Often, you really want to do something, but you just can’t get yourself to take the first step. For example, you really want to wake up early in the morning and exercise, but you can’t get out of bed. Or you really want to work on a project, but you keep stalling and working on other less important things. How do you resolve this type of situation and just do what you really want to do?
The term “choice architecture” is developed fully in the excellent book Nudge (Amazon Link), by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. The term refers to the possibility of setting up choices so that they push you in a desirable direction. For example, when corporate 401k plans (a form of retirement savings plan that offers tax advantages in the United States) are setup so that the employee must opt-out of the plan, rather than opt-in to the plan, the participation rate increases dramatically. Similarly, when water bottles are placed closer to the checkout counter than soda, people make the healthier choice more often.
What does this have to do with you and your daily struggles? The answer will surprise you. You are the choice architect of your life. You can often setup your own life so that choosing the better choice is easier. You want to make it easier to get up and exercise in the morning. Do everything in your power to make that choice the easiest one. Keep the alarm clock just out of reach, so pressing the snooze button is harder than getting up. Sleep in your workout clothes, or at least have them right next to your bed. Have your sneakers lined up where you place your feet when getting out of bed. Make the choice to exercise the easy one, and you will increase your success rate dramatically.
What about pushing off that project? Here too you can make the project the choice of least resistance. Set up whatever you need to start on the project the night before. This is surprisingly easy, as you will face less resistance from the part of your brain that wants to keep pushing it off when you know you will not be working on this until tomorrow. Send an email to an assistant or a colleague that you would like to start working on the project first thing in the morning. And, close out of everything else that you are working on the night before. When you start your day the next morning, you will have a really hard time pushing off the task again. After all, everything is setup for you, your assistant or colleague is expecting you to work on this, and nothing else is readily available. The same approach can be used with lunch break; however, it is easier to make this work overnight as you will face less resistance the night before.
If you cannot structure your choice in a way that makes it easier, try incentives. You can, and should, incentivize yourself to make the choices that you really want to do, but just keep pushing off. Offer yourself a small reward (it could be that new drink in Starbucks you are waiting to try, or whatever would work for you) for getting up and exercising a certain number of times. Start with a small number (even 1 is okay) and then slowly increase the number as the choice becomes easier. The same can work for something you are pushing off at work. Offer yourself an incentive and watch the choice become a whole lot easier.
Go ahead, try to work on improving your daily choice architecture and start offering yourself incentives. Tell me how if went. I love to hear from you.