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Why Stores Place Candy by the Checkout Counter (And Why New Habits Fail)

Why Stores Place Candy by the Checkout Counter (And Why New Habits Fail)
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Selling candy bars can teach you a lot about building better habits. Before I tell you why, let’s start at the beginning.

The Science of Candy Bars

In 1952, an economist by the name of Hawkins Stern was working at the Stanford Research Institute in Southern California, where he spent his time analyzing consumer behavior. During that same year, he published a little-known paper titled, The Significance of Impulse Buying Today.

In that paper, Stern described a phenomenon he called Suggestion Impulse Buying, which “is triggered when a shopper sees a product for the first time and visualizes a need for it.”

Suggestion Impulse Buying says that customers buy things not necessarily because they want them, but because of how they are presented to them. This simple idea—that where products are placed can influence what customers will buy—has fascinated retailers and grocery stores ever since the moment Stern put the concept into words.

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How to Sell Candy Bars

Candy sales are very seasonal. Bulk candy purchases tend to be made around Halloween and other holidays, which means that during the majority of the year candy never makes it onto the grocery list. Obviously, this isn’t what candy companies want, since they would prefer to have sales continue throughout the year.

Because candy isn’t an item you are going to seek out during most trips to the grocery store, it is positioned in a highly visible place where you’ll see it even if you aren’t looking for it: the checkout line.

But why the checkout line? If it was just about visibility, the store could put candy right by the front door so that everyone saw it as soon as they walked inside.

The second reason candy is at the checkout line is because of a concept called decision fatigue. The basic idea is that your willpower is like a muscle. Like any muscle, it gets fatigued with use. The more decisions you ask your brain to make, the more fatigued your willpower becomes.

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If you saw a box of candy bars at the front door, you would be more likely to resist grabbing one. By the time you get to the checkout counter, however, the number of choices about what to buy and what not to buy has drained your willpower enough that you give in and make the impulse purchase. This is why grocery stores place candy at the checkout counter and not the front door.

OK, but what does a Kit Kat bar have to do with building better habits?

3 Ways to Change Your Habits

At a basic level, a store that wants to sell more candy wants to change human behavior. And whether you’re trying to lose weight, become more productive, create art on a more consistent basis, or otherwise build a new habit, you want to change human behavior too. Let’s take a look at what the grocery store did to drive additional purchases of candy bars and talk about how those concepts apply to your life.

First, grocery stores removed the friction that prevented a certain behavior. They realized that people were only buying candy in bulk around the holidays, so they cut down the size of the purchase and sold candy bars one at a time.

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You can do the same thing with your habits. What are the points of friction that prevent you from taking a behavior right now? Does the task seem overwhelming (like the equivalent of buying 40 pieces of candy when you only want 1 piece)? Then start with a small habit. Examples include: doing 10 pushups per day rather than 50 per day, writing 1 post per week rather than 1 per day, running for 5 minutes rather than 5 miles, and so on. Starting small is valuable because objects in motion tend to stay in motion.

Second, grocery stores created an environment that promoted the new behavior. Retailers recognized that unless the holidays were around the corner, people were unlikely to browse the store and seek out candy bars, so they moved the candy bars to a place where people didn’t have to seek them out: the checkout line.

How can you change your environment so that you don’t have to seek out your new habits? How can you adjust your kitchen so that you can eat healthy without thinking? How can you shift your workspace so that digital distractions are minimized? How can you create a space that promotes the good behaviors and prevents the bad ones? Surround yourself with better choices and you’ll make better choices.

Third, grocery stores stacked the new behavior at a time when the energy was right for it. As we’ve already covered, you’re more likely to give in and buy the candy bar at the checkout line because decision fatigue has set in. Of course, it’s not just decision fatigue that saps our willpower and motivation. There are a variety of positive and negative daily tasks that drain your brain. Periods of intense focus, frustration, self-control, and confusion are all examples of how you can deplete your mental battery.

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When it comes to building better habits, you can deal with this issue in two ways.

  1. You can take active steps to reduce the areas that deplete your willpower. In the words of Kathy Sierra, you have to “manage your cognitive leaks.” This means eliminating distractions and focusing on the essential. It’s much easier to stick with good habits if you subtract the negative influences. Self-control has a cost. Every time you use it, you pay. Make sure you’re paying for the things that matter to you, not the stuff that is useless or provides marginal value to your life.
  2. You can perform your habit at a time when your energy is right for it. Stores ask you to buy candy bars when you are most likely to say yes. Similarly, you should ask yourself to perform new habits when you are mostly likely to succeed. Your motivation ebbs and flows throughout the day, so make sure the difficulty of your habit matches your current level of motivation. Big habits are usually best if attempted early in the day when your motivation and willpower are high (or after a lunch break when you’ve had a chance to eat and rejuvenate).

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    Your Environment Drives Your Habits

    We like to think that we are in control of our behavior. If we buy a candy bar, we assume it is because we wanted a candy bar. The truth, however, is that many of the actions we take each day are simply a response to the environment we find ourselves in. We buy candy bars because the store is designed to get us to buy candy bars.

    Similarly, we stick to good habits (or repeat bad habits) because the environments that we live in each day—our kitchens and bedrooms, our offices and workspaces—are designed to promote these behaviors. Change your environment and your behavior will follow.

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    This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.

    More by this author

    James Clear

    James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits. He shares self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research.

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    Last Updated on July 12, 2021

    100 Incredible Life Hacks That Make Life So Much Easier

    100 Incredible Life Hacks That Make Life So Much Easier
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    Want to learn some quick and easy life hacks that are easy to do, low cost and saves you time?

