How To Use Friction To Create or Break a Habit

Establishing habits can be a sensitive subject for my ADHD clients.

Some people shudder at the idea of sticking to habits because they find the entire process too confining.

Others see the benefit of habits and routines, but they doubt their ability to stick with them, believing the stories that they “never stick to anything.”

While still others feel inspired by habits, determined to establish all the habits, all perfectly, and all at once.

mom and daughter working on homework

Wherever you fall on the love-hate spectrum of habits, episode 159 of the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast is one you don’t want to miss.

Throughout the episode, we:

  • Deep dive into why habits are so supportive of the ADHD brain.
  • Explore three simple steps to successful habit building.
  • Detail the powerful role friction plays when it comes to both making and breaking habits.
  • Discuss how you can put these steps into practice and establish the habits that best support you.

You can listen to the episode above or stream it on your favorite podcasting app here:   

Prefer to read? No problem! Keep scrolling for the entire podcast transcript.

In Episode 159: How To Use Friction To Create Or Break a Habit, You Will Discover

  • Three steps to successful habit building.
  • The powerful role friction plays when it comes to both making and breaking habits.
  • How to put these steps into practice as you establish the habits that best support you.

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Episode #159: How To Use Friction To Build Habits With ADHD (Transcript) 

How To Create New Habits & Make Them Easier

Today we’re diving into all-things habits, and we’re looking at habits we want to establish and ones we want to break – through the lens of friction.

More specifically, we’re talking about how we can use the concept of friction in different ways to both support the building up or breaking down of different habits in our lives.

Now, you might be someone who cringes at the idea of habits.

Maybe you don’t like them because you think they’re too restrictive. Or maybe you’ve given up on trying to establish them because you tell yourself you never stick with them anyway.

If you have similar stories, I encourage you to keep listening; I have a feeling that what we’re talking about today is likely right up your alley.

Even though some of us resist the idea of habits, the truth is that our brains crave them.

In fact, each of us – even those of us who don’t think we like habits – all have many habits and routines already established in our day-to-day lives.

When we can learn from these habits that are already working, and get clear on the ones we want to maintain or the ones we want to remove, we can use this information to support ourselves and our brains as we establish new habits going forward.

Why is Friction with habits important?

So why habits and why friction? Why is this important today?

As I just alluded to, when we can lock in habits that serve us, they generally tend to make things flow so much more smoothly.

Essentially, habits help reduce the demand on our executive functions because when these behaviors move to the background, we don’t have to expend so much energy sticking with them. Instead, we get to focus on the things that truly matter to us.

I think about locking in a habit kind of like using a robot vacuum. If you have a robot vacuum that’s set to some kind of schedule, and it runs around the house on its own, it’s so much easier than taking the time to get out the vacuum, plugging it in, and vacuuming the floors yourself.

Sure, you still have to start the robot vacuum and you need to clean out the vacuum canister and make sure there aren’t cords on the ground for it to get stuck. However, it’s still much less time and energy-intensive using the robot vacuum than doing it manually. Plus, it frees up space for you to focus on something else during that time instead.

The same way a robot vacuum reduces friction in your day because you’re replacing a time and energy-demanding task with one that’s much less demanding, the same goes for establishing habits.

Once you lock-in a certain behavior or routine, you don’t need to spend so much energy making decisions about whether you’ll do the thing or not, when to do it, how long to do it, etc.

Instead, it’s an established part of your day that you’ve already committed to so you don’t need to use your precious executive functions to make those decisions regularly. You’ve essentially automated the task to the habit part of your brain.

Plus – as we’ll talk about more later in the episode, locking in habits can also help us reduce that strong resistance we often feel when it comes to getting started on things overall.

In other words, when we’ve established strong habits, it eases the friction of procrastination a bit.

Now, is it still there? Sure, at times. But generally, it feels less challenging to do these tasks because the repetition of doing that habit continuously has shown the brain that the habit is doable and we’re starting to see the positive benefits of it on the other side.

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Using Friction to Make or Break a Habit

Today we’re talking about:

  • 3 steps to successful habit building
  • The powerful role friction plays when it comes to both making and breaking habits
  • How you can put these steps into practice yourself as you focus on your habits.

The Role of Habits

I read an article on habits by Scott Young as I prepared for this episode and I really liked the way he talked about the role of habits.

He explains that there are two main ways that habits help reduce the effort we need to take action.

  1. Habits can reduce our effort involved because they make us better at the thing we’re doing.
  2. Habits reduce the resistance and decision fatigue often involved in actually DOING the behavior.

So what does this actually mean?

