The science of building healthy habits consistently shows that the easier we make something, the more likely we are to succeed. And yet many people still treat the new year as an endurance challenge, making difficult and daunting resolutions that are destined to fail.
Why do we make our lives so hard when easier is clearly, well, easier?
“There’s a value we place in our society in exerting self-control and being in charge,” said Wendy Wood, a research psychologist at the University of Southern California and author of “Good Habits, Bad Habits.” “Sometimes the easier something feels, it feels like you’re less in control, and it’s less appealing somehow.’’
But studies show that when we rely solely on willpower and motivation to make changes, we tend to fail. In one ongoing research project, students who were all trying to cut back their time on social media were given two options. The easy way was an app that essentially curtailed access. Or they were given the option to just try really hard to control their social media use.
Most of the students chose the self-control model — and failed. “People love the motivation approach; they don’t like automating things to make it easier to reach the goal,” Wood said. But in this study, “self-control didn’t work at all,” she said.
Why easy and simple are better
The belief that success is best achieved through struggle dates back centuries. Sophocles said it. (“Nothing succeeds without toil.”) Ben Franklin did, too. (“There are no gains without pains.”) And Jane Fonda popularized the value of suffering in her 1980s workout videos when she chanted, “No pain, no gain!”
But the science of behavior change shows just the opposite. When we eliminate or reduce the struggle — scientists call it “friction” — we are far more likely to succeed.
Friction typically comes in three forms — time, distance and effort. If something is time-consuming, far away from our homes or workplace …….