Saturday, June 30, 2012

Make changes more easily by harnessing the chain of behavior

Most of us have been there - you make a few resolutions at the new year, and they fall by the wayside. A couple of months later, you try again, recalling those failed resolutions and deciding to just go it on your own, regardless of what the calendar says.

Now the year is half over. Despite your heroic attempts at approaching the problem, rather than avoiding, the changes just haven't taken effect. You lose your focus. You don't really have a solid plan in the first place.

With that being said, however, there are certainly times when a resolution makes a lot of sense. For example, that four-dollar latte is costing you about a thousand dollars per year. Why not try to cut it from your routine?

Here's where you've got some decisions to make. Back in the good old days, you'd summon up your willpower, that magical quality that was apparently bestowed upon some of us at birth while the rest of us spent our days striving to figure out how to find it. The legend had it that willpower would take you through these sorts of things - you'd just power through, forgo those lattes, and be done with it.

The problem, of course, is that willpower isn't really a thing at all. Some people have a personality that makes it easier to do some things, and others have personalities that serve them in areas unattainable by the willpower crowd. If you're one of the many who didn't receive that willpower gene, it's time to resort to good old behavioral science. In this case, you'll be calling upon the Chain of Behavior to help you stop sipping those spendy coffee drinks.

The Chain of Behavior works like this - think about all of the steps it takes to get that latte into your mouth. You have to pay for it, sure... but before that, you have to walk into the coffee shop. And before that, you have to get to the street the coffee shop is on. To do that, you have to leave wherever you are before you go to the coffee shop. And, to get where you are before you go to the coffee shop, you have to drive, or walk, or take the bus from your house. And, don't forget payment - to pay for that latte, you have to have your wallet or purse with you, and money in your purse, and... well, you get the idea.

So, that's the chain. If you break it, you don't buy the latte. You can break it at many points, but the further up the chain you go, the better the chance of success. Not walking into the coffee shop is great. Not being on that street is better. Not having your money with you is even better! See how it works? Figure out the chain of events that get you to the last link. Then break the chain as far up as you can.

This also works with things you are trying to add to your life, not just trying to quit. There's a chain that gets you in the gym that starts with having the time, and the gear, to work out. Putting your clothes in your gym bag is a link. Putting your gym back into your car is a link. You get the idea.

So, to those of you who are still working on those resolutions, best of luck. Hopefully figuring out the links to your particular chains will help you succeed. And for those of you who are just plugging along, day by day, everything you do is a chain as well. Take a look at the links, make adjustments where you can, and keep trying your best. And, whatever you do, don't forget to give yourself some praise and reward when you wrestle one of those chains into submission. You can do it!


  1. That's what," she said.June 30, 2012 at 9:21 PM

    I absolutely, unequivocably love the simplicity of this. And it makes sense without any kind of agonizing over decisions. This is a booyah in my book.

  2. Hey, TWSS, thanks for the comment. I'm always really grateful when these posts land somewhere. Thanks for letting me know!