Habits 101: Using Friction (And a Story About Cheese)

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By either introducing or removing friction, you can change your habits.

The key to starting or stopping any habit is knowing how to use FRICTION.

First, what is FRICTION?

fric·tion noun
  • the resistance that one surface or object encounters when moving over another
  • conflict or animosity caused by a clash of wills, temperaments, or opinions


Friction is any element which challenges a system to prevent it from occurring smoothly, or from having it occur at all.

Example: Online Shopping

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HIGH FRICTION: Making a purchase from a new website.

Once the item you want is in your shopping cart you need to...
  1. Create an account with a user name or password. (Hope that user name isn't already taken.)
  2. Enter your shipping and billing address. (What do you mean the system doesn't recognize my address?)
  3. Select a method of payment and enter your details. (And hope they accept a standard mode of payment that you have access to.... "But I don't have any bitcoin...")
  4. Finally, review your order and click to check-out.
LOW FRICTION: Making a purchase from a website that already has your details stored, e.g. Amazon.

Once the item you want is in your shopping cart you need to...
  1. Review your order and click to check-out.
Again, friction is any element which challenges a system to prevent it from occurring smoothly, or from having it occur at all.

Therefore, the key to...
  • Stopping any habit is to introduce friction
  • Starting any habit is to remove friction

Example: Healthy Eating

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Let's say you'd like to make better choices when it comes to what you eat; you need to create friction around your bad habits, and remove friction from good habits.

If you want to stop eating junk food, you need to introduce friction to the habit by either not keeping it in the house at all (so that every time you want it, you need to go out and buy it), or if you're going to keep it in the house, you need to put it somewhere that'll make it difficult to access (on a shelf in the garage, where you need to get out a step ladder to access the item).

At the same time, you also want to start eating healthier food; specifically, you want to eat more vegetables. Having a fridge full of raw vegetables is a good start, but that's still a high-friction situation because you can't simply grab the food when you feel like having a snack.

You need to remove friction by cutting up the vegetables ahead of time and having them accessible in a container so that anytime you're hungry or just want a snack, those vegetables are right there and ready for you.

The more friction there is to any habit, the less likely you are to do it.

The less friction there is to any habit, the more likely you are to do it.

You can use the idea of friction in loads of different situations.

Here's a funny example from my life recently: I had two very large wedges of cheese that I'd purchased at Costco last year but never opened.

It was cheese I really liked (smoked cheddar and manchego) so that wasn't the issue, and the cheese was still good (not expired) but for some reason, I just hadn't opened either package.

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When I was doing a fridge clean last weekend though, I realize why I hadn't opened either package; too much friction.

The wedges were so large that the idea of opening the packages anytime I wanted just a few slices was daunting. The cheese as it was, was inaccessible.

I realized that the way to make the cheese more accessible was to pre-slice and shred all of it. I had purchased a handy little cheese slicer and grater* on Amazon recently, along with a set of containers* which made the task super-simple.

Within 20 minutes, I had solved a problem I'd been staring at for over a year, simply by removing friction. (I've already made macaroni and cheese, and a deluxe grilled cheese sandwich, as a result).

Once you understand friction, stopping or starting any habit (or solving any problem where action is required on your part) becomes so much easier.

Introduce Friction in order to stop a habit.

Remove Friction in order to start a habit.

By using friction wisely, you can motivate yourself to stop or start any habit, or do pretty much anything.

*I do not receive any financial compensation for any products I mention in my writing. I promote the things I like because I like them.

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