Passive Barriers to Change

I came across an interesting blog post on The Psychology of Passive Barriers from Ramit Sethi, who is a guest blogger for Get Rich Slowly, a blog I frequent for its helpful tips on wise money management. The bulk of this post is on why people fail to do things they know they should do - like save money or eat healthy. But the basic insight applies to all areas of life, including spiritual change.

Here's the basic idea:

Passive barriers are subtle factors that prevent you from changing your behavior. Unlike “active” barriers, passive barriers describe the lack of something, making them more challenging to identify. But once you do, you can immediately take action to change your behavior.

Here's the suggested application:

Let’s see how this can work for you.
  1. Get a piece of paper and a pen, or open up Notepad on your computer.
  2. Identify 10 things you would do if you were perfect. Don’t censor —just write what comes to mind. And focus on actions, not outcomes. Examples: “I’d work out 4 times per week, clean my garage by this Sunday, play with my son for 30 minutes each day, and check my spending once per week.”
  3. Five Whys” Why aren’t you doing it?
Let’s play out the last step with the example of exercising regularly:
  • I say I want to exercise 3 times per week, but I only go twice per month. Why?
  • Because I’m tired when I get home from work Why?
  • Because I get home from work at 6pm Why?
  • Because I leave late for work, so I have to put in 8 hours. Why?
  • Because I don’t wake up in time for my alarm clock. Why?
  • Hmm…Because when I get in bed, I watch TV on Hulu for a couple hours.
Solution: Put the computer in the kitchen before you go to sleep —>; sleep earlier —>; come home from work at an earlier time —> feel more rested —>; work out regularly.

That’s a gross oversimplification, but you see what I mean. 

Pick ten areas of your life that you want to improve. Force yourself to understand why you haven’t done so already. Don’t let yourself cop out: “I just don’t want to” isn’t the real reason. And once you find out the real reasons you haven’t been able to check your spending, or cook dinner, or call your mom, you might be embarrassed at how simple it really was. Don’t let that stop you. Passive barriers are valued in their usefulness, not in how difficult they are to identify.

Though there's nothing distinctively Christian about identifying "passive barriers," I would suggest that it is a useful tool for us to apply as we pursue greater conformity to Christ. Engaging in some kind of self-analysis is a crucial part of how we change. But we do need to add a couple of steps to this process.

1. There needs to be yet another "why" question: "Why do I choose to watch TV (or do whatever it is that I do) instead of (pray, exercise, read my Bible, serve the poor, spend time with my children, you fill in the blank)." What desire, or need, or emotion is driving my choice? When I answer that question, I'll start getting down to what's going on in my heart. I need to probe motives, not just behaviors.

2. Then I need to ask how the gospel addresses my heart and behavior. How does God's saving work through Christ and the Spirit speak to my motives? But that's the subject for a later post.

For now, think about the concept of "passive barriers." What are some of the barriers to change in your life?


cgl said...

Hmm... very good, and as I briefly think about it right now, maybe a little painful introspectively. Good nonethelss.

jennair94 said...

Interesting article...agree it appears oversimplified. The deeper component to why we do not do what we should do could be the beliefs we hold. The add value we discover in completion of a task or meeting a goal may trigger an attitude or belief that the outcome was beneficial, thus should be repeated. The emotional impact of a habit or behavior may have a stronger effect on developing patterns, healthy or unhealthy, in our lives. The success in our ability to re-pattern our lives may come when we look at deeper cause and effects, such as being a sinner my flesh desires to please itself, sometimes without rhyme or reason. On the deeper, intrinsic level, as a sinner I have a void that must be filled and if I try one method and it works, I may continue to indulge in the potentially bad habit (ie watching too much TV). When the motiviational force is extrinsic, Christ's life and sacrifice. And as a Christian I desire to become like Christ. My goals in life become less focused on self and more on others around me. Thus, my time is not my own. I am accountable before God to use it wisely. Anyway, the article may be helpful to develop introspection in our lives.