me, “What surprises you most about habits?” One thing that continually astonishes me is the degree to which we’re influenced by sheer convenience. The amount of effort, time, or decision making required by an action has a huge influence on habit formation. To a truly remarkable extent, we’re more likely to do something if it’s convenient, and less likely if it’s not. For instance, here are 8 reasons why convenience can interfere with exercise.

 

We should pay close attention to the convenience of any activity we want to make into a habit. Putting a wastebasket next to our front door made mail sorting slightly more convenient, and I stopped procrastinating with this chore. Many people report that they do a much better job of forming the habit of staying close to distant family members now that tools like Facebook, Skype, FaceTime, and group chats make it easy to stay in touch.

It’s a Secret of Adulthood for Habits: Make it easy to go right, and hard to go wrong.

  • Mimi Gregor

    This is something that I should have realized before, since convenience plays a BIG part in whether I form a habit or not, but I just never thought about it. Thanks for pointing it out! This is information I can use to forge other habits that I would like to adopt.

    For instance, I started strength training when I worked at a hotel restaurant where employees were allowed to use the hotel gym free. Once I no longer worked there, I was quite perplexed as to how to keep the workout habit. Getting into my car and driving to a gym is time-consuming and inconvenient, and I realized that a gym membership would be a waste of money for me. My husband surprised me for Christmas that year with a set of free weights and a bench that adapted to various exercises. Because I could use it at home, it was convenient and I kept to a regular routine. Since the free weights, I have graduated to a resistance training machine and I also do yoga on the days that I don’t do weights. The yoga is something I also do at home. For me, it is just more convenient to be able to squeeze exercise in when I don’t also have to squeeze in a commute.

    • Liz Z

      I agree Mimi. Having a workout room at home eliminates a lot of excuses – it’s raining, I don’t have time to drive, I don’t like working out in front of other people, etc.

      • Sjean

        Still, with my own in- home setup, I make excuses not to workout.

  • Penelope Schmitt

    Convenience has been a key to my exercise program. I am not naturally inclined to be active and athletic. GOING somewhere that requires a drive is really difficult for me. Instead, I walk in my neighborhood every morning. I have learned that going around the loop three times takes me an hour and is close to three miles. I have only to step out the door and there I am. If I need to make a pit stop, my own home is only a few minutes away. On the way, I learn what is going on in the neighborhood, and I often stop to take a photo with my phone or to chat with a neighbor. The benefits go far beyond the exercise. Also, I recently acquired a Fitbit and find it very convenient and encouraging to check my progress through the day since it is on my wrist and my phone is always at hand.

    I recently took a course of physical therapy that has been helpful, and at the end of it joined the facility-with-pool where I had my treatments. I rapidly learned that to actually go there, I had to tap the help of an accountability partner who is also going for workouts there. I can overcome INconvenience, but apparently I need help!

    After reading your interview with Brian Wansink last week, I am also looking at my house to see how I can make it more convenient to eat less, and LESS convenient to nibble and snack. Actually, I’ve got almost everything that should be out of sight put away, but the level of clutter in my kitchen is still maddening. I fear that a lot of it has been born of convenience (I would rather have things on the counter at hand than put away under the sink) and some is inevitable because things need to be within reach for my Mom. However, I have recognized that we made a GREAT decision when we put her stash of cookies on a separate shelf in another location that I don’t use regularly, and all her cookies are in pretty (and opaque) tin boxes. It would be INCONVENIENT for me to raid her stash.

    I guess I’ll be taking a few days to scan my horizon for conveniences and inconveniences that I can adjust for better living!

  • Wilga Janssen

    compliments of Holland. I think you’re pushing the right button.

  • Liz Z

    You hit the nail on the head on this one. I know I love exercise and how I feel during and after it, and all the wonderful benefits it brings, but getting myself to do it seems like a monumental task. So instead of trying to work on making myself commit to a whole week worth of workouts, I’m finding ways to build workouts into my routine. My latest victory is Saturday mornings. I go to the local farmer’s market every week in a big beautiful park downtown. I used to walk there whenever I could but never seem to make it there now. I realized that I’m already at the park every week, so I require myself to take one lap around the park before leaving. There are often events in the park and it is surprising how much I have to talk myself into walking after having to take the produce several blocks to the car on the weeks I can’t park close. Reminding myself that walking in the park is a wonderful treat helps make me go back and do it.

    • Gillian

      A lovely way to spend Saturday morning! Could you do the lap around the park before you do your shopping then you don’t have to talk yourself into going back?

      • Liz Z

        That would require giving up my chill Saturday morning, because the market closes at 1 and I rarely get out of the house before noon. But it’s working anyway. I felt terrible this past Saturday but made myself walk anyway and I felt much better afterward. I haven’t missed a Saturday yet, so this is working.

  • Shalome W

    I have recently tackled a few nagging problems using this very strategy. Even though I know how bad it is for my skin, I had a terrible time taking off my makeup at night and cleansing my face. My husband going to bed earlier than me and being a light sleeper, the fact I just want some quiet time after putting the kids to bed and random other things contributed to this bad habit.
    I FINALLY looked at it thru the convenience lens. I gave myself permission to use cleansing wipes instead of products that required a sink and to buy smaller sizes of things so I could make myself a little basket that I keep next to the couch with everything I needed in it. Now I pull out my little basket and do my face regime while I check my email and finish my next day planning sitting on the couch and drinking a cup of tea.
    I turned a dreaded guilt produce habit into something I look forward to and treat as a simple pleasure because I made it super convenient.

    • gretchenrubin

      Great example.

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