79 - Habit-building 7: Have you noticed your cue?



One doesn’t need to be a hypnotist today to convince anyone of the need to brush their teeth. But in the early 1900s, even such a person wasn’t enough.

Poor oral hygiene was the norm in the US. Prosperity had brought sugar and chocolate. The US Army had listed poor dental health as a key reason for soldiers being unfit for service. Pepsodent employed Claude Hopkins, the Don Draper before broadcast television, to conceive of a campaign that would help sell their toothpaste.

He came up with an idea for a campaign that marketers have since then employed and re-employed with success. The idea was simple: Create a cue that is unmistakable and tie it to a reward that is inarguable.

This is nothing but the first law of behavior change in practice. Make the cue obvious.

It is no use if you buy fruits for the week but leave them to rot in the bottom shelf of your refrigerator. Or buy running shoes but keep them hidden in a box. Or dumbbells in the loft, weighing scale in the attic, and so on.

There are so many things competing for our attention that it is easy to miss clues. Much like endcaps in the supermarket are the most prized real estate, you should make all those cues clear and obvious that push you toward your desired behavior change.

Keep those fruits on the dining table, muesli at eye level, and books by the bedside. If you aren’t sure if you’re doing enough, invite a neighbor into your home and ask them to guess the habit you’re trying to build.

And just like marketers pump color and glitz into product promotions, you ought to load your environment with unmistakable clues for the treasure you’re seeking.

For Pepsodent more than a century ago, that cue was the film you felt when you slid your tongue across your teeth. It was the trigger that something stood between you and your ideal of a beautiful self. A tube of toothpaste in your bathroom thus led to a morning ritual.

There are many ways to create rituals. At the start of them all is a powerful and obvious cue.

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