On June 4th of this year I started a burpee pact. Every day me and the others that are in the pact do a set of burpees. We started with ten. Three months later we’re up to 16. It’s not as much about the number as it is doing it everyday… and the trick to doing it everyday is to get the first one done. After the first, it takes 30 seconds and you’re finished. The barrier is low. There’s little friction. If I had to go to the gym or if it took any time longer than 5 minutes, I guarantee I would be much less consistent.

Technology these days is all about designing seamless, frictionless experiences. Amazon’s one-click purchasing, face-recognition on your mobile device, and Netflix’s autoplay provide a smooth and, in many cases, addictive experience. Without friction, we slip into comfort of convenience and find it very difficult to tear ourselves away.

My vice is Youtube. It’s what I use to turn off my brain. I recognize this and have tried all-manner of curbing what turns into self-destructive behavior. What I have found is that just like burpees, once I get youtube open it’s not closed for quite some time so strategies like using an extension to block the site or “blanking-out” Youtube so that there’s only the search bar, don’t work. The friction has to be increased for opening up Youtube in the first place. With this realization, I created my own little website blocker that works across browsers. Now when I compulsively go to Youtube, nothing happens and I’m reminded that Youtube is not something I want to be doing with my time. It’s pretty easy to undo the website blocker at the moment, but I haven’t really found myself trying. That small amount of friciton is usually enough to deter me.

Raising the barriers, or increasing the friction to stop an undesirable habit is something that’s long been known in behavior science. However, I think implicit human biases make us believe that if we just try harder we can overcome whatever temptation we’re fighting. This is damaging, especially if we consider something like my usage of Youtube an addiction. There’s a reason step one of AA’s 12 step program is admitting you have a problem. Until very recently, I considered my usage of Youtube a character flaw–I didn’t have a problem, I just needed more discipline. Nothing changed. In fact, things got worse. I went into a 3 month long slump where I was in a state of constant distraction, never allowing myself to do one thing at a time. If I was working, I was also watching Youtube, if I was eating, Youtube, relaxing, Youtube. It seeped into almost every part of my life and I think for the first time in my life. It’s only when I realized it didn’t matter how much will power I had that things began to change.