Overcompensating to Change Habits

The strobe light in the device flashed and made the wheels look like they were spinning one way or another.  Fred adjusted his pressure on the lever and watched the wheels closely while plucking the last string. “I think that does it” he announced as he shut off the power to his tuner and started to pack up.  I was eleven, and completely fascinated watching the piano tuner work his magic on our family instrument.


I learned a number of things that day. One of the more interesting facts was the way that the pegs in the piano hold a tune.  I noticed that Fred would never tune directly to a note, he would always over-tune and then come back to the desired pitch.  He explained that if he simply tuned to the correct pitch, that note would soon revert to its previous flatness.  By tuning the note a bit sharp and then back down to the correct pitch, Fred wouldn’t get called back out the next day because the piano was out of tune again.  If he didn’t over-tune first, the wood and peg would “remember” where they had been and soon revert to their previous position.

When I am trying to change or create a habit, I think about the piano tuner.  Sometimes to get from A to B, you must go to C and then come back.  If you want to exercise every other day, it might make sense to spend a month working out every 24 hours as you develop the habit.  If you want to stop eating as many sweets, you may want to do away with them entirely for a while until your body and mind adjust.

When I was studying piano, I used to practice playing scales with each hand playing in a different key.  This wasn’t something I was ever likely to do in real music, but it helped push the fingerings into my subconscious.


  1. says

    I just finished writing an article (publishing in a couple weeks) about “hyper-simplifying” for a short period of time in order to break out of your comfort zone and hopefully create lasting change. Very similar to the idea of what you wrote here.

    Astute observation :)

  2. says

    Mark you have an example here that I can envision, and that connects well.

    I remember similar with learning piano, where I would overdo certain parts, leading to internalization of some of the basics.

    I do this also when learning vocabulary, as I use the vocabulary a ridiculous amount, and find it in Twitter search, or in other places, until there is basically no way I can forget it, like that I know bilious means ill-tempered or cranky, and no longer have to look that up if I see it in writing later.

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