I’ve been struggling with tech issues recently. In fact, tech not doing what I think tech should be doing is the bane of my existence at times.
As with a billion other people, I rely on a reliable internet connection/wifi (yes, I’m still mostly unclear as to the difference between being connected to the internet and the wifi router).
Recently, my internet (I’ll just use the blanket term “internet”, k?) has been choppy.. My devices have frozen during virtual training sessions, conked out randomly while writing and even knocked me out right smack in the middle of a podcast interview (cue sweary rant).
After several calls to the company (who Shaw remain nameless… errrrr I mean “shall”), they finally sent someone to “fix” the issue. To be fair, the reps were very helpful and did temporarily fix the wonkiness of it. Customer service did as well as they could.
At long last a technician came and plugged in a device, tinkered with a few things, unplugged the system (yes, I’ve tried this many times so don’t @ me) and provided a new modem (after I explained that my current modem was so old I was sure I used it to download music through Limewire).
After asking me what Limewire was, he replaced the modem, did more clickity clackity stuff with his device and told me he was surprised that my level of internet service even allowed me to watch Netflix without it crashing.
Good to know I’m paying $100 a month for the very basics of allowing me to write this blog post on google docs.
Anyway to make a really long story just kind-of-long, I have FINALLY decided to switch internet providers.
Aside from suffering a bad case of “genX tech noob-itis”, I’ve fallen victim to a cognitive blind spot called the “status quo bias”
The status quo bias is a preference for the current state of affairs – leaving things the way they are. It was first coined in the late 80’s by researchers William Samuelson and Richard Zeckhauser. Through a series of experiments, they found that people showed a disproportionate preference for familiarity when it came to making decisions.
Not only can it be responsible for taking years to switch cable providers, but it can be a crucial obstacle when it comes to getting our health on track.
It’s not hard to see why we prefer to keep things the same. Change involves any combination of work, risk, inconvenience or other such disruptions to our cognitive homeostasis. There are a few psychological conspirators that contribute to the status quo bias – making positive behavior shifts more challenging.
We Love Comfort
Comfort is.. Well.. comfortable. Our brains form patterns – for better or worse that guide our day to day, moment by moment behaviors. Whether it’s flopping down on the couch with a beer after a long day of work or biting our nails when we feel anxious. This can also mean holding on to a toxic relationship too long and yes, even a bad cable provider (hi).
Changing your personal status quo takes an igniting effort – an “activation energy”. Just as it takes more power and focus to get an airplane off the ground than it does to keep it in the air, it takes conscious, forceful energy to cultivate healthier habits. Taking your brain out of its regular circuitry requires some more coaxing in the initial stages.
Getting out of comfort is indeed hard. Change is hard because with change there is loss. It means giving something up – even if whatever we are giving up doesn’t serve us anymore, it’s still the devil we know.
We Hate Loss
Loss is an uncomfortable emotion and we go to great lengths to avoid them. Loses feel twice as bad as gains feel good. This phenomenon is called “loss aversion”. Behavioral economist OG Daniel Kahneman and his associate Amos Tversky began researching this phenomenon in the late 70’s.
We focus much more on “not losing” than we do winning and this will often result in keeping things the same – staying in a zone of perceived safety. Of course there are times when staying on a current trajectory is favorable, but when it comes to making an impact in your health, plotting a different course is necessary.
We Have Busy Brains
In a world where we have a lot on the go, it can be significantly harder to start acting and thinking in different ways. You may be working with any combination of long work hours, children, elderly parents, health issues, a global pandemic or other life stuff. Having to make many decisions a day can be mentally and emotionally exhausting.
This can also contribute to staying in place. A change might just represent “one more thing” to think about in a personal world of chaos and hence be off-putting.
- Instead of aiming for 10,000 daily steps, record a week’s worth of step counts and divide by 7 to find the average. Set a goal of increasing this average by 1000 steps.
- Instead of targeting 1g per pound of body weight in protein, track how much you take in on average and aim to bolster it by 20g/day.
- 5 servings of veggies is a fantastic goal…if you currently eat 3-4 servings per day. If, however, you only have 1, aim for 2-3.
These small, incremental changes will keep building. Focus on the readily attainable tasks and don’t look back.
Make it as Easy as Possible
Taking smaller steps requires a simplification of the process. The most effective way to simplify your process is to engineer your environment to make healthier living easier. Here are some of the ways you can accomplish this.
- Keep least healthy foods out of the house
- Store healthy food front and center
- Keep less healthy foods in the back of cupboards
- Use smaller plates and bowls
- Keep your gym bag at your door and athletic shoes in plain sight
- Keep exercise implements in a room you go to often
Here are some other ways to simplify your journey:
As mentioned earlier, you are likely living a hectic life. Here are some ways to reduce the cognitive load associated with day to day life.
- Reduce choices in as many aspects of your life as you can. Focus on only designating mental resources to important choices.
- Breakfast is the one meal where people don’t mind as much, having more limited options. Have 1-3 breakfast options and put them on rotation.
- Pick 3-4 staple meals to eat on a weekly basis. Consider setting aside a day for a specific type of dish, such as meatless Monday, turkey Tuesday (ok, taco Tuesday), Chicken Thursday, fish Friday.
- Do 1 exercise program at a time. By all means, mix up your variables and types of training (cardio, strength) but see one program through for a good 4 weeks at least before switching.
- Grocery shop from a limited and specific list
Automate whenever possible:
Putting things on auto-pilot will help simplify your process. Here are some of the ways you can do this:
- Automate a grocery store delivery on a weekly basis. Many grocery stores both deliver and gather your goods for easy pickup.
- Use a meal delivery service on days where you know you will be too tired to cook.
- Use push notifications to alert you when it’s time to hit the weights, meditate or start your slow cooker.
- Join a class or sports league, committing yourself into 1-2 active sessions per week.
- Hire a personal coach: Having an appointment weekly (or 2-3 times weekly) will help ensure those are not only active but supervised/guided.
Take Home Points
Our brains and bodies take the path of least resistance. Change represents discomfort and is aversive to the average person.
- It takes a concerted, forceful effort to make changes but once these changes take shape they are easier to maintain.
- It takes double the “feel good” to override the “feel bad”. Loss aversion makes it challenging to get moving as with change comes perceived loss.
- Our busy lives make for busy brains. A chaotic mindset can make it difficult to change your personal status quo.
- We are in proverbial prison but we are our own jailers. It takes work, persistence and patience to escape but the rewards are boundless.
- Start implementing changes by reflecting daily on ways you can improve your health in that particular day or moment.
- Pick small, incremental habits and goals and build momentum from there.
- Make your journey as simple as possible by engineering your home environment, reducing choice and automating things that will help you further your health.