Dan Missed the Most Obvious Solution Here…

It’s been two weeks, so that must mean it’s time for another “Ask Dan Ariely” post, and fortunately, Dan and the Wall Street Journal came through.

Here is this week’s email that caught my attention:

Dear Dan,

I know it’s not good for my health to sit at my desk all day without breaks, so I tried putting reminders in my calendar to stand up and move around. But I usually end up just ignoring them. Is there a better way to make myself get out of my chair during the day? —Michael

And here was Dan’s response:

Reminders are useful when you have actual memory problems, but they’re not so helpful when it comes to changing behavior. I wish this wasn’t so: Just imagine how easy it would be to quit smoking or stick to a diet if all you had to do was remind yourself of your earlier resolutions! In reality, creating small obstacles that force you to take action is a better way to change your routine than good intentions and reminders. So try changing your work environment in ways that force you to leave your desk. For example, you could set up a separate area for video calls—a spot with good lighting and no chair, so you have to stand up. If there are files you have to consult regularly, store them in another room. You could also make a habit of using the bathroom that is furthest away from your desk. Ideally you can pick one on another floor of your home or office, so you have to climb stairs to get there several times during the day.

I would have gone in the completely opposite direction. Instead of creating small obstacles, I would create a stimulus, something I really want. And I would put it somewhere that I would have to get up to get it. And the good news is that I know exactly what that stimulus would be.


When I sit down to do some work at home, many times I find myself getting up every five minutes and walking into the kitchen to grab a cookie, some chips, some peanuts, or a pretzel. You get the idea.

I find it much more motivating to get up from my desk to get a snack than if I had to get up to get a file from another room. I could probably convince myself that I really don’t need that file, and just keep working at my desk. But I would find it much harder to talk myself out of standing up and walking to the kitchen to get a snack.

So there you have it. The perfect solution to not sitting at your desk too long.

Just load your kitchen cabinets with tasty treats, and you’ll find yourself doing more standing than sitting at your desk working…

45 thoughts on “Dan Missed the Most Obvious Solution Here…

  1. Lunch breaks around our school were only forty minutes, but one year one of the other teachers and I hiked nearly every day at lunch. I’m not sure how good for us it was to eat and walk simultaneously, but that’s what we did. A couple of times, we got caught in some major downpours. My class was quite amused when I returned, looking like a drenched rat.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. I’m the same with snacks, though I’ll pace the floor a bit more to make up for it.

    Recently my company has enforced multi factor authentication so everytime I put my password in I have to verify on my phone that its actually me logging in. I’ve then made this an extra walk by putting it out of reach.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I try to get some pacing in as well, but I’m sure it’s not enough to make up for those junk calories.

      walking to your phone seems like a good solution, since you have to do that…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I still work in a corporate office setting, where things like getting a cup of coffee, picking up your things from a shared printer, or just the occasional social visit provides a number of opportunities to get up and walk around. It helps that my boss’s office is as far away from my desk as possible and still in the building. When I have issues to discuss with her, it is at least a good walk to get there and back. I assume when your are in the lecture hall, you are on your feet most of the day, so not sure how much you need to worry about your home activities.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. being far away from your boss’s office has other benefits as well 🙂

      and I do a fair amount of pacing back and forth while I am teaching, so I’ll go with that as giving me permission to be a bit more sedentary on the other days 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Seriously inspired “creating small obstacles that force you to take action is a better way to change your routine than good intentions and reminders.”

    Looks like some has filled me with new enthusiasm to bring an energy in my work..

    Thanks a lot for this motivating article!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Snacks and treats are great motivators for getting away from the desk. Following Dan’s lead, another possibility is placing the phone (landline) in another location. Do people still use those at work? As we age we need fewer of these artificial reasons for taking a work break, if you get my drift.

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.