In Seattle’s Bullitt Center, most people use the stairs rather than the elevator. Light and airy, the glass enclosed staircase in this 6-story office building has panoramic views of downtown Seattle and Puget Sound. It also has extra wide wooden floor landings that encourage chance encounters and pleasant chats.
Perhaps the key though is the “nudge.” When you enter the building, the stairs are right there while the elevator is behind the door on the left side:
Where are we going? To how the staircase relates to your New Year’s resolutions.
New Year’s Resolutions
Data for the Bullitt Center indicates 2/3 of the people that go to the 6th floor take the stairs. They say they enjoy unexpectedly meeting people on a landing and look forward to the view.
A behavioral economist might say it is all about friction. Like physics, friction in our daily lives slows us down. In the Bullitt Center, the elevator requires more friction than the stairs. With Netflix, we know the next episode will start in nine or so seconds. We don’t experience the friction of a decision. Uber wanted to encourage its drivers to take the next ride rather than go home. So they instantaneously ping the next pickup when a ride ends.
Similarly, keeping our New Year’s resolutions means we have to minimize their friction. For example, going to to the gym (when all is normal again), we should even be aware of the distance. According to several studies, people who drove 3 1/2 miles to a gym workout went five times a month. But those who had a 5 mile drive went just once.
Our Bottom Line: Friction
In physics, friction slows the movement of a sliding object. In economics, it diminishes demand.
When a behavior is a habit, we do it automatically, thinking little, acting immediately. However, if it’s not habitual, then just contemplating the action creates some friction. For that reason, self-control might not be so crucial. Instead, the people who write or run daily or maintain their low calorie diet experience less friction. It’s effortless to do what they do regularly.
So, returning to our New Year’s resolutions, we can just remember staircases and friction.
My sources and more: After again listening to yesterday’s Hidden Brain podcast on habits, I decided to look further at elevators. My first stop was the irresistible staircase in the Bullitt Center and then a NY Times description. I also returned to psychologist Wendy Wood’s research lab. (Please note that several sentences in “Our Bottom Line” were in a previous econlife post.)
Our featured image, from Bloomberg, Anthony Mayatt, is the Bullitt Center staircase.