For the next few posts, I want to go over habits: how to build better habits, how to overcome bad habits, and how to let your unconscious self build the future you want.
How Does Environment Affect Your Behavior?
In the last post, we detailed the necessity for a life’s vision. You need to know where you want to go and why. However, knowing your personal goals does not lead to better habits. Therefore, we’re going to discuss environment and how it influences your habits.
Willpower is “control exerted to do something or restrain impulses.” The strength of your willpower will determine the course of your life. For example, the weaker your willpower, the more likely you are to participate in bad habits. Your willpower is undermined or strengthened by your environment. Through controlling your environment, you can improve your willpower, overcome bad habits, and focus on developing good habits. Of course, the process of managing your situation is hard and terrifying. However, the best way to improve your habits, and ensure improvements stick, is to change your environment.
Want to Change Your Habits? You need to Change Your Environment
“We imitate the habits of three groups in particular: The close. The many. The powerful.” – James Clear
People struggle with creating better habits or overcoming bad ones because they have destructive, terrible environments. If smokers surround you, then you are going to continue your smoking habit. However, if you are surrounded by healthy friends, you are more likely to adopt their healthy practices.
It’s easy to overlook the importance of establishing the best environment for our personal success. We accept clutter and dirt and distracting devices as “the way things are.” We don’t contribute distractions and clutter into the success or failure of our habits.
Now, don’t get me wrong: building better habits requires gritting your teeth, overcoming your impulses, and developing motivation. However, if your environment is constantly tempting you, then you will fail to become your best self. Why? For the same reason it’s bloody impossible to study during a concert: you’ll waste precious concentration power focusing on the loud music, abrasive crowds, and uncomfortable environment.
Your mental energies are limited. The more energy you waste on everything not relevant to your goals, the fewer resources you have for advancing your goals.
How to Create an environment which aligns with your habits
Last week, I covered life goals, identity, and legacy. I wanted to set a foundation: by understanding where your future is going, you can compare today’s actions to what you want to happen. Therefore, with your long-term goals at hand, let’s look over the best ways to create an environment design which strengthens your growth and development.
1. Ensure bad habits are harder to perform
What are the good habits you want to create? Maybe you want to be healthy. Therefore, you need to create a good habit of eating well. Eating well is easier to do if you don’t have junk food in the house, you don’t drive by fast-food restaurants, and you have healthy meals prepared in advance. In other words, to build a healthy eating habit, your environment has to help you.
Let’s break this down: if you don’t want to eat junk food, then you can put it in a hard-to-reach place in your home. If every time you wanted a bag of chips you had to break out the step ladder, shift through the clutter on the top shelf, then come back down, you may overcome the impulse to grab junk food. Here’s another technique which worked for me: whenever I wanted junk food, I would drink a full glass of water. More often than not, my cravings would go away as soon as I refreshed my body.
Create Walls Between You And The Bad Action
There’s a logic here: the harder you make it to participate in bad habits, the less likely you are to give in to the pulls. Therefore, you need to identify what you don’t want to do. If you want to go on a diet, you need to outline what will undermine your diet.
Let’s go back to the junk food example. If you eat unhealthy microwavable meals, then I have the perfect solution: get rid of the microwave. Now, you can have your junk food, but you have to prepare the stove or oven. Cooking will take time, and you may become less eager to eat junk food during the wait time. By increasing the time and effort needed to eat junk food, you’ll resist the pull to engage in your bad habit.
Make The Walls Difficult To Overcome
Walls are fun to create and crucial to your success. Identify what you want to do, then figure out what bad habits hold you back. Then, start building those barriers. Here are a few more examples:
- On your phone too much? Place your phone in the most out of reach place in your home. Then, place a complicated code to unlock it. On top of that, place a block for the apps you want to avoid. Then use your phone if you’re still game.
- Do you sleep in too much? Buy a few alarm clocks. Set them all around your room. When it’s time to wake up, you’ll have a few alarms going off, making it impossible to go to back to sleep.
