Original post: http://bearlamp.com.au/doing-the-causation-backwards/

About two years ago, when I first got my smart phone (yes, later than most of the other humans).  I was new to apps, and I was new to environments.  When I decided on what apps should be on my home screen, I picked the ones that I thought I would use most often.

My home screen started with:

  • google bar (the top of the page)
  • calendar
  • facebook
  • notepad app (half the page)
  • ingress (because I play)
  • maps
  • camera
  • torch

My home screen has barely changed.  I don't play ingress very often these days, but that's by choice, however I was seeing the facebook notifications far too often.  Ending up on facebook far too often for what I wanted.

Recently I decided to try out some tracking systems that include 1/0 metrics.  It looks something like this:


I wanted this in a place where I could see it and fill it out every day, and at the same time I began to question why I have my facebook app on my front page.  This link is now on my front page and I easily fill it out once a day (a win for a habit successfully implemented).

The concept that I want to impart today is that the causation goes the wrong way.  Instead of wanting apps that I regularly use on my front page so that I can easily access them - I want apps that I want to use regularly on my front page.  That way I will tend to develop habits of regularly using them instead of the other ones.  


This applies to the refrigerator too.  Instead of the things you use and eat all the time being at the front (assuming they might be different), you want the foods that you want to eat most readily accessible and at the front.  If this means healthy foods at the front - do that.  If this means having a fruit bowl on the table - do that.


This applies to TV too.  If you find book-reading more interesting than TV watching but find yourself watching a lot of TV all the same; put the remotes in a harder to reach place and leave really good books lying around.

Computer shortcuts

Want to play less games?  Get to Reddit less?  Maybe put the games in slightly harder to access places.  Buried in other folders.  Delete the auto-fill in your browser that completes to Reddit.  Want to do equations by hand more often than using a calculator (for practicing math purposes) - make the calculator slightly harder to get to, and make sure you have a pen/paper handy around the computer.

Junk food

Do you have a candy cupboard?  Find yourself eating too much of it.  A simple answer would be to empty it, and don't fill it again.  But an alternative that still lets you have candy in the house is to place slightly healthier and tasty food choices in front of the candy.  for example dried fruit - still sweet and bite-sized, in a similar class of choices to Candy, but significantly healthier.  Some days you will reach past the dried fruit for the chocolate, and many more days you will reach for the dried fruits.

The meta strategy

Without creating more examples.  There are often behaviours you want to do better, actions that you want to take instead of other actions, or behaviours that have a "better form" than you might otherwise be doing.  

The strategy is:

  1. Take 5 minutes writing out what you usually do on a daily basis
  2. For each one, consider if this is the optimum form of the action, (or one that leads to acceptable levels of results) - don't be afraid to dream of the possible optimal actions.
  3. Make the better option more available in your life.
  4. Make it easier for yourself to do the better option.
  5. Check progress in a month (put a reminder in your diary) and iterate on solutionspace
  6. Winning!

We know about System 1 and System 2.  We live some of our life in S1 and some in S2.  S2 know's it's not always going to be "in charge" and making deliberate actions but it does have periods of lucid thought in which to set up S1 with better easiest-path behaviours and actions.  This applies to planning, setting up a workspace, avoiding the pain of paying and many more.

Think: How can I set this up so that I do the better possible path in the future with the least effort?

Meta: this post took 2hrs to write.

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2 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 7:43 AM

Yes; this approach is helpful and I do this too.

I would however add that a slight "nudge" is often not enough when it matters. You will reach to the back of the shelf, and eat the cookie.

In the end, there is not much that works except for not having any cookies in your house.

But what if you really care to do this right?

Then, I say, buy 1000 cookies. Then shout in a loud voice, "I WILL NEVER EAT A COOKIE AGAIN." Then dump the 1000 cookies in the garbage can. And do a happy dance, and repeat 50 times "I WILL NEVER EAT A COOKIE AGAIN".

Silly? Yes.

Works? Yes.

Hahahha I love your last approach.

I must say, what works best for me is simply removing said cookie. I never eat junk food. Why? Because I don't have any. I never watch television. Why? Because I don't have one. (Might seem extreme but I can't have one anyway because I live in a shared flat and we have no place to put one, I just watch tv shows on my laptop)

Another strategy is the reward system. Did you spend less than 30 minutes watching tv today? Here you go, buy yourself a cookie. Sometimes this work, sometimes it doesn't. The best is to just keep trying different approaches and you will eventually find the one that works.