The Intermediate States of Human Behavior
Chemical reactions often have a reaction intermediate, which is like an in-between step that occurs before you can get to the final product. So, rather than going straight from A to B, you go from A to X to B. An intermediate step needs to occur before we go from starting to finishing.
There are all sorts of intermediate steps with habits as well.
Say you want to build the habit of working out. Well, this could involve intermediate steps like paying a gym membership, packing your gym bag in the morning, driving to the gym after work, exercising in front of other people, and so on.
Here’s the important part:
Each intermediate step has its own activation energy. When you’re struggling to stick with a new habit it can be important to examine each link in the chain and figure out which one is your sticking point. Put another way, which step has the activation energy that prevents the habit from happening?
Some intermediate steps might be easy for you. To continue our fitness example from above, you might not care about paying for a gym membership or packing your gym bag in the morning. However, you may find that driving to the gym after work is frustrating because you end up hitting more rush hour traffic. Or you may discover that you don’t enjoy working out in public with strangers.
Developing solutions that remove the intermediate steps and lower the overall activation energy required to perform your habit can increase your consistency in the long-run. For example, perhaps going to the gym in the morning would allow you to avoid rush hour traffic. Or maybe starting a home workout routine would be best since you could skip the traffic and avoid exercising in public. Without these two barriers, the two intermediate steps that were causing friction with your habit, it will be much easier to follow through.
This is lesson three: Examine your habits closely and see if you can eliminate the intermediate steps with the highest activation energy (i.e. the biggest sticking points).