Philosophical Musings

Adherence

While listening recently to Tim Ferriss’s podcast, I stopped in my tracks at the following advice: the most important detail when considering a new behavior change is adherence.

If you need to diet, it’s not about getting the exact number of calories correct. If you want to read more, it doesn’t matter if you read a book, or a magazine, or a newsletter. The details of a habit come second behind adherence, or the ability to stick with the behavior.

This idea streamed through my headphones and punched my directly in the forehead. Of course! What’s the point of giving someone advice if it’s impossible to implement, or difficult to stick to?

An example… “Opt Out”

Many employers today use automatic 401(k) enrollment, where an employee–like you and me–has to deliberately taking action to stop putting money into our 401(k), rather than taking action to start putting money in. If you do nothing, then you’ll be contributing from Day 1.

First, the reasons behind this opt-in vs. opt-out mentality won Richard Thaler a Nobel Prize in economics, so you know there’s something there. In short, people can be lazy, and therefore tend to stick with status quo a bit too much. If the status quo is, “You’re already enrolled in a 401(k),” then they’ll likely stay enrolled.

But whether it’s laziness or smart investors, this automatic enrollment or “opt out” system makes adherence extremely simple.

Minty Fresh

Did you know that the “minty” kick you get from toothpaste and mouthwash has absolutely nothing to do with having a clean mouth? Nothing!

Instead, early marketers for mouth-care products found that people “felt” more clean with a minty after taste, and that “feeling clean” equated to “feeling good.” As in, “I did a good thing; I cleaned my teeth. Go me!”

This positive, “go me!” emotion made the habit of cleaning teeth easier to adhere to. People developed positive emotional feedback loops with their dental habits, and ended up using a lot more toothpaste and mouthwash. The industry boomed, smiles sparkled, and mint farmers hit the jackpot.

Adherence ‘in the circle’

I’d like to start using this idea–the importance of adherence–when I offer advice here on the blog. In some instances, I think I’ve done a good job. The whole point of The Habit of Saving was to try to give everyone a saving plan that was easier to adhere to.

But other posts, such as The Best Interest Budget Survey, offer a lot of good ideas without a solid behavior to adhere to.

One of my favorite creators to read or listen to–Seth Godin–talks about putting your behaviors “inside the circle.” Generally, Seth explains, people put things like “go to work” and “eat lunch” inside the circle. We don’t think twice about doing these things; they just happen. Other stuff, like “clean out the gutters,” is outside the circle; we get to it if there’s time.

There are behaviors inside your circle that you don’t even realize. Make coffee after putting on slippers. Listen to the new podcast when you get the notification on your phone. Call mom on the Friday afternoon commute.

But how many people put “run three miles a day” inside their circle? Not too many! Yet, for people who are serious about running, it’s a no-brainer. They run every day, because it’s just what they do. The goal is to treat your desired behaviors the way a runner treats running.

Now, is “inside the circle” a means or an end? Is it a way to approach a problem, or is it the end solution? I think it’s a bit of both. If you want to start exercising, dieting, meditating…consider what actions you can start putting inside your circle.

One thing for you to adhere to…

On that note, I’ll end today’s post with some tangible advice that I’ve been using recently to up my adherence.

If you want to implement a new daily habit, tie it to something that you’ve already adhered to.

Since you’ve already got good habits in your life with strong adherence, just piggy back on top of those!

  • Want to read more? Do it directly after brushing your teeth at night.
  • Looking to get rock hard abs? Make 500 crunches a gate to pass before taking a daily shower.
  • Learning a new skill? Take in some informative content over your morning coffee.

Take a new, difficult, or scary habit, and tie it to something easy. Give yourself a chance to maximize your adherence. Simply getting started is more important than the precise details.

That’s it! Let me know what you think, or how some new adherence affects your day-to-day. And thanks for reading the Best Interest.

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About Jesse Cramer

I’m Jesse. I’m an engineer, a new owner of an old home, and an avid reader/writer. I hope you enjoy my thoughts, numerical breakdowns, and general musings. If you’d like to comment, ask a question, or simply say hi, leave me a message here, on Twitter (@BestInterest_JC) or on Reddit (u/BestInterestDotBlog). Many of my posts have been directly influenced by my readers. It’s the most fun part of writing this blog. And as always, thanks for reading the Best Interest. Jesse
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1 thought on “Adherence

  1. One way we have improved ‘compliance’ and that has helped us save is automatically transferring a sum of money to a “DO NOT TOUCH” emergency sub account. Paycheck comes in every month, and every month, some of that money is taken from checking to a sub account for use when a furnace or car blows up or a pipe leaks. Emergency stuff. You can do it the same way for a trip, A new car, a new house, an extra payment per year on a house or even paying down a credit card. It’s easy, We don’t have to think about it, we don’t ‘miss’ that money, we’re living comfortably, but it’s a nice safety net.

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