Ben Carlson recently wrote about the parallels between dieting and personal finance. In both cases, we know exactly what we’re supposed to do, but just knowing is not nearly enough. Our brains function in such a way that sometimes it helps to completely remove our mind from the equation. Other times we have to introduce a barrier to the way we think.
Saving money, which is not easy to do, provides a good example of how you can get things done by removing yourself from the equation. Set up a savings account that automatically directs money from your paycheck into your account. This way you don’t have to rely on yourself to spend less, or to remember to move money from one account to the other.
In The Undoing Project, Michael Lewis tells a great story about setting up mental barriers. Darryl Morey, GM of the Houston Rockets, came up with a clever barrier so that his staff would stop fooling themselves into thinking something was there that really wasn’t.
“For five years after we drafted Aaron Brooks, we saw so many kids who compared themselves to Aaron. Because there are so many little guards.” Morey’s solution was to forbid all intraracial comparison. “We’ve said, ‘If you want to compare this player to another player, you can only do it if they are a different race.'” If the player in question was African American, for instance, the talent evaluator was only allowed to argue that “he is like so-and-so” if so-and-so was white or Asian or Hispanic or Intuit or anything other than black. A funny thing happened when you forced people to cross racial lines in their minds: They ceased to see analogies. Their minds resisted the leap.
Changing your behavior requires more than just awareness of a problem. You have to take be proactive; Introduce a mental barrier, or make something automatic. Left to our own devices, accomplishing everything we need to is just too hard. As ben said “if it was easy, we would all be rich with six-pack abs.”