With the first example – where habits make you better at the thing – let’s say I’m taking horseback riding lessons. If I have a habit of attending a lesson each week and practicing the skills I learn with my teacher, I get better at the skill of horseback riding because I’m in the habit of practicing it.

  • If I’m writing emails over and over, I get better at writing emails.
  • If I edit pictures over and over, I get better at editing.
  • If I lead workshops for lots of groups, I get better at workshop facilitation.

This makes sense, right?

When we establish a habit, it often makes us more efficient at the activity itself.

The second example – where a habit helps reduce our resistance – is similar to what I alluded to at the beginning of this episode.

If you get into the habit of flossing every single night without fail for 30 days – you would ultimately reduce the amount of energy required to overcome what once may have felt like big resistance at one time.

You don’t even have to decide to do it after a while. You just do it.

It’s almost like it’s on autopilot and it feels strange NOT to do it.

If you get in the habit of walking first thing in the morning when you get up, and you do it each day – even if it’s just to the end of the driveway and back – by the end of 30 days or 60 days – you will likely feel much less resistance to the habit.

If you get in the habit of posting on social media most days throughout the week – whether it’s your feed or stories – this regular commitment to posting will ultimately reduce the resistance you may feel when you first begin the challenge and think about posting now.

It’s this latter category that we’re really honing in on today;

When we can establish habits that support us in our long-term goals, it is so powerful because they help reduce the amount of mind chatter and resistance on a regular basis.

When we can sidestep the toddler brain’s complaints and the desire to procrastinate a habit and instead move forward on it with less drama, it makes such a powerful difference overall. 

So how do we do this?

3 Steps T0 Lock In New Habits

woman writing in notebook

I’ll give a quick overview first and then we’ll dive deeper into each one with specific steps and concepts to explore.

1. Reduce friction

First, we want to reduce the friction.

This means you’ll want to remove any extra barriers or roadblocks that might be in your way when it comes to starting or sticking with your habit.

What are those barriers between you and the habit, and how can we smooth them out?

2. Record what works

Next, we want to record what works.

As you go on this journey of establishing your new habit, it’s powerful to incorporate space for reflection.

You might take 60 seconds to think about and record what’s working when it comes to this habit you’re establishing.

We want to do this even if it seems like NOTHING is working because for sure there is something that’s working or something we can learn. 

Now, I know that this step might seems tedious and annoying. I get it, but challenge yourself to take just one minute to jot down what’s working so you have that data anytime you need it.

This way, whether you’re building a new habit and you want to see what you can learn from a current habit that’s already working OR if you need a reset after stopping a habit for whatever reason, you have that data to help you step back into the habit when you’re ready for it.

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3. Reset whenever needed

Lastly, give yourself the grace to reset whenever you need to.

It is not a big deal if you go in and out of habits. We all do this. This is part of being human and it’s certainly part of having ADHD.

When we go on vacation or get sick or start a new job or experience any other big transition, it’s very common for our habits to slip.

For our ADHD brains, it’s also super common to just get a little bored with a current habit and want to switch things up a bit.

If you like your reasons for switching things up, it’s not a problem. I talked about this in my episode on follow-through a few weeks ago when I shared about switching up my workout routines. It’s really not a problem.

We want to simply check in with ourselves when we notice that we need a reset and set ourselves up for success to do so.

And again, this is why I think it’s important to have the reflection time I mentioned in step two. Because you’ve already made note of what IS working when you had the habit locked in, you can easily return to those notes when you’re ready to begin the habit again.

To recap…

  • We want to reduce the friction.
  • We want to check in and see what works and learn from those experiences.
  • Then give yourself the grace and space to reset as often as needed as you return to the habits after taking a break.

Now let’s take a deep dive into the concept of friction so we have a better understanding of how we can use this powerful concept specifically in both establishing and breaking habits. 

How to reduce friction to strengthen and Create habits

woman meal prepping

Let’s start with reducing friction when it comes to establishing and sticking with habits.

The less friction in the way of doing the habit, the easier it is.

So in this situation, the first step to reducing friction with your habits is to get clear on the habit itself.

Check-in with yourself:

  • What is the specific habit you want to follow?
  • What are all the steps involved? 

Remember, it’s so easy to say you want to establish a habit of “eating better” or “reading more often” but that’s just not specific enough to give your brain direction.

So, I encourage you to…

  • Get really clear on what the habit is.
  • Take a minute to write down each step that’s involved in completing the habit.

I know that seems tedious, but I’m telling you, it will make the entire process so much easier overall.

