Link: the psychology of passive barriers

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of the personal finance blog Get Rich Slowly, and I was particularly enthralled by a recent guest post (by Ramit Sethi, whose own blog is I Will Teach You To Be Rich). Ramit’s post on the psychology of passive barriers (subtitled “Why your friends don’t save money, eat healthier or clean their garages”) really struck a note with me. Ramit picks up on ideas promoted in some recent bestsellers like Freakonomics and The Tipping Point, and gives some powerful examples of the ways in which seemingly small barriers can lead to success or failure. As Ramit says, “I think the source of 95%+ of barriers to success is…ourselves. It’s not our lack of resources (money, education, etc). It’s not our competition. It’s usually just what’s in our own heads. Barriers are more than just excuses — they’re the things that make us not get anything done. And not only do we allow them to exist around us, we encourage them. There are active barriers and passive barriers, but the result is still the same: We don’t achieve what we want to.”

Many of his examples made a lot of sense to me on both a personal and a professional level. When I started running again after my daughter was born, I joined a running training club and the coach gave some excellent suggestions of how to eliminate passive barriers to exercising: before you go to bed, put your running clothes on the bathroom floor so that you step on them in the morning; put a list of running routes of various distances on your front door so that you don’t have to think about where to go; make a running date with a friend that is so early in the morning that you wouldn’t dare call them to cancel for fear of waking up the whole household at 5:30 AM. Passive barriers also go the other way, as in Ramit’s example of freezing your credit card  in a block of ice; if you say you’re really only going to use it for emergencies, why not keep it where it takes some effort to get at it? After reading this article, I realized that this phenomenon is one reason why our family watches very few movies; we own only a few DVDs and don’t have Netflix, so procuring a movie involves biking or driving to the library or video store. Normally when I’m confronted with that option, I just choose to do something else.

I think that we can apply these passive barrier techniques to many aspects of freelance translation work too. In my case, I habitually avoid doing banking tasks and accounting because I just despise them. Because I despise these tasks, I seek out passive barriers that are “preventing me from getting the job done.” Can’t find the calculator, don’t have any more deposit slips, etc. This habit got so bad that I came within a couple of dollars of bouncing a check from my business account at the same time that I had over $4,000 in payment checks sitting on my desk. So, I created an “accounting kit” which is within arm’s reach of my desk. In it I keep my business account checkbook, deposit slips, envelopes, stamps, a calculator and (the clincher) my favorite roller-ball pen, which I only allow myself to use for doing accounting. A little gimmicky? Sure! But it gets the job done; I find that now, I don’t enjoy accounting any more than I used to, but at least I do it.

Any thoughts on the passive barriers that you need to add to or remove from your work life?

4 Responses to “Link: the psychology of passive barriers”
  1. Kevin Lossner March 20, 2009
  2. Reed D. James March 27, 2009
  3. N. Lisa April 15, 2009
  4. Martin A. Brown December 24, 2009

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