The Passive Way
What if I said you can improve your life without any effort? What if I told you it doesn’t take much to create successful habits?
This is true. You can use your greatest liability as your greatest asset. I’m talking, of course, of one’s inclination to be passive.
“But, Teodor, everyone knows that to succeed you MUST be a doer.”
This is also true, but being a doer doesn’t come easy… Why push yourself? Why decide to change so many things, only to be once again let down by your gradual descent into your set ways. Try to do too much all at once and you’re left with the same old you.
After a couple of attempts, you may even begin to hate yourself and your inability to stick to your plan.
Instead, what I’m talking about is a way to build a system that will slowly, and surely, make a doer out of you too, by learning to add small, passive rituals to your life.
In his book, “Thinking Fast and Slow”, Daniel Kahneman demonstrates how big of a role passivity plays in our lives, by examining organ donation between countries. He draws from data from the countries of Austria and Sweden and their close neighbors of Germany and Denmark. The comparison is apt, because Sweden and Denmark are both highly developed nordic nations, while Austria and Germany are close neighbors that share the same language, history and mentality. These particular countries drew his attention, because he noticed that the rate of organ donation in Austria is nearly 100%, while in Germany it is 12%. The rate of donation in Sweden is 86%, while in Denmark it is 4%.
To make sense of these large differences between closely related countries Kahneman points to the process through which one chooses to participate in the organ donation programs. It turns out that Austria and Sweden are opt-out countries, while Germany and Denmark are opt-in countries.
That means that in the opt-in countries people have to make a conscious, ACTIVE, decision to participate. In the opt-out countries people have to make an ACTIVE decision not to participate. That is what drives the high rates of participation in Austria and Sweden. It just doesn’t come easy for people to make up their minds on such important, tough, decisions. They’d much rather PASSIVELY go along with what has been chosen for them.
Being passive comes easy to many of us and it’s very hard to fight those instincts, especially after so many years of going along with them. In a way, it feels unnatural.
All it takes is a small step
I for one, sometimes find it very hard to start to work. I end up thinking of all the things I’d have to do and how much time it will take. It’s much easier to watch videos or lie around, because that is a passive activity, and it’s one that I’m already doing, so it’s doubly easy than starting on something else.
I’ve found that the solution is to take it out of my hands. I create a passive system that starts me on the process of working and does so almost effortlessly. That way, I don’t have to force myself to make an active choice, because it just tends to happen naturally.
I sort of trick my brain into doing it. I first sit there for a couple of minutes staring off into space, not really thinking of anything. This is simply to break the pattern of watching videos or procrastinating in some other way.
Then I look towards what I’m supposed to be doing and start dabbling with it. I don’t really do anything active, I just get familiar with the task. If it’s something I should be reading, I just open it up and start turning the pages aimlessly, examining the book. Finally, I turn to where I should be and start reading.
I just focus on one sentence at a time. That is the secret. String together a series of small steps that will get you to doing the large overall objective. Get yourself to do little by little, focusing only on the next small section. The hardest part of doing something is in the first 5 minutes. After that, one’s inclination to be passive kicks in and he or she can just keep at it without too much effort, because to start doing something else would require an active decision and hence, would be harder.
It’s not uncommon for a business person to say that the reason they succeeded was because they had no other choice. What they are referring to is the power of the passive, that sprung them into action, because the decision was made for them.
Either they would give everything else up, not leaving themselves much in the way of options, or someone else would do it for them.
Robert Herjavec is one of the Shark Tank investors. He is a preeminent cyber security expert and investment guru. His cyber security firm has billions in revenue per year and his shark tank investments have additionally generated tremendous returns. He is undoubtedly a business success story.
On the Shark Tank show, he has talked many times about what brought him into the business world. As he recounts it, it wasn’t because he made an active decision to pursue an opportunity. It was because he was left with no other choice. The decision was made for him. One day he was unceremoniously fired and all he could do was start his own business in the industry. He hasn’t looked back since.
In his most recent book, “Money, Master the Game”, Tony Robbins also acknowledges the power of the passive in shaping our decisions. He draws from research showing that the average person thinks that he simply can’t afford to save.
The researchers had a hunch that this was not entirely accurate. They knew that if all these people suddenly started receiving 5 or 10 percent less money, they wouldn’t all die from starvation. Instead, they would learn to cope with what they have. The problem is that this type of decision, to set aside a certain percentage every month, is an active one.
Their findings showed that while it may be hard to make that active choice, it is incredibly easy if the choice is passive.
They suggest to create a ritual where you always pay yourself first, regardless of how much money you make. For example, create a system where a percentage of your paycheck goes directly into a saving’s account, BEFORE you even receive it. That will turn your savings process from an active into a passive activity. You will learn to deal with the money that’s left and you will see that saving is not actually that hard - everyone can do it. It just requires a simple trickery of mind.
Due to the power of inertia, the hardest part of any habit is the initial reversal of the set pattern. Make that first step as easy as possible by starting as simply as is possible. Find a way to make the decisions you will have to make, to initiate that change, passive. Create a ritual that makes them for you and forces your hand.
If you are looking for just one thing to take away, it’s this. Find a way to make what you need to do into the easier of two alternatives.
That’s the passive way. You can just add small habits to your life that don’t require much action, but simultaneously create a system, where the things you need to do to succeed, are also the easiest things to do. Amp up, little by little. Then, you will reverse the momentum and will become a snowball rolling down the side of a mountain. As you keep rolling, you keep growing.