When we build something new in our lives, we often make the smart move of supporting that new endeavor with a little extra “outside help.” For instance, if starting a weight loss journey, it’s not uncommon to have an “accountabili-buddy” to motivate you. Or perhaps you use one of those services that lets you bet on your own weight loss. Maybe you ask a spouse or roommate to hide, lock up, or dispose of unhealthy foods.
These things are scaffolding. They’re meant to support the construction of a new thing – in this case, healthy eating habits. Habits, like cathedrals, are hard to build. It’s perfectly fine to need to support their construction with something additional while you do so.
But there is a hidden trap here, one that can snare you if you’re not careful. That trap is coming to rely so much on the scaffolding that you never remove it – and thus, never really finish building what you set out to build.
Scaffolding is short term. You can’t expect to maintain healthy eating forever on the back of spouses hiding cookies and apps where you bet on your scale. At a certain point the new thing has to be an internal thing, something that will stand under its own construction and support its own weight within you. Scaffolding eventually collapses.
I am actually hugely supportive of the “scaffolding” technique of building habits. Inertia is real, and in order to change we need to defeat many demons. If you want to quit smoking, I support everything from nicotine patches to support groups to anything else you can think of. But you cannot rely on those things forever. You must, at some point, finish the cathedral.