The Broken Window Theory: Don't Let It Happen To You
Sometimes things seem to just go from bad to worse for no reason. But rarely is that actually the case. A home doesn’t go from to having a broken window to being in utter disrepair overnight.
We have all heard about, perhaps even witnessed, neighborhoods in decay, properties becoming rundown and once vibrant communities evolving into places to avoid at all costs.
None of these areas started out that way. There was a time when each was a bustling, happening place enjoying its own vibrancy, inhabited and visited by people committed to, and enjoying its energy and desirability.
Yet, over time, things changed, these pristine places devolved into tired, worn out and broken-down shadows of their former beings.
And all these properties share one thing in common, the downward spiral began with a single event. For example, a broken window left unrepaired, a few pieces of garbage dumped on the ground, a lawn not mowed and teeming with weeds or a number of bicycles strewn about. Any of these singular events could’ve been the single catalyst for a disastrous future.
The Broken Window Theory put forth by James Wilson and George Kelling in 1982 theorized that communities may begin to forfeit their orderliness when something as simple as a broken window remains broken.
Not repairing the broken window sends a message that community standards have been lowered and broken windows are now okay. In essence, it is fine to leave other windows unrepaired, to allow garbage to pile up, and grass to remain unkempt. Generally once this happens, the community is in a nosedive to the bottom.
None of this would ever have occurred had the community disallowed the first broken window to remain so.
The purpose of this blog is not to focus on how slums are formed, but rather to recognize how each of us can easily become our own worst enemies by bringing the Broken Window Theory into our own lives.
If you’ve ever wondered why you seem stuck or find yourself taking an equal number of steps backwards for each step forwards, perhaps this will help bring new perspective to assist you in staying on track.
Possibly this example will resonate with you. You have set a goal of working out at the gym three times per week. You have done so diligently, without interruption and with powerful focus for five consecutive weeks.
Paving the Way
Today is a gym day. You come home from work exhausted. Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. Your head is pounding, your stress level has reached new heights, and the idea of going to the gym has zero appeal.
Collapsing on the couch with a beer and a bag of potato chips, now that feels like the perfect solution.
And that’s exactly what you do. After all, the gym will still be there tomorrow.
Now let’s examine what has happened. You have dutifully and diligently worked out at the gym three times weekly for five consecutive weeks.
You have set a standard – a high standard.
You felt good. You were proud of yourself. You were confident that you would maintain the standard.
And then you didn’t. By forgoing today’s trip to the gym, you have agreed to lower the standard and make it acceptable to stay home when you just don’t feel like working out.
You have paved the way for this to happen again.
And the probability is that it will happen again. And this time the decision to stay home will be just a little bit easier. After all, you’ve done it before.
And perhaps next break your miss another day and the following week you may miss two.
One morning you will wake up and realize you haven’t been to the gym in over a month and the thought of starting all over again is too painful to contemplate.
Every time you do this, you are recalibrating normal, which means over time, the exact behaviour you say you don’t want, has suddenly (well, not so suddenly) reemerged as the dominant behaviour. Now you understand why.
Never break another window. It is so difficult to pick up the pieces.
So, let’s start to recalibrate your normal. Set your goals, do what you say you are going to do when you commit to doing it, and get busy engineering a magnificent life for yourself.
Till we read again.
BTW: If you’re trying to “recalibrate normal” in your life by setting high standards for yourself, I can help. I am running a workshop called OBSESSION: 100 Day Bootcamp to Optimal Performance. I just finished putting one cohort through and I’m looking for the next group of people who want an intensive bootcamp on reaching their biggest goals. Contact me for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.