There’s an area of psychology called Applied Behavior Analysis that focuses on behavior change. ABA is widely used and highly effective, but what’s most interesting about it is what it doesn’t cover.
In Applied Behavior Analysis, a person’s internal states—their feelings, emotions, motivations—are irrelevant. ABA is only concerned with behavior (what people say and do) and environment (their surroundings). The central idea is that our behavior is determined by our environment, so if we wish to change our behavior, we just need to tweak our environment in the right way (using a technique called functional analysis to figure out what needs to be tweaked). I find this perspective fascinating.
We so often overthink behavior change. Put a box of Pop-Tarts in my kitchen, and I’ll struggle mightily not to devour them before you’ve left my driveway. No matter how many strategies I invent, it’s just really hard for me to eat certain foods in moderation, as loyal readers may recall. It’s fairly easy, though, to just not buy Pop-Tarts in the first place. If they’re not around—not a part of my environment—I can’t eat them.
Similarly, many people have built a morning exercise habit largely by laying out their exercise clothes the night before. Just as with my Pop-Tart situation, a change to the environment can change behavior without concepts like self-control and willpower entering into the discussion.
If you’re struggling to change a behavior, try focusing less on your feelings and more on your environment. You may find that a little tweak makes a big difference.