Productivity: How the Mud Puddle Principle Can Shape Your Habits

I love this blog post from Principal Ben Gilpin. He describes what happened when he threw a baseball mitt and glove in his car before leaving town on a family trip.

Ben says

“We were preparing to embark on our road trip, I was packing different odds and ends for the car ride.  Just before it was time to go I decided to throw in a baseball and mitt. My two boys at the time had zero interest in baseball and truth be told, couldn’t name one major league player.

Troy (9 years old at the time), noticed the baseball and glove.  We stopped a couple times on the way and each time he wanted to play catch.”


Source: The Colorful Principal: Visible Growth

So, the Mud Puddle Principle is one of my personal principles of habit forming. Imagine a 10-year-old boy standing beside a mud puddle. Now, fast forward 10 seconds and imagine what he’ll be doing then. Oh yeah, he’s going in!

A mud puddle is pretty much irresistible to most kids! Just being near it makes it happen. So, when you hope your students or kids will try something new, put it nearby. Nothing else, just nearby.

You can also apply this with your own habits. For example, I’ve read that making something just 6 seconds more accessible makes it more likely. So, I put a glass beside my bathroom sink. Every time I stand there to brush my teeth, I drink a whole glass of water. I place books that I want to read beside my two favorite chairs. When I need to write thank you notes, I put them there as well.

Right now, I’m researching for my third book. I like to use index cards (like John Maxwell does). So, I have index cards beside every place I sit in the house, in a prominent place on my desk and in my pocketbook. I have also put them beside my bed and beside my bathroom sink. Now, any time I have a thought or remember a story I want to tell, I grab a card and write it down. I fall in the mud puddle of research so easily now!

The Mud Puddle Principle works with data too! My husband, Kip, is an engineer. He says that the first step in changing a statistic is to track and post it publicly. Everyone starts obsessing over that stat because it is IN THEIR FACE every day. They teach them this in engineering courses.

As an interesting caveat, this principle also works in the opposite direction. If you want to resist – make it harder to reach, harder to find, or put it out of sight. Hide the cookies. Bring out the exerbike! 😉

Ben Gilpin writes an excellent blog, you’ll want to check it out. And, oh, by the way — how did the story end?

Fast forward 9+ months.  Troy is now 10 years old and this is his first year playing baseball on a team.  I have a chance to watch him and help him almost every day and what I saw as a very raw 9 year old is now a quickly improving 10 year old.  Just last night his coach put him on the mound to be the first pitcher. He and I had worked on a few things and I knew he could do it, but I was still pretty proud to see how far he has come.

The Mud Puddle Principle can change your life by transforming your habits. So be intentional about what you put beside your favorite chair, beside your bathroom sink, or in your purse or briefcase. While Ben reflects on visible growth (you really should read the whole post), I see mudpuddles.

Question: What are you putting nearby? What things do you get into that you need to put further away.

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