The Five Rules of Behavior Change:
- Shrink the Commitment
- Tweak Your Environment
- Join a Tribe Going in the Same Direction
- Establish Habit Triggers
- Make Good Habits More Rewarding
An effective strategy for behavior change needs to address one or more of the components of the habit loop. The more of them you engage, the better your chances of success. The most effective strategies encourage or discourage the habit at the beginning. You won’t reinforce a craving if you remove the temptation or cannot perform the habit. You cannot make the Reward of a good habit more satisfying if you do not do it.
The First Rule of Behavior Change, Shrink the Commitment, is the most effective way to create a good habit. Shrink the new behavior down so small in the beginning that even on your absolute worst day, you could keep your habit streak alive. We don’t rise to the level of our aspirations; we sink to the level of our standards. Set the bar so low, you cannot fail, but remember that bar is a minimum requirement. You can always do more when you feel motivated to do so, but never less. You cannot build on a habit until you have established it. We establish habits through repetition. Repetition is the learning language of the subconscious mind. Set the bar too high, and you’ll never develop the habit; moreover, you’ll become discouraged and erode your self-esteem. Set the bar low, build self-confidence, willpower, and motivation through small daily wins, and you’ll be much further along in five-months than the person that set’s lofty goals, but fails to build consistency because they were too ambitious.
Tweaking the Environment is the most effective at breaking a bad habit. It is also helpful for establishing good habits. No environment is neutral, as you will learn in the coming chapters. The environment is this invisible force that shapes our decisions and habits. We want to design our environment to encourage good habits and discourage bad ones. We want to remove all obstacles and make good habits easier than bad ones. It is impossible to sustain positive behaviors in a negative environment. Our reward system already favors bad habits, so we need to shape our environment to help us overcome this disadvantage. We need to tend to good habits like a farmer tends to his fields. If we don’t, bad habits like weeds will take over. Neglect plants the seeds of bad habits.
Willpower is not an effective long-term strategy for behavior change. In a phenomenon called bounded rationality, we are rational until we are not. When everything is theoretical, we will make logical choices. When we are stressed-out, tired, hungry, lonely, or depressed, we don’t make rational decisions. Any strategy for behavior change that relies too heavily on willpower is doomed to failure. Based on the widely accepted theory of ego depletion, our willpower depletes with use. Days when we are forced to make difficult decisions or exercise a lot of self-control, our willpower will leave us utterly naked to any temptations in our environment. If we remove the temptations that reward bad habits, you extinguish the habit without the need to exert any willpower. It is a lot more effective to shape our environment to make bad habits difficult, if not impossible while making good habits easier.
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