This article contains excerpts from Kyle’s best-selling book Escalate: The Practical Guide to Get Yourself Unstuck and Build Lifelong Momentum
You are wired to take the path of least resistance. Just like water or any other physical element.
You intuitively know this, it’s why you make the things you don’t want to do, difficult to do. You create barriers to things you want to stop doing. Maybe you remove junk food from the house, go out of your way to avoid a difficult colleague, or have restrictions for social media.
While putting barriers in place to prevent undesirable actions has its own merit, it does not ensure that the right things get done. It only helps prevent the wrong things from getting done.
To create the most powerful personal changes, you have to make the right things easy to do. Rather than focusing on how you can prevent bad behaviors, focus on how you can make the good behaviors easy to do.
Richard Thaler won a Nobel Prize in 2017 for behavioral economics and his studies on this topic. He calls it the “nudge”. He paints a picture of this principle when he relates the story of the “urinal fly” (Christopher Ingraham, 2017).
You see, men are horrible at “aiming”, and when at the airport, where their minds are focused on so many other things, they are even worse. In fact, toilet companies have spent large sums of money trying to fix this problem, e.g. using screens, rubber mats, etc. However, rather than change the design, an airport manager decided user experience was what needed to change. He placed a sticker of a fly in an optimal peeing place in the urinal. This leveraged an innate desire to pee on things to the benefit of the airport. As a result, they reduced the amount of spillage by 80% resulting in about 8% drop in cleaning costs.
The most satisfying and amazing thing about this study is that there was no call to be responsible, no guilt tripping, and no big push. There was a small investment in a fly sticker and the users did the rest. The beauty is how mindless it all really was.
Most of the actions and decisions you make every day are without thought, they are routine. Which can be incredibly efficient. However, how often do you mindlessly act in a way that produces negative consequences for yourself or others? How easy would it be to install elements like the urinal fly to help you effortlessly forego those consequences?
Many of our bad habits and destructive behaviors can be solved with just a little nudge in the right direction.
Another great example is that of Disney. Have you ever wondered why there are so many trash cans at Disney theme parks? The story goes that after buying a hot dog one day, Walt Disney walked about thirty feet before finishing it. He turned and said, “There needs to be a trash can here.” Today trash cans are strategically placed every thirty feet around Disney parks. This practice worked so well for them, that the Philadelphia City Council passed a plan in 2015 requiring all food establishments to have trash and recycle bins outside their storefronts (efficientgov.com, 2015).
In my own experience, I’ve seen this art of the “nudge” as Thaler calls it, work wonders. In 2007, I was running an international freight brokerage with a high amount of outside sales. This meant that employees made dozens of cold calls every day. However, I found that barely half of the target of fifty calls were being made.
In observing actions each morning, I discovered that several employees procrastinated making calls by justifying low-value emails and performing client research. My first instinct was to create barriers to these things before 9:30 AM, in hopes that they would make cold calls during that time. This didn’t help, and they just found new ways to procrastinate.
After discussing the problem with employees, they brought up several perceived challenges, like not knowing exactly who to call or what to say. So, we began creating specific lists for employees to call and giving them a script.
Instead of only asking them to make cold calls, I made it easy to do by giving them everything they needed, including a simple script. If they made the call and followed the script, it was considered a success.
It wasn’t until I took this step, to make the right behavior easy to do, that it actually got done.
If you haven’t noticed, all of these examples are of people finding ways to subvert their lazy, subconscious selves. On top of that, they didn’t need huge changes to be solved. Think of all the wasteful, destructive things that you do to yourself and others almost unknowingly.
That part that wants to cut corners and save time or energy or yourself from stress. It’s in all of us. It takes honesty and self-awareness or a good accountability partner to notice these things, but the solutions are not far off or hard to get to.
While your personal successes on this front might not work as effortlessly as the above examples, anything you can do to make the good behavior easy to do, will make it more likely to happen. One of my mottos is…
You should spend as much time making theright things easy to do, as you do making the wrong things hard.
How can you do this? Maybe you lay out all the necessary materials beforehand, schedule an energizing playlist to start at a specific time, or let others know you need space at a set time. When I get home from work, it is easy for me to sit back and relax, especially after a long day. However, setting a simple reminder on my phone to ask my wife how her day was and to play with the kids puts me in the mindset to be an engaged parent and a little less lazy.
What’s the one habit you’ve been working to develop? Spend the next 10 minutes exploring how you can make the right habit easy to do, rather than how you can make the wrong habit hard.
You can access more tools and practices for creating powerful habits and achieving goals at https://kylebrost.com/escalate