Changing Habits: Using Passive Barriers

habit changeWhy is it that we have things in our lives that we truly desire to change but yet we keep putting them off or not doing them at all?  It’s like the old joke: “How do you make new year’s resolutions? Simply take last year’s and change the date”. There are many things that cause us to keep from reaching our goals and we’ll begin by defining anything that keeps us from achieving our goal as a barrier. Today we’ll take a look at some sneaky “passive barriers” that we rarely consider, and find ways we can use them to our advantage.

Ramit Sethi described this phenomenon, “Passive barriers are subtle factors that prevent you from changing your behavior. Unlike “active” barriers, passive barriers describe the lack of something, making them more challenging to identify. But once you do, you can immediately take action to change your behavior.”

Planning is often one of the keys to any habit change. Most people realize, even with the best intentions, being in the wrong situations can lead to failure. Mental organization and preparation make incremental change much easier. But more importantly, a lack of planning or organization is often what makes our desires or goals fail.

Here is a quick look at hacking our habits to make meaningful change in our lives. I’ll start by taking you through a few of the areas that most people identify as places where they would like to see progress:

Eating Healthier

Small Plates
A secret most Asian cultures utilize that makes food go further and also prevents us from piling on so much food when we begin our meal. As you transition, take several trips after you have cleaned your plate. What you realize is that most people simply eat what is on their plate. Bonus: Eat everything on your plate before you go back for seconds (and make it a goal to put a few healthy things on your plate as well)

Stop Eating Out
For most people, myself included, eating out is much less healthy and more expensive than cooking at home. I enjoy eating out at times but I try not to do it casually or participate in the fast food genre of dining. The key to this one is planning healthy meals and having alternatives. Write down how many times you eat out for a month and see if you can cut it in half the next month. Most people are astonished when they track how much they eat out.

Don’t Buy Unhealthy Food, Instead Keep Healthy Snacks on Hand
Healthy eating begins and ends at the grocery store (especially if you don’t eat out very much). It’s a lot easier to have self control when grocery shopping than it is when you are really hungry and the first things you see in your pantry are chips, chocolate and ice cream. Make a list of all the healthy snacks you enjoy and make those the most convenient to eat. Some of the ones I like: frozen or fresh fruit (make sure to cut it up and make it ready to eat with no prep), nuts, trail mix, beef jerky, popcorn, carrots (w/ dip or hummus).

Exercise More

Pre-decide where exercise is going to fit into your daily schedule. In the morning? Afternoon? Think about a specific window of time like 7-8:00 AM or 4-5:00 PM. Write it on the calendar.  Make it easy at first if you do not have an exercise habit. Also, make a list of all the fun types of exercise you enjoy. Join a group or team. I enjoy: running, flag football, biking, basketball, walking, P90x, lifting weights, badminton, and bodyweight exercises.

Get Your Clothes Ready to Go
Who is more likely to run at 7:00 AM? The lady with her shoes, socks, and clean workout clothes all set out or the guy who can’t find his socks and has to dig through the dirty clothes to find a clean pair of shorts? This is a small example, but being prepared for exercise makes it even more likely. Being prepared for your workout is a lot easier than working out, so start with something easy. Small, gradual steps help.

Spend less money

Decide Where You Want to Spend Your Money
A lot of people, even in financial circles, keep decent track of where their money goes. Step two of personal finance is deciding where you want your money to go. There are plenty of marketers, creditors and friends/family/co-workers that will tell you where to spend it. Try looking at your money and deciding, before you get paid, where the money will go instead of feeling bad looking back at where it went. Call it cash flow planning if you don’t like the word budget.

Snowball Inertia
Five areas where you can save money but choose not to. The best kind of savings are for things that don’t require any sacrifice, just a few minutes of effort. Get a better cell phone plan, change your light bulbs (CFL/LED), get rid of cable (and still watch what you want), plan for your weaknesses, get new insurance quotes. It is what frustrates economist and engineers, most people could spend a few minutes and save $100 but don’t. Get over the Inertia. Do one, and then the next one is even easier.

Don’t Carry Money or Make Spending Less Convenient
If you are going to be in situation of temptation, don’t carry money. This scares a lot of people: the ‘what ifs’ are endless. Leave your wallet at home if you are not going to be using it or are in a place where you will be tempted. On a second note, I often only care a single large bill in my wallet that is a pain to break. Helps fend off those $2 impulse purchases (I also don’t like carrying around change).

Get Organized, Focused & Stop Being Lazy

Dealing with Clutter
The true issue is not having a place for everything. And if everything doesn’t have a place you have too much stuff and need to throw or give some away. That being said, don’t bring clutter into the house. Drop off junk mail and school/work papers in the recycling before it makes it into the house. If you get important mail, take the important letter out and get rid of the rest. Make sure it has a place to go or it will turn into clutter.

Don’t bring a cell phone to the dinner table or better yet, turn it off. It’s like that moment when you get somewhere and reach in your pocket to realize you forgot your phone. It’s a strange sort of panic followed by a strange sense of relief. Try being in the moment of conversation and try not looking at your phone at meals, especially if you are eating with others. Even on vibrate, the buzz creates an irresistible desire to check the source.

Make TV Less Convenient
Most people wish they watched less television (or at the very least, wished their son/daughter/spouse/roommate watched less). Most people have a few shows they really enjoy but end up watching hours of tv out of habit. Try for a week taking the batteries out of the remote and plan to watch the shows you specifically want to watch instead of surfing around. You might be surprised at how many extra hours a day you have.


Habits are hard to change but can be exciting to break. Part of it is simply perspective. Think of habit change like a challenge. See how far you can push your self. See what you can do for a little discomfort. Be careful though, small changes in the right direction seem to make you want to make progress in all areas of your life.

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