Example

If I wanted to establish a habit of meal prepping every Sunday afternoon, the steps might look like this:

  1. Identify the recipes for the week ahead
  2. Make a plan for what I can prep on Sunday
  3. Decide on prep order –> what do I cook first, second, third, and so on
  4. Make a grocery list
  5. Go grocery shopping
  6. Unload groceries
  7. Get out cooking supplies
  8. Follow the established prep order
  9. Once the food is prepped, put it in storage containers in the fridge
  10. Clean up the kitchen

I’m probably missing a few steps in there right now, but this gives you an idea, right? And again, I know it may seem unnecessary, but I promise you, it will make the entire process so much easier in the long run.

Activation Energy Required To Start a Habit

So, you’ve gotten clear on your habit, and you’ve identified all of the steps you need to take to follow it.

Once you have the steps to following your habit, we want to now think about the activation energy required.

In his book The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor talks about this concept called activation energy.

He explains that you want to “Lower the activation energy for habits you want to adopt, and raise it for habits you want to avoid.” Because “The more we can lower or even eliminate the activation energy for our desired actions, the more we enhance our ability to jump-start positive change.”

what does this mean?

Well, activation energy includes all the steps required to actually get started.

If I want to do Yoga, my activation energy would include putting on my workout gear, filling my water bottle, laying out my mat, finding a video that I want to do, and probably keeping Bruno out of my space because he always tries to lay on my mat when I do.

This is a lot of steps required just to GET STARTED – just the activation beforehand. I’m not even working out yet.

When I mentioned my Sunday food prep example there were SO MANY STEPS required before I even began cooking. There were SEVEN steps before I even got to the actual habit.

And if I’m not feeling it, and my toddler brain is in the driver’s seat and I’m not really coaching my brain, it would require an enormous amount of activation energy to go do all of these steps ahead of the actual food prep.

We want to get creative and ask ourselves:

  • What can we do to remove some of the friction?
  • How can we reduce the roadblocks and streamline getting started so this new habit doesn’t require so much activation energy?

If we think about the yoga example, maybe I decide to do my yoga first thing in the morning, so when I get up, I just change immediately into my yoga clothes. And maybe the night before I lay out my mat, fill my water bottle and cue up the video on my computer.

Then the next morning, I’d feed Bruno his breakfast and I’d head into my space to do yoga while he eats.

By reducing all that additional friction I make things so much easier to get started the next morning.  It requires so much less activation energy when it’s time to start.

With the food prep option, there are lots of ways I could reduce the friction. Maybe I have a set menu that rotates every two weeks so I only have to choose the recipes, decide on the prep order, and make the grocery list ONCE. Then it’s locked in for the remaining times I stick to the plan since I’ve made those decisions ahead of time and reduced the friction.

I could take that even further and put in a grocery order that I just pick up from the store or have someone deliver it to my house.

Maybe I use one of those meal prep services or maybe I have a subscription to a food blogger who sends out the shopping list and recipes each week.

You get the idea.

When we open up our minds and get creative we can find lots of ways to help reduce the friction that’s keeping us from sticking to our habits.

Next Step: Think About A Habit You’d Like To Follow

Once you think about a habit you’d like to create, ask yourself…

  • What are all the steps required to get started?
  • Then look at those steps and ask: what are the roadblocks that seem so annoying and tedious that you’d rather skip the habit altogether?
  • What are the steps that take a lot of activation energy?
  • And once you’ve identified those, ask yourself, how can I reduce the friction?
  • What can I do to make things smoother?

Allow your brain to really explore different possibilities and get creative.

Additionally, chances are there are others who have managed to establish a similar habit to the one you want to establish now. So, you can also do a quick google search of how to make [insert habit here] easier.

You’re bound to find lots of suggestions to help you streamline and reduce unnecessary friction.

If you want to journal before bed, keep the journal on your nightstand with a pen and a list of journal prompts.

If you want to eat less processed foods but are short on time, buy partially prepared ingredients like pre-cut lettuce or veggies.

If you want to get in the habit of hanging up your coat or putting away your purse, install a few hooks or get an old-school coat rack so you don’t have to fumble with hangers.

There are so many ways that we can reduce the resistance to getting started, which makes the act of doing the habit a bit easier and ultimately locks it in a bit deeper into our regular practice.

How Can We Simplify a Habit?

Okay, so we’ve talked about reducing activation before we begin. It’s also worth taking a look at reducing the friction when actually doing the habit itself.

How can we reduce unnecessary steps or complex workflows and make things so much simpler overall?

