Scientifically friction is defined as the force that opposes the motion of a solid object over another. “In the scientific study of habit formation, the thing that makes it harder for you to achieve your goal is called friction. Reducing friction means removing an obstacle or coming up with a strategy that makes a task easier to do. And if you figure out how to make a goal easier, you’re more likely to succeed.” (Pope, 2021) “Friction typically comes in three forms — distance, time and effort. For instance, living far from the gym or a favorite walking trail makes it less likely that you’ll go.” (Pope, 2021)
For a moment, I’d like for us to conceptualize friction as a force that prevents or propels us in our daily lives. Friction in terms of how difficult or easy it is for one to complete a task. Sometimes when you get home from work and sit on the couch to relax, it is difficult to get up and get a glass of water because the act of getting up from the couch to go to something else is another layer of friction between you and getting a glass of water versus if you were already standing or walking around the house the friction may be perceived as less because your steps to go get the water that you want only include:
1. Walk to the kitchen
2. Open the cabinet
3. Grab a glass
4. Go to the fridge
5. Pour water into the glass versus if you were sitting on the couch that extra step of having to get up off the couch first adds another level of friction to the task, making it 6 steps versus 5.
Friction can be used intentionally to reduce a behavior or increase another. Utilizing friction for oneself can help you reach goals by adding or subtracting “steps” from a task to make it more or less accessible.
Reducing friction in terms of tasks is the decreasing the steps it take for you to achieve or complete a certain task . Let’s outline the traditional steps for brushing your teeth:
1. Open drawer for supplies
2. Get tooth brush out of drawer
3. Get tooth paste out
4. Put toothpaste on toothbrush
5. Wet tooth brush
6. Brush teeth for two minutes.
For example, if you want to brush your teeth more regularly, to reduce the friction you increase the convenience of brushing your teeth for yourself. This may include setting your toothbrush on the counter instead of in the drawer and putting the toothpaste and toothbrush out next to each other on the counter. This could also include putting both the toothbrush and toothpaste in the shower so it is more easily accessible and in line of site. This decrease in “friction” for the performance of the task refers to the fact that now, with these adjustments, you only have 3 steps versus the original six: 1. Put tooth paste on tooth brush 2. Wet tooth brush 3. Brush teeth for two minutes. Making the task easier by decreasing the steps increasing your own likelihood of the task being completed.
Increasing friction, conversely, can help decrease the frequency of a behavior. Lets say you are trying not to text your ex. Ways you could increase friction, or make it more difficult for you to text your ex could be: deleting their number, muting them on social media, unfollowing them on social media, blocking them on social networking sites, putting your phone in another room at night when you think about texting them more, telling yourself you have to text your best friend or your mom before your ex. Essentially all of these steps make it intentionally more difficult for you to contact this person; therefore, increasing the friction and making it less likely you will contact them.
“The friction you set up or remove in the environment is going to have an effect long after you’ve gotten discouraged and are less excited about the new behavior,” said Wendy Wood, a research psychologist at the University of Southern California and author of “Good Habits, Bad Habits.” “That’s why friction is so powerful. It persists.” (Pope, 2021) By increasing friction you increase the decisions you have to make before you do the task. For the texting your ex, you telling yourself that you have to decide to find their number or search their social tag before messaging so you have more chances to check in with yourself as you type their name into the search bar- “should I do this?”, clicking on their name when it appears- “is this good for me?”, or clicking the message button on their profile- “is this what I want to be doing?”. At each extra step added, you add another decision for yourself that you have to make or overcome before doing the task, and in doing so you make it harder to do and it increases your ability to hold yourself accountable. By decreasing friction you decrease the steps, essentially decreasing the amount of decisions you have to make before doing the task, making it easier for you to do overall.
Friction can work for or against us. Reducing friction means reducing effort needed for a task to be completed. We can utilize it to our advantage by building momentum. When you come home from work and don’t sit down first thing, you’re building momentum because, back to science for a second, an object in motion is more likely to stay in motion. And that goes for you too! You have the power to help yourself continue in motion, stop motion, or change your direction, no one else does. That is the power you have.
If this resonated with you and you would like extra support or someone to talk to about building better habits or coping skills for your mental wellness please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.