Friction is a fundamental feature of our universe, dictating how much work is required to move an object in a given direction.

I’m interested in the idea of behavioral friction; how easy or difficult it is to fall into a given behavior.

\[F = \mu m a\]
  • Friction has three components:
    1. \(m\) is the mass of behavior, in other words – how large is the task?
    2. \(a\) is the acceleration, or how much momentum and work are you putting into this?
    3. \(\mu\) is the coefficient of friction, which quantifies how your environment is impacting the amount of friction.
  • Vices typically have very low friction, (very low \(\mu\), small \(m\) and can have lots of acceleration \(a\)).
    • i.e. Watching Television - small \(\mu\): television remote is within reach, one button press from away - small \(m\): It’s not some large task, its sitting down watching tv - large \(a\): If you’ve built the habit of bingeing shows, or watching sports, you have a lot of momentum going into this.
    • Can apply to things like: Video games, eating snacks from the fridge.
    • In other words, the force required to accelerate the behaviour is very small and thus easy.
  • Aspirations typically have very high friction (high \(\mu\), large \(m\) and low \(a\))
    • i.e. Run a marathon
      • large \(\mu\), what trigger are there to encourage you to run when you’re at home? (\(\mu\) is large by default)
      • large \(m\) – the task is too large to move in one move (needs to be smaller)
      • small \(a\) –– if you’re already not running often, there isn’t much wind at your back, and it requires a fair bit of work to start
  • Friction can however be used to anyone’s advantage, you simply want to add friction to undesirable behaviors and reduce friction between desired behaviors.

    • i.e. Reducing Television Watch Time
      • increase \(\mu\), move the TV remote to a distance corner of your home, unplug the television, get a cabinet to cover it and remove the trigger.
      • increase \(m\), make watching TV a larger task – for example you have to watch 1 hour of lecture before you allow yourself any television.
      • reduce \(a\), try to quit watching TV for one week, avoid binge-ing content. This will slow your momentum.
    • i.e. Start Running a Marathon
      • increase \(\mu\), put your running shoes and exercise clothes by the front door as a trigger. Add running posters or posted notes around the house to remind yourself
      • reduce \(m\), a marathon is a big goal, maybe start with something approachable like 10 minutes of running at a comfortable pace for a week.
      • increase \(a\) – create momentum, going a running club, create accountability, try to make it a habit.

        I think this is a fun way to think about how one might go about changing a behaviour, just remember — it’s basic physics.