Using friction to break bad habits

Last week, I wrote about identifying where the friction lies to avoid it as much as possible. Arguably, that would lead us to ship more work and focus on the essentials. But there's a specific situation in which friction becomes our friend: when we try to break bad habits.

I learned about this idea from James Clear's 2018 book Atomic Habits. "The best way to break a bad habit is to make it impractical to do. Increase the friction until you don't even have the option to act."

Instead of working against friction, we engineer ways to produce more of it.

In his book, Clear provides a practical example. "The brilliance of the cash register was that it automated ethical behavior by making stealing practically impossible. Rather than trying to change the employees, it made the preferred behavior automatic."

Another example is to avoid distractions by logging out from email, social media, and services that steal your time. Having to log back in each time you visit them makes the experience less enjoyable and serves as a wall to potential distractions.

By making what you want to avoid harder, friction helps break bad habits.

November 9, 2021
Nono Martínez Alonso

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