What I’ve found to be the case for many of us is that we tend to overcomplicate things. We want to have the perfect routine or habit with all the steps, and we end up overcomplicating the approach just because it’s fun to design it that way.

We get lost in this fantasy of a perfectionist self who can complete a 6-hour morning routine in the 30 minutes we actually have.

I know that sounds strange to some of you, but for those of you who do this, you’re nodding along and smiling right now. You get it.

Just as we thought about reducing the activation energy required to begin the habit, how can we streamline the actual habit itself?

Is there any extra fluff we can cut out or steps we can combine?

Examples

A while ago I simplified my laundry routine in a few ways. I bring hangers down to the basement where my machines are so I can hang my clothes immediately as I take them out of the dryer, and I also bought matching socks so I never have to search for a specific pair. They are all the same. 

If you want to read more often but you feel a lot of resistance to sit down with a book, get your favorites on audible or one of the many free library apps out there; you’ll be amazed by the number of books you can listen to while out walking the dog, driving to work, putting away said laundry or meal prepping, etc.

We’ve talked about simplifying systems and streamlining approaches on this podcast already – most recently back in episode 153 – so I won’t go too far into this concept here. But I do encourage you to step back from the habit and ask yourself:

  • Where is the friction here?
  • What feels hard?
  • How can I make it easy?
  • What can I remove?
  • What is unnecessary friction?
  • What can I do to make this habit as simple as possible and set myself up for success to stick with it?

By stepping back, looking at the habit overall, and challenging yourself to streamline and cut the fluff, you’re supporting yourself to stick with it in the long run.

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Increasing Friction To Break Bad Habits

As you might imagine, we can use friction in the opposite way, too. If there is a habit you want to break or do less often, we can reverse the process and increase friction (essentially make the habit harder) to support you in this goal.

When we have friction in the way of an automatic habit, it helps press pause on the behavior and brings the executive brain online to make an intentional decision as we re-shape our current habits.

Examples of Increasing Friction with Bad Habits

woman procrastinating at desk

If you’re in the habit of opening a browser and immediately navigating to Facebook or your email. Or if you find yourself popping over to your favorite online shops when you need a distraction, perhaps log out of everything in your browser by clearing the history and then log out each time you use that platform.

Having to log in and remember each password every time provides just enough friction to create pause and have you reconsider the habit.

It alerts the executive brain to come online and think, oh wait, I don’t want to be on social media right now. I want to be focused on this project instead. The friction acts like an alert to shift gears out of autopilot mode.

The same goes for your phone. You could move all of your distracting apps to the furthest screen on your phone and turn off the notifications. You could put app limits on specific apps that you know you love scrolling. Or you could even delete the app entirely from your phone so you have to log in on the browser, which is pretty cumbersome.

If you want to press pause on the Netflix binge that is so easy to slip into at night and instead go to sleep, put your wifi on a timer and have it turn off at a certain time so the shows don’t automatically keep playing one after the next.

Again, Netflix and Facebook and Instagram and Tik Tok, all of these apps have worked very hard to remove any and all friction to ensure you stay on their platforms. However, when we can push back a bit by incorporating friction, it makes a big difference in helping us stay on track and stick with the habits we want to keep and avoid the ones we don’t.

Recap and Next Steps

Alright, let’s do a quick recap.

If you’re ready to establish new habits or break existing ones, I invite you to…

  1. Get clear on what those habits are specifically.
  2. Break down all the steps involved to make that habit happen. What’s the activation energy required to gear up and get started and what are all the steps you need to take to carry out the habit.
  3. Then ask yourself: where is there friction in the habits I want to establish? What feels challenging or annoying? And how can I simplify or streamline the process so there’s less friction keeping me from sticking with the habit?
  4. Alternatively, if it’s a habit you’d like to break, you can ask yourself, what feels really easy about this habit, and how can I increase the friction and make it more inconvenient to stick with it?
  5. Check-in regularly. Make note of what’s working when you’re following through – even if it seems like nothing’s working, challenge yourself to find the wins because they’re there.

When you can find what works while refining and simplifying what doesn’t, you keep moving in the direction of success as you lock in the habit.

Of course, whenever you take a break from that habit – whether intentionally or not – remind yourself this is a perfectly human thing to do; nothing has gone wrong.

You can refer back to the notes of what’s working because you have your process written out and a record of what works so you can get back in step with the habit much quicker when you’re ready. 

If you’re ready to take the concepts you’ve learned on the podcast and apply them to your life, as well as support your ADHD in a way that works for YOU within a small, supportive community, check out my group coaching program, We’re Busy Being Awesome.


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Until next time, keep being awesome. I’ll talk with you soon.

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