Failing to Act and the Friction that stops us

My last blog post was all about how I was going to attempt 40 Acts over lent and write about it as I went.

That kinda never happened and I got stuck at act 2.

I’m not going to have a massive guilt trip about this, but it is quite a disappointment. But it’s also got me thinking about a word/concept which keeps coming up, both in work and personal situations: “Friction”.

Friction is something that I’ve come across both in website user interfaces (Facebook talk about “frictionless sharing”, for example), but also in psychology. I saw an interesting article (I don’t think it was this one, but it’ll do) about this recently. I use an app called “Lift” (available for iOS, Android) to try and build positive, daily habits into my routine, and I’m astounded by how rubbish I am at doing positive, simple tasks on a daily basis. And I’m convinced that “friction” is the problem.

In A’ Level physics I learned that the coefficient of static friction (the force required to get a stationary object moving) is often greater than the coefficient of dynamic friction (the force required to accelerate an already-moving object). Once moving, and object is easier to get moving more!

I think that the same is true with people and habits.

Here are some of the causes of friction that stopped me doing 40 Acts:

  • Work – and being busy and dedicated to my work
  • Family – having a feisty and demanding toddler who I love to bits
  • Travel – daily habits are hard to keep when you travel or go on holiday and your routines get messed up – we had a long weekend away just after starting Lent which got me off to a bad start
  • Weather – sounds odd, but I think the weather, and the changing seasons, change my behaviour a lot
  • Distraction – the dreaded mobile phone and all the many forms of communication that constantly seek our attention in a highly digitally-literate household

I still have the 40 Acts emails stored up. I may, possibly, still try to work through them and write about them.  But to do so means removing, or overcoming those friction points.

We shall see.

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  • Duncan Michael-MacGregor

    Great post Ross!
    It is the human condition, we are a complicated mashup of instincts, habits, self awareness and emotions.
    It can be very tough to get them all in balance, the main thing is to try – getting part way there and failing is always better than not even attempting in the first place.
    Changing habits and making new ones is very hard and there is always be several lapses until you get better, even then its a constant effort to keep in check.
    I think athletes have a lot to teach us, going through routines and rituals to get their minds in the right set. The same goes for work. Holidays and long weekends can mess up patterns and habits, but finding a set routine that helps you slot back into them is the key.

  • komadori

    Maybe another concept from physics you could apply (this one from ‘O’ level or GCSE, depending on your era) is inertia: it is difficult to get something moving, once moving it is difficult to stop, which in life translates to if being difficult both to form new habits and to stop old ones. Friction generates heat, inertia doesn’t.