Video: One Easy Way to Fight a Bad Habit? Make It Inconvenient.

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 pre-order, click here. (Pre-orders give a real boost to a book, so if you’re inclined to buy the book, I’d really appreciate it if you pre-order it.)

One of the most familiar, and most effective, is the simple, straightforward, powerful Strategy of Convenience. And its counterpart, which I talk about today, the Strategy of Inconvenience.


We’re far more likely to do something if it’s convenient, and far less likely to do something if it’s inconvenient, to an astounding degree. For instance, in one cafeteria, when an ice-cream cooler’s lid was left open, thirty percent of diners bought ice cream, but when diners had to open the lid, only fourteen percent bought ice cream, even though the ice cream was visible in both situations. People take less food when using tongs, instead of spoons, as serving utensils.

We can use this tendency to help strengthen our habits.

Have you ever made an activity less convenient, and in that way, strengthened a habit meant to help you control it?

  • Mimi Gregor

    I use the strategy of inconvenience with alcohol. I like to keep some around for cooking (cognac, sake, wine), but I don’t want to be tempted to drink some if I’m having a rough day. So I installed a very high shelf in my kitchen that I have to lug the stepladder over to reach, and even then, have to stretch a bit to grab something. I know it’s there when I’m making Steak Diane or sticky rice. But, since I am short, and I have a tendency to overlook things that are far above eye level, it doesn’t immediately spring to mind that it’s there at any other time. I also do this with the mixed nuts, keeping them on a high shelf in the cabinet, so that I have to lug over the stepladder.

    Another strategy of inconvenience that works for me is that I made it a personal rule that I MUST brush my teeth thoroughly after EVERY time I eat something. So, when I want a snack, I gauge whether I REALLY am hungry by whether I am willing to spend all that time brushing my teeth afterwards. Usually, I don’t.

    • gretchenrubin

      I brush my teeth right after dinner, to discourage myself from post-dinner snacking. It’s a very handy habit-changing tool.

    • Megan

      I do this too. Plus, I floss… there’s no way I’m going to want to floss and brush all over again, therefore no snacking!

  • michelle chaban

    As a Chicago clinical therapist , I’ve had patients do this and yep, it works! Great words of wisdom, Gretchen. And Mimi, I liked what you said too!

  • Christine

    Sorry for being OT – but is that your sofa? That is the coolest fabric! Mind if I ask where you got it?
    (And yes, I totally agree with the point of your video.)

  • Msconduct

    I used the strategy of inconvenience by using chopsticks to stop myself eating too quickly (and therefore eating too much before I could realise I was full). It worked really well, although after a while I got as good with chopsticks as with a knife and fork! By that time the habit of eating less was ingrained, though – and iit also made my trip to China a lot easier!

  • Dianne Ochiltree

    To encourage my habit of regular exercise, my gym or yoga studio memberships are always within a fifteen minute commute from whatever home I’m living in at the time. Early on, I found that if it took longer for me to get there and get home, I would not find time to exercise…my mind would tell me that I could only budget 1 1/2-2 hours each day for physical health and if it took more than that, was very good at finding excuses not to go to the gym. Since I wasn’t able to change my mindset, I worked within the limitation to enable a regular practice of physical exercise by choosing work-out facilities close by.

  • Jeanne

    Love your quote today from Henry Miller. Reminds me of Byron Katie’s philosophy of being “a lover of what is.” Echoed by Eckhart Tolle. These are two of my contemporary spiritual masters. This doesn’t mean to throw up your hands, accept what is unacceptable forever, and all the other bad stuff people associate with a quote like this. But rather to recognize and honor where you are, and start forward from there. There is SO much potential in situations that we reject and resist. As Eckhart would say, “only the self we imagine ourselves to be suffers.” When things seem to be “going wrong,” we need to breathe, accept where we are right then, then look for our next best step. Resisting what is only keeps us stuck in it.

  • Steve Malerich

    With our 1991 move from Minnesota to Iowa, we decided to put our only television in our (unfinished) basement, along with an ancient wicker couch. Our television time dropped significantly with that simple decision, to just a few favorite programs each week. As those programs ran their course, we had no inclination to replace them. In 1995, we got rid of the television entirely.

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