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Barriers and Pre-Commitments: How to Modify an Environment to Support Your Values

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From time to time, most of us suffer from a gap between what we say we do and what we actually do. This is especially true in everything associated with well-being: fitness, health, personal finance, and general self-improvement.

We know we should exercise, but we don’t always want to. We know we should save, but we reach the end of the month with nothing left over.

My longtime friend J.D. Roth has a good strategy for this. It’s called barriers and pre-commitment. Here’s how he puts it:

“Barriers prevent you for doing the things you don’t want to do. Or, if used improperly, they can prevent you from doing the things you do want to do.

I live on the fourth floor of my apartment building. My bicycle is downstairs in the basement garage. Not only that, but it’s tucked behind my girlfriend’s car. Not only that, but it’s hanging from a rack on the wall. Not only that, but it’s locked to the rack with two locks. In order to ride my bike, I have to hurdle several barriers. They’re small barriers, to be sure, but they’re enough. I don’t ride nearly as often as I did five years ago when I could step out the front door, grab my bike, and pedal into the sunset.

That’s an example of how barriers can keep us from doing the things we want. But it’s also possible to create barriers to bad habits. I have a sweet tooth, for instance. And, apparently, no “off” switch. It there’s a box of cookies in the house, I’ll eat them all. If there’s a bag of chips in the house, I’ll eat all of those too. Same with ice cream. For me, it’s important to never bring these treats into the house. There needs to be a barrier between me and the unwanted calories. (I still sometimes buy a cookie at the store—but it’s just one and not an entire package.)

With pre-commitment, your goal is to remove the barriers before you encounter them. Sometimes you know in advance that you’re likely to get derailed; by pre-committing, it’s easier to make the correct decisions in the heat of the moment.”

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I love pre-commitment! In the award-winning Get Rich Slowly guide, J.D. provides many more examples and strategies like this one.

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Image: R. Sutton

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