How to make something a habit

8 June 2017

You know something I’m grateful for? John re-learning to play the guitar in 2015! I was pregnant, he hadn’t picked up a guitar since middle school, but of his own accord he decided that he wanted music to be a part of our family life and so he busted out some YouTube videos and was playing all of our favorite songs in weeks. (Side note: what?! It would have taken me YEARS to do the same!)

Fast forward a few months, and there was only one downside to our frequent family singalongs. A black, bulky guitar case had taken up permanent residence in our family room — which was not exactly my idea of a good time, interior decorating speaking.

I was itching to ditch it, but was wary of falling into a trap Shawn Achor describes in his book The Happiness Advantage:

Had the path of least resistance led me astray? I thought back to that initial experiment. I had kept my guitar tucked away in the closet, out of sight and out of reach. It wasn’t far out of the way, of course, but just those 20 seconds of extra effort it took to walk to the closet and pull out the guitar had proved to be a major deterrent. I had tried to overcome this barrier with willpower, but after only four days, my reserves were completely dried up. If I couldn’t use self-control to ingrain the habit, at least not for an extended period, I now wondered: What if I could eliminate the amount of activation energy (the time, choices, and mental and physical effort) it took to get started?

I took the guitar out of the closet, bought a $2 guitar stand, and set it up in the middle of my living room. Nothing had changed except that now instead of being 20 seconds away, the guitar was in immediate reach. Three weeks later, I looked up at a habit grid with 21 proud check marks.

What I had done here, essentially, was put the desired behavior on the path of least resistance, so it actually took less energy and effort to pick up and practice the guitar than to avoid it. The strategy is universally applicable: Lower the activation energy for habits you want to adopt, and raise it for habits you want to avoid.

guitar hook

Obviously this applies to more than just guitar playing, ha! We had gotten into such a good rhythm of family singalongs, and I didn’t want to derail us by storing the guitar out of sight and out of mind. But I wanted it off my floor. So after some thought and Googling, I bought a guitar hook and we hung John’s beauty right behind our sofa. Problem solved! The guitar was still easily accessible, we no longer had a big case taking up floor space, and we gained some fun new wall decor, to boot.

Have y’all ever used this trick to form or break a habit? It’s a good one!

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June 8, 2017 9:28 am

Love this!

June 8, 2017 10:35 am

We did the exact same! So thankful for the abundance of music in the home now. I only wish we also had room for a piano! One day…

June 8, 2017 12:24 pm

Love this idea, Emily! Austin claims he could play the guitar in high school, but I’ve never heard him play! HA! I think I need to show him this and maybe he’ll take it back up too. I love the way the guitar looks at the end of the stairs. Such a conversation starter too- and I’m sure June loves hearing her daddy play!

June 8, 2017 4:03 pm

I’ve been creating time either in the mornings, evenings or both to read a few pages (or more) of a book. I recently got my library card and have read six in the last seven months, which is probably more than I’ve read in the last year two years! Having new and interesting books on hand makes me want to read, and it’s been a nice way to have “me time.” Actively making this a priority in my day has been so rewarding.

June 13, 2017 7:07 am

I love this so much! Hanging it on the wall makes for such a beautiful display and piece of art. I love when you can hang something with more depth and dimension to a wall! :)

Will also be adding The Happiness Advantage to my reading list! Seems like a good one!

June 15, 2017 6:09 am

Funny: my friend is a music teacher and teaches mostly kids to play guitar. She told me she always tells their parents never to store the guitar away, not even putting it in a case – it must always be within easy reach for the kid :-)
My husband does this with his running gear – if he wants to go running in the morning, he will prepare his cloths and running shoes the evening before, so that going running is as easy as possible.