The benefits of inconvenience

Today I want to talk about a particular approach – or strategy – that can make a huge difference to anyone’s life. Many people want to change something about themselves. They set goals, targets and milestones. The trouble is that more often than not people don’t achieve those goals. And one of the reasons is that they take the wrong approach.

When people think about working towards a goal, they often speak in terms of commitment, willpower, hard work. And while those things are important, they also tap into finite resources. Your willpower is limited. Your energy is limited. So there’s nothing wrong with making things a little easier for yourself.

Let me turn the commonplace thinking on its head: the process of achieving goals has very little to do with you. You don’t need to be particularly strong-willed to achieve greatness – you just need the right setup.

“…don’t try to change yourself, change your environment.”

– B. F. Skinner

B. F. Skinner was an American scientist and philosopher, and is considered one of the founders of behaviourism, the study of behaviour. He believed that our choices are dictated by our environment, and are not a result of free will. This might seem like a bleak approach, but you could make it a valuable tool.

Simply put, you can adjust your environment to make you more likely to reach your targets. A few simple changes can make it easier for you to make the right choices, reducing the need for willpower. This is what Gretchen Rubin, the author of Better than Before, was talking about when she described the Strategy of Convenience. She explains that we are more likely to do something if it’s convenient, and less likely to do it the less convenient it is.

  • You’re more likely to take a cookie from an open tin than one that’s closed, even less so if the tin is not transparent.
  • You’re more likely to stop and watch TV if it’s left on all the time than if it’s switched off.
  • You’re less likely to check your phone every few minutes if you leave it in another room than if you carry it in your pocket.

Crucially, many of those changes are Small Steps, which makes them easier to implement!

I’ve been using this approach since before I read Gretchen’s book, almost subconsciously, and I keep finding new applications every day. It can be applied to a range of situations and scenarios, and really does make life easier. Here are some of my personal examples:

  • I’m trying to eat healthily, and I never keep cookies or sweets in the house. This means that if I want to eat something sweet, I have to go out and buy it especially, and this usually stops me.
  • I find that looking at pictures of cute animals improves my mood considerably. I am now subscribed to several newsletter and feeds that send me such pictures automatically, so I’m more likely to come across them, giving me a little boost.
  • I keep a book next to my bed, making me more likely to read for a few minutes every night as I go to bed.

Can you think of a way you could use this approach to bring you closer to your goals?

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