When we provide ourselves (or someone else provides it) a justification to do something, it is easier to do or not do. There was a study done by Ellen Langer in 1977 that came to be known as “The Copy Machine Study”. It went like this
A researcher would spot someone waiting at the library copy machine and walk over with the intention of cutting the person in line. Then, the researcher would look at the innocent bystander and ask them one of three questions.
· Version 1 (request only): “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine?”
· Version 2 (request with a real reason): “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?”
· Version 3 (request with a fake reason): “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the xerox machine, because I have to make copies?”
Version 3 didn’t make much sense. Using the phrase “because I have to make copies” is a truism. Everyone waiting at the photocopier needed to make copies. The phrase contained no new information, but the researcher was trying to use it to justify the favour anyway. Surprisingly, this senseless reason performed well. When the researchers analysed the data, they found the following.
· Version 1: 60 percent of people let the researcher skip ahead.
· Version 2: 94 percent of people let the researcher skip ahead.
· Version 3: 93 percent of people let the researcher skip ahead.
(Thanks to jamesclear.com and his great newsletters for the study information)
What have you been providing a justification to not do something or continue doing something that might not be right?
I know I justify my action or inaction all the time. Last night was – I just danced for an hour so the second scoop of Patagonia ice cream is ok. One scoop was a nice treat, two scoops……?
Often we don’t like doing what should be done because it requires some work on our part. If we can justify our action or inaction then almost anything is possible. Next time you are thinking about getting up for a walk or not – provide yourself with a “because my health is worth moving for”. Next time you are thinking about eating a sugar filled, processed snack– provide yourself with a “because my health is better with real food”.
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