Friction - The Good and Bad
Updated: Mar 11
Do you like to take the hard way?
One of the most powerful factors in breaking addictions or creating good habits is friction. If you can increase the friction in your bad habits and decrease the friction in your good habits, it’ll make self-control a lot easier.
What is friction?
Friction is usually defined as “the resistance that one surface or object encounters when moving over another.” While this is usually reserved for physics, there are many ways that we experience friction in emotional or mental ways.
The more resistance we feel, the more friction is present. As humans, we naturally dislike friction, as we tend to take the easy way, if possible. Thus, if we meet more resistance than we are willing to overcome, we won’t accomplish the task at hand.
Friction preventing good tasks
A healthy meal generally takes time and effort to make, while a less healthy, packaged meal can be popped into the microwave and done within minutes. The latter has much less friction, so we are generally more likely to do that, especially when we are low on willpower at the end of the day.
Going to the gym is good for us, but getting dressed, getting in the car, and driving to the gym creates a lot of resistance for us to overcome as well, so it can be difficult to motivate yourself to go.
The lack of friction triggering bad habits
Companies like to make purchasing as easy as possible (because with less friction, you are more likely to buy from them). You can click one button and have item after item delivered to your doorstep without much thought of what’s happening to your bank account.
When you are sitting on a couch, the TV is generally right there in front of you and the remote is in reach. It takes almost no effort to turn it on and browse movies and television for hours.
Ways I have reduced friction in my home to inspire better habits
Please note that I’m not perfect about these habits, but making these adjustments has helped me a lot in improving my habits and becoming more consistent about them.
Going to the gym regularly created a bit too much friction for me, so I moved my exercise routine to my living room. My exercise pole is the main source of my exercise, and it is right in the middle of the living room. I see it every day and it’s almost hard to not swing on it at some point in the day, just because it’s right there. There is almost no friction to use it.
In addition, I have found that if I turn on my Pandora radio, I am almost guaranteed to end up dancing and singing, which are things I want to do every day. As such, I have my Alexa device scheduled to play my music every morning at 10 AM. I’m usually winding down my morning routine, and writing around then, so it gives me something productive to do before I fall into easy and less fun habits. I don’t even have to turn on the music now; I have to make more effort to stop it. And when my favorite songs are playing, it’s hard to resist the pull towards my pole.
Healthy eating is something I care a lot about, but have been too lazy to keep up with. Half the time I just don’t eat because I’m a cheap, lazy food snob (it's hard to work with all three restrictions). It’s difficult to reduce the friction on healthy eating, but one way I heard of from this TED talk is to simply stop buying unhealthy foods. You do have to vamp up your willpower when you go to the store to accomplish this, but if you do, you basically have to eat something healthy, if you want to eat. That way, when you are trying to take the path of least resistance when making dinner, you realize that the only easy options are healthy.
Ways I have increased friction in my home to reduce bad habits
I used to leave my laptop right on the footrest in front of the couch, so I would default to being on the computer most of the day. Now I make sure that (with few exceptions) the charger is always on the desk. Thus, when the computer runs out of battery, I have to sit at the desk, which is far less comfortable than my couch or bean bag, so I am less likely to spend as much time on it.
My husband and I intentionally have never bought a TV, because we want to have higher friction in our home against TV watching. When we want to watch something, we have to move the laptop to the footrest, bring the charger over, plug in the speaker, and sometimes pull out the portable DVD player that we have to hook up to the laptop. (Added friction: I hate using that thing.) Granted, these aren’t difficult tasks, but we have to be much more intentional to watch a movie, so the added friction keeps us from defaulting to it.
This is small, but if you don’t save your credit/debit cards on the computer, you have to pull out the cards and type them in every time you make an online purchase. It’s just a little added friction, which can help reduce your spending. (By doing this so much, I’ve managed to memorize my credit card, but I still have to make the effort to type it in every time.)
Identify a good habit and a bad habit in your life. Try to find one way to make the bad habit harder and one way to make the good habit easier.
Here are some ways you could do this:
Put the chocolate out of reach in the cupboard.
Put the book you want to read where you generally sit.
Turn the TV around.
Unplug the TV.
Put the broccoli at the front of the fridge.
Put your dumbbells in between you and opening the fridge.
Put your running shoes right by your bed.
There are a number of things that can help. Get creative and make your life better! (After all, that is what this whole website is about!)