The Hardest Part About Habits
As I’ve discussed previously, kaizen is my preferred approach to making meaningful changes in my life. Unfortunately, just breaking problems down into smaller pieces often isn’t enough to make them into habits.
Sometimes you need to force yourself to succeed even on the small tasks each and every day. If your goal is to stop eating McDonalds on the way to work every day, then you have a nice small task, but you still might have trouble executing it. This is particularly true if you are trying to break a particularly addictive habit. Some folks are fine to just say, ”I’m not going to stop and eat there anymore” and that’s the end of it. They spend a month telling themselves that and soon they realize they don’t even need the reminder; habit formed.
For me, at least, that’s not the case. In my life it is pretty likely that I’m going to cheat or give up with that kind of temptation coming at me every day. This fella loves his food.
This is where the idea of velvet ropes comes in. “Velvet ropes”, in this sense, are artificial barriers you create to make doing the bad things more difficult. Not impossible, but just inconvenient. Much like velvet ropes at a movie theater. You could easily go over/under/through them if you put in a tiny bit of effort, but there would be less effort expended to just go where the ropes lead you.
In the McDonalds scenario above, the addition of “velvet ropes” is often all that is needed to keep you to your plan. If you take a different route to work that doesn’t go past the McDonalds, then you are less tempted to go there because you have to drive out of the way. If that isn’t an option, perhaps putting your wallet in the trunk will work as you would have to stop and get out to find your wallet before entering the drive-through.
As you can see these are changes that really don’t stop you from getting to those sweet sweet McMuffins, but they are just enough of a barrier to make someone think twice about falling off the wagon.
There are tons of great examples of velvet ropes I’ve heard of and many that I’ve used myself:
- Not owning your own cigarettes so you are forced to bum them off others if you want to smoke
- Keep snacks somewhere out of the way to prevent grazing
- Using a tiny mug to cut down on coffee intake by forcing extra trips
- Only carry cash to avoid frivolous spending
- Uninstalling social media apps to cut down on usage
While velvet ropes are a great way to prevent you from doing things there’s the other side of the coin where you need help getting started with things. Often we are looking to create new good habits rather than remove bad ones. Unlike the velvet ropes which will make things a tiny bit more difficult there is the concept of the red carpet to make things a little easier to accomplish.
Walking down the road is nice, but walking on a fancy carpet in bare feet is even nicer. No reason you couldn’t stray off the carpet, but it’s just nice enough that you will probably choose to continue following where it leads you.
In reality this means, if you would like to start working out every day you could place your workout clothes at the foot of your bed each night so that they are right there and ready to go when you wake up. You haven’t really made much of an effort toward working out, but that little nudge might be enough to get you to put the clothes on. Once you have the workout clothes on you might as well just go do a quick workout. It’s just that simple.
How much you need to pad your red carpet to coerce yourself into following it is a personal thing, but it probably isn’t too much for most people. In my experience red carpets have worked really well since the thing you are planning on doing becomes so much less imposing once any work on it has begun at all. Some great red carpet examples are:
- Putting fresh fruit and vegetables out on the counter/table so you are more likely to eat them
- Leaving an instrument or book out where you will normally sit to watch tv so you use them instead
- Putting reusable grocery bags in your car so they are with you when you decide to go to the grocery store
- Keeping a water bottle with you so that you are reminded to drink more water
Sometimes we need a little help when our willpower fails us and the velvet rope / red carpet technique is really good at providing that boost. I’ve used these techniques a ton over the years and managed to build some great new habits and remove some of the bad ones and that has been instrumental on my path to this meaningful life I’m building now. What are the velvet ropes and red carpets you are using in your life, or are going to start using? Do you think it has helped you stay the course more than sheer willpower alone?