Obstacles (Changing Habits Series)

Just about every action I've ever set out to apply consistently has come with various obstacles. Once I become aware of and quantify the obstacles, however, I can overcome them. For instance, I've recently started applying bio-oil to the stretch marks on my shoulders (the result of gaining and losing weight too fast), and I wanted to make it a habit. The application of the oil seemed to be erratic at best – some days I would, some days I wouldn't. After a little bit of thinking, I realised the only real obstacle was my memory. I was aiming to apply the oil just before I went to bed, but I'd always get caught up in other things and forget.

Obstacle = Memory
Solution = Set reminders and triggers

I simply set an alarm on my phone to go off at a specific time to remind me. I also placed the bottle of oil near to my toothbrush, so the act of brushing my teeth at night (an established habit), triggered a mental reminder to apply the oil. I guess you could call this piggybacking on an established habit.

Of course not all obstacles that it's easy are this easy to overcome. Nevertheless, by becoming aware of and writing down the obstacles that are hindering the creation of a habit, it’s far simpler to put measures in place to overcome them. As with the rocket ship and frozen lake analogy mentioned in my previous article, this is about launching a new action from the best possible foundation.

Counter-intuitively, when it comes to the elimination or cutting back of bad habits, I tend to create my own obstacles or “eye-openers” to make the habit more difficult to execute. By “eye-openers”, I’m referring to a trigger that gives my conscious mind enough time to step in and reason against the negative habit.

For instance, I realised I was spending an excessive amount of time on social media sites (I bet you can guess which ones). After becoming aware of my unproductive habits, what enabled them and their triggers; I began putting measures in place to minimise my usage. So for example,

Unproductive habit:

Excessive Facebook usage.


Loading up a web browser.

What Enables This Habit?:

Easy accessibility, automatic login and lack of a clearly defined productive habit (i.e. what I should be doing during that time).

So I put measures in place to counteract what was enabling this habit.

Easy Accessibility:
  • I deleted Facebook from my favourites toolbar and history. Which meant that I would need to type in the website address manually.
  • I installed an extension on my web browser called StayFocused (this basically limits the amount of time you can spend on certain websites, as well as the times of day).
Automatic Login:
  • I removed my saved user and password, so I had to manually type it in each time I went to use it. 
Clearly Defined Productive Habit:
  • My daily plan (if you can call it that) lacked any kind of structure. So I got hold of an application TRM – The Results Machine, which helped me put together an effective daily routine. This helped me to form habits much more easily, because I set each action in sequence with timers and prompts.
The use of apps such as TRM and StayFocused are proactive measures. Whereas the removal of login details and favourites are obstacles that give the conscious mind enough time to become aware of the situation. So while I may have previously been able to login to my account unconsciously, I now have to consciously think about my username and password. My conscious mind can then step in and say “is this really what you should be doing right now?” Personally, I believe proactive measures are far more effective, however, every obstacle I can think to put in the path of a bad habit helps. In the same way that every obstacle I can eliminate from the formation of a positive habit helps.

In summary

Make negative habits harder to do by putting obstacles in their path. The best way I've found to do this is to become aware of what enables a negative habit in the first place, then to put measures in place that counteract those enablers.

More importantly, taking a more proactive approach and focusing on an action to replace a bad habit with is essential. The removal of a negative habit creates an empty space; a space that's best filled with a positive habit. The implementation of a positive habit shifts focus away from the withdrawal of a negative habit.

For example, instead of just removing a coffee drinking habit completely by making it harder to do. Replace that habit with a healthier choice – such as the drinking of green tea. If you read my Rocket / Habits Analogy article, I touch on the subject of taking manageable changes first. So you don’t need to replace coffee with green tea every day, it can be a gradual transition from one day of coffee – the next of tea. It really depends on what YOU find manageable, or what you’re prepared to do.
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