You know something I’m grateful for? John re-learning to play the guitar in 2015! I was pregnant, he hadn’t picked up a guitar since middle school, but of his own accord he decided that he wanted music to be a part of our family life and so he busted out some YouTube videos and was playing all of our favorite songs in weeks. (Side note: what?! It would have taken me YEARS to do the same!)
Fast forward a few months, and there was only one downside to our frequent family singalongs. A black, bulky guitar case had taken up permanent residence in our family room — which was not exactly my idea of a good time, interior decorating speaking.
I was itching to ditch it, but was wary of falling into a trap Shawn Achor describes in his book The Happiness Advantage:
Had the path of least resistance led me astray? I thought back to that initial experiment. I had kept my guitar tucked away in the closet, out of sight and out of reach. It wasn’t far out of the way, of course, but just those 20 seconds of extra effort it took to walk to the closet and pull out the guitar had proved to be a major deterrent. I had tried to overcome this barrier with willpower, but after only four days, my reserves were completely dried up. If I couldn’t use self-control to ingrain the habit, at least not for an extended period, I now wondered: What if I could eliminate the amount of activation energy (the time, choices, and mental and physical effort) it took to get started?
I took the guitar out of the closet, bought a $2 guitar stand, and set it up in the middle of my living room. Nothing had changed except that now instead of being 20 seconds away, the guitar was in immediate reach. Three weeks later, I looked up at a habit grid with 21 proud check marks.
What I had done here, essentially, was put the desired behavior on the path of least resistance, so it actually took less energy and effort to pick up and practice the guitar than to avoid it. The strategy is universally applicable: Lower the activation energy for habits you want to adopt, and raise it for habits you want to avoid.
Obviously this applies to more than just guitar playing, ha! We had gotten into such a good rhythm of family singalongs, and I didn’t want to derail us by storing the guitar out of sight and out of mind. But I wanted it off my floor. So after some thought and Googling, I bought a guitar hook and we hung John’s beauty right behind our sofa. Problem solved! The guitar was still easily accessible, we no longer had a big case taking up floor space, and we gained some fun new wall decor, to boot.
Have y’all ever used this trick to form or break a habit? It’s a good one!