    By tweaking little things in your daily life, it can make your life much more convenient!

    Here’re 100 of the most practical life hacks so you can just pick up any of them right away!

    83 tie a small piece of bright colored fabric

      84 write random letter

        85 use a rubberband

          86 dorm smell bad

            87 lean your phone on your sunglassess

              89 how to waterproof your shoes

                90 take a picture of the name card

                  91 iron inside out

                    92 old newspaper

                      93 tumble try shoes

                        keep a card like this

                          SONY DSC

                            94 soap bar

                              95 make a hole

                                96 drop the battery

                                  97 use a coozie

                                    98 when taking a picture

                                      use a clean dust pan

                                        try a pants hanger

                                          use your cellphone light

                                            use a spring from an old pen

                                              quick and easy iphone speaker

                                                user binder clips

                                                  wrap a wet paper towel around your beverage

                                                    put pancake mix in a ketchup bottle

                                                      clean out an old lotion bottle for your beach

                                                        use a muffin tin to serve condiments at a bbq

                                                          doritos are great for kindling

                                                            use nail polish to identify different keys

                                                              use a hanging shoe rack to store cleaning supplies

                                                                freeze grapes to chill white wine without

                                                                  use paper clips to organize your cables

                                                                    almost finished your jar of nutella

                                                                      sick of having a box full of tangled

                                                                        unroll the rim to increase the capacity

                                                                          cut open toilet paper rolls and use as a cuff

                                                                            remove the stem from strawberries

                                                                              turn an old bottle into a simple little cord holder

                                                                                for iced coffee and iced cappuccino, use frozen coffee cubes

                                                                                  how to fold a fitted bed sheet

                                                                                    tired of snoozing past your alarm

                                                                                      place a rubber band around an open paint can to wipe your brush on

                                                                                        ut a wooden spoon across a boiling pot

                                                                                          use bread clips to save flip-flops

                                                                                            take pictures of friends holding items

                                                                                              how i always know which headphone is the left one

                                                                                                put a stocking over the end of a vacuum

                                                                                                  How to make sure you drink enough water

                                                                                                    user a can opener to open blister

                                                                                                      good sandwich guide

                                                                                                        turn your muffin pans upside down

                                                                                                          50 pounds of groceries and living on the 5th floor

                                                                                                            the right way to make a blt

                                                                                                              add one teaspoon of baking soda

                                                                                                                38

                                                                                                                  hair straighteners equals to collar irons

                                                                                                                    stack your clothes vertically to see them all

                                                                                                                      the right way to make cookies in the summer

                                                                                                                        how to clean a blender

                                                                                                                          the right way to eat a popsicle

                                                                                                                            use bread clips to label and organize power cords

                                                                                                                              to get the built up residue off of your shower head

                                                                                                                                user a hair clip to orgainize long wires

                                                                                                                                  a frozen saturated sponge in a bag

                                                                                                                                    rub stuck zipper teeth with a graphite pencil

                                                                                                                                      use a soda pop tab

                                                                                                                                        50

                                                                                                                                          51 How to multiply large numbers in your head.

                                                                                                                                            52 How to open a bottle if you dont have a corkscrew.

                                                                                                                                              rub a walnut on damaged wooden furniture

                                                                                                                                                kids fall out of bed

                                                                                                                                                  use toothpaste to clear up hazy car

                                                                                                                                                    58

                                                                                                                                                      59 keep pizza out while driving home

                                                                                                                                                        60 put your straw through the tab to keep it from rising

                                                                                                                                                          hold oreos with a fork so your fingers

                                                                                                                                                            Never lose your remotes again

                                                                                                                                                              hiding your emergency money

                                                                                                                                                                use a bread tab to hold your spot on a roll

                                                                                                                                                                  if you are at a hotel and run out of chargers

                                                                                                                                                                    keep a square of cardboard in a ziplock bag

                                                                                                                                                                      If you need to pee or smoke at a bar

                                                                                                                                                                        drill holes in the bottom of your garbage

                                                                                                                                                                          use an accented letter as your passcode

                                                                                                                                                                            use a squeeze ketchup bottle top with your shopvac

                                                                                                                                                                              do something unusual when locking the door

                                                                                                                                                                                when heating leftovers space out a circle in the middle

                                                                                                                                                                                  dont burn yourself in those hard to reach candles

                                                                                                                                                                                    put a small amount of water in a glass when you microwave your pizza

                                                                                                                                                                                      75 use a piece of paper to organize

                                                                                                                                                                                        use half a pool noodle

                                                                                                                                                                                          pencil case to store cables

                                                                                                                                                                                            78 clothespin to hold nail

                                                                                                                                                                                              79 make blts

                                                                                                                                                                                                80 take a picture of your fridge

                                                                                                                                                                                                  81 fill plastic water bottles

                                                                                                                                                                                                    82 right ways to eat chips

                                                                                                                                                                                                      99 if your plug keeps failing

                                                                                                                                                                                                        100 put the banana on the wire

                                                                                                                                                                                                          88 before you throw away a post it

                                                                                                                                                                                                            Source: Reddit LifeProTips

                                                                                                                                                                                                            There you go, 100 awesome life hacks that you can try right now to make your life a lot easier!

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                                                                                                                                                                                                            30 Brilliant Camping Hacks I Wish I Knew Earlier

                                                                                                                                                                                                            20 Popular Life Hacks From the Internet Debunked (or Verified)

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