Of Broken Windows and Good Habits

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Be it nail biting, spending too much on morning coffee, or checking your phone every 10 seconds, every one of us has a bad habit or two that we need to fix.

We sometimes don’t realize we have certain bad habits, since we’ve had them for so long. When we want to fix them, what do we do? We form a good habit to take their place.

That’s also how weight control works: you’re fixing bad habits by replacing them with better habits. In fact, many people started on Jan 1 of 2020 by changing how they eat, buying a gym membership, the whole 9 yards.

They’ll do well for a few weeks, maybe a month, and then it all goes sideways. Why? Broken windows.

In 1969, Philip Zimbardo did an experiment involving two cars in two different places, the Bronx and Palo Alto:

  • The car in the Bronx was set up to look like it was damaged, and people stripped it completely of anything of value within 3 days.
  • The car in Palo Alto was set up to look like it was in good condition. Nobody touched it, until he took a sledgehammer to it. Once it looked to be in disrepair, it was stripped in a similar fashion.

There is a similar phenomenon that happens with abandoned buildings: as long as they look like they’re in good condition, people ignore them. Once a window is broken, the building becomes a target for vandalism and ends up looking wrecked.

It’s easy to break a window.

Most have seen this in action when they try to create a new, good habit.

We go in with the best intentions:

  • “I’m gonna skip dessert every night, I don’t need it.”
  • “I’ll go to the gym daily!”
  • “I’ll get 8 hours of sleep every night!”

We do fine for awhile, and then something comes up that interferes with the habit. An event during your normal gym time, a late-night concert, or a surprise visit from a friend with the munchies for sugar can throw a wrench into your plans.

So you skip the gym one day, nothing bad happens. The next gym day, something comes up. “Oh, I’d better deal with this. I’ll just go to the gym on my next gym day.” And on it goes, until you’re more motivated to not go to the gym.

Each day that was skipped was a broken window. You wouldn’t have thought about skipping the gym if it weren’t for the event, but skipping that gym day makes it easier to skip the next. Each day skipped is a broken window, and soon the whole building is covered in spray paint and broken glass.

What is the solution?

You must get back on track when something interrupts a new habit. Life happens, and sometimes you’ll have to get back on track a few times before a new habit sticks. That’s a normal part of the process, and there’s nothing wrong with having to try a couple of times.

This becomes even more important in the light of New Year’s Resolutions. Everybody will start developing habits in Jan that are generally gone by Feb. Why? Windows keep breaking, they never get back on track, and the good habits get consigned to the dumpster fire outside of the abandoned building.

Don’t let yourself backslide. Don’t let yourself get caught up in a cycle that ultimately ends with quitting. You can get back on track. The best part is that getting back on track is easy.

Does going to the gym take much effort? Nope, and it didn’t on the first day either.

Does skipping dessert take much effort? Not if you set your environment up right, and you can do that again just as easily the second time.

Does not looking at your phone take much effort? Nope! It wastes time to grab and look at it constantly, and you can put it down and walk away.

We can get back on track. We can kick ass. We can succeed.

Let’s have a great 2020, guys!

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