What is this picture?

It is not merely, as it seems, a photo of some samples of Lush leave in hair conditioner sitting on my bathroom shelf.

It is, in fact, a behavioural problem. Or to be more specific, a context problem.

See, these samples, so generously given by a Lush employee (who then pursued me for a date over Facebook, which is an entirely different problem, mired in the delicate etiquette of flirting for free samples) have sat in my bathroom, unused, for about a year now.

I put them in the bathroom because that’s where I shampoo and condition my hair and do other various beautification tasks to make me the glossy-haired vision of perfection you see before you.

But this is a leave-in conditioner – an altogether different beast – meaning it needs at least ten minutes on my hair to permeate through before being shampooed out. And I’m always in the bathroom either about to shower and impatient, or just leaving the shower when it’s already too late.

The fact is – this conditioner is in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Behaviourally, contextually, it just doesn’t work.

Where and when have always been important in behavioural change. The people who persuaded consumers to use Listerine as a once-a-day bad breath prevention product, instead of an occasional salve for cuts and grazes, understood that, as surely as they understood inventing neurosis over halitosis and the laws of volume (mouthwash using up more product than treating scrapes).

Habit formation really interests me. You might have heard the adage ‘it takes 21 days to form a new habit’ – though current research pegs it at more like 66 days (depending on the complexity of the task).

It’s also easier to do something every day rather than every other. If you go to the gym every day, for example, it becomes a habit, rather than requiring constant bursts of willpower. Good habits are hard to form, and bad ones hard to break. A habit has a powerful cultural context that comes attached to it – think of toothpaste, or shaving.

So two small conclusions.

Firstly, put something in the right place at the right time.

Secondly, if you want to do it more than once, turn it into a habit.