Shape The Path (Or "How I Broke My Starbucks Addiction")
Updated: Sep 12, 2021
One of my favourite strategies for change is Shape the Path (from the book Switch by Dan and Chip Heath). Shape the Path means making changes in your environment to make it easier to change, thereby reducing the amount of mental work you need to invest in remembering things, using willpower and self control.
The first time I lived right around the corner from Starbucks, I got really excited and quickly fell into the habit of getting a latte every morning. It was such a consistent habit that after I stopped going so often and hadn’t been to this Starbucks in a while, the first time I went back some of the staff were like “What happened to you? We were worried!” After hearing that, I was worried about my Starbucks habit!
I’d noticed that I wasn’t savouring my lattes anymore - drinking them was becoming automatic, just another part of my way to work routine. I also happen to have had the experience of adding up the yearly cost of a daily latte. It was a little disturbing! I also missed my old green tea drinking habit, and figured I could use that to wean myself off of daily lattes.
Taken on it’s own, I wouldn’t have stopped going to Starbucks only for the financial impact, it’s true. It’s just too easy to ignore that information! Being on autopilot and not liking the feeling of dependency were what got me to take action. Remember that next time you try and ‘logic’ yourself into making a change; emotions are more powerful motivators than logic
Being kind of a smarty pants, I already knew I wasn’t going ‘cold turkey’. I know habits are chains of behaviour: to make a habit, you create a chain, and to break a habit, you break the chain (and in the process create a new chain and new habit, which is pretty meta if you think about it). I am also kind of a difficult person to myself at times and I’ve found phasing things in makes it easier to cooperate with myself.
Newly motivated, I decided the very next morning is when I would start. I would make green tea at home and take it to work, then the next day I would get a latte, and so on, gradually decreasing my Starbucks frequency. This way, I could look forward to having (and probably savouring) a latte tomorrow. Smart plan right?! (Thanks, I’m blushing!).
In the morning, feeling pretty darn good about my smarty pants plan, I made my tea and left for work. Suddenly I was in line at Starbucks! I looked around, slowly realizing that my autopilot problem was more extensive that I’d thought. I looked down at my travel mug full of tea and was like “Wait…. Why am I here? And Why don’t I remember walking in here??”. It was super freaky and I felt like a dumb-ass.
I sheepishly walked out, while having a good ol’ talk to myself (in my head!) about how brains love efficiency and will happily lapse into autopilot mode when walking or driving the same route every day. Maybe I just needed to further tweak my morning routine? I also told myself this was a new habit and gave myself permission for a do-over. Do overs are very important, in my opinion. It’s a small but important way to practice self-kindness. Sometimes you just screw things up and need to start over. It’s a thing.
On my do-over day, I made my tea, left my apartment, and then turned the corner - quite literally changing my path so that I wouldn’t walk by the Starbucks! It was stupid easy, simple and effective. It took away the need to think hard about changing my routine.
I could have tried really, really hard with my morning brain to make myself break this habit, and probably gotten it done that way. But I’m pretty sure that would have eventually made me feel like getting a latte. You see, the more self control you use, the more quickly it depletes.
Shape the Path is a strategy I love so much because it makes change easier, and who doesn’t want that? It frees up mental energy and self control to be used in ways that are way more effective, like paying attention to where you are going - and that’s good for everyone!
Within a few days, I had interrupted my old, familiar pattern enough that I no longer walked into Starbucks in a weird morning trance and I could once again resume my morning route to work. Now when I go to Starbucks, I walk in with awareness, I think about what I want (amazingly I discovered sometimes I just want tea) and if I do get a latte, I enjoy the s**t out of it!
If you’re working on breaking a habit, and creating a new one, give some serious thought to how you can Shape The Path, make your life a little easier, and improve your odds of success. If you need to bounce around some ideas on how to do this, let's chat!