- Do you lie too often? Start making a small screeching sound after every lie you tell. It’s silly, but this technique helped me. My screech was just weird enough to be uncomfortable, but not enough to end the conversation. I quickly stopped telling white lies.
Use Shame To Change Your Bad Habits
“Where there is no shame, there is no honor.” – Martin Opitz
Shame gets a bad rap in our culture, but it’s crucial to controlling your impulses. Furthermore, you don’t need public shame – personal shame is good enough. For example, if you want to stop eating drive-thru garbage food, then buy a large whiteboard. Every time you go through the drive-thru, write down the date, time, and the money you spent. Eventually, the board will fill up with your betrayals. Seeing your lack of willpower as well as your lack of commitment to your diet will help in changing your behavior.
Eating junk food in public, taking selfies when you buy candy in the checkout lane, and other techniques can help you track of your transgressions while keeping your failures front and center. And yes, call them failures, shortcomings, and other harsh names. You need to wake up. Being upfront with your bad habits will allow you to change for the better.
2. Improve Your Environment to Make Good Habits Easier to Perform
Alright, we’re working towards creating an environment design which makes bad habits hard to perform. The environment trick also works for practices which improve your life and wellbeing.
Let’s take the diet example. If you have to research a meal, go to the store, shop for the ingredients, return home, unload everything, then cook a healthy meal, you’ll despise the whole process. Of course you’ll want to skip it all and grab a cheeseburger at a drive-thru. Therefore, you need to ensure healthy eating is more accessible.
Preparation, Environment Design, and a Better You
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin
Preparation ensures you’ll perform better habits. With the diet example above: if you create a meal plan, then all your recipe ideas are plotted out, planned, and ready to go. Furthermore, if you do your shopping once a week, you can buy everything you need on one day – no more grumbling because of frequent trips. Lastly, if you cook all your meals twice a week, then you’re prepared for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Do you struggle with going to the gym? Always look to reduce your thinking. As you make bad habits harder to perform, you need to make good habits easier to execute. For example, pack your gym clothes the night before. Waking up and grabbing your gym bag as you head out the door is easier to do than packing your gym clothes before heading to the gym.
Of course, there is still work to do, but you’re cutting down on your thinking. The less thinking you do, the more likely you are to make the right decision. If you’re spending ten minutes preparing your gym clothes before going to the gym, you’re less likely to go.
Remove the barriers, and it becomes easier to create the best behaviors.
Form Bigger, Better Habits by Starting Small
If you struggle with good practices, then start small. If the diet is challenging, then focus on setting weekly time to research healthy foods. If going to the gym is intimidating, then focus on packing your gym clothes. Formulating small good habits trains your mind in forming bigger habits.
Why does this work? Firstly, you’re developing the ability to form good practices. By starting small, you’re showing yourself it’s possible to stay consistent with things you don’t want to do. Secondly, starting small will humble you. You’ll understand greatness is not achieved overnight. Developing this insight into self-improvement will help you create better habits. Merely showing up is, in fact, half the battle and if you can show up every day, you’ll improve significantly.
Lastly, starting small will get you hyped. If you’re packing your gym bag every day, you’ll soon wonder what it’s like to exercise. There’s beauty in using small habits to entice you to follow good behaviors.
3. Change Your Environment, Change Yourself; Eliminate draining aspects from your life
With the heavy ideas out of the way, let’s focus on smaller, but equally critical environmental changes you can make. Now, I always harp on weeding negativity out of your life. However, you need to eliminate negativity if you want to overcome bad habits and formulate good ones.
The world is full of noise meant to undermine your self-control. The more obsessed and focused you are on the external world, the weaker you become, and the more likely you are to fail in forming better habits. Why? Because negativity erodes our mental stability and robs us of confidence in ourselves and our future.
How I Act Towards Negativity
- I don’t associate with lazy, pathetic, or cynical people – You’ll waste away if you spend time around weak individuals. They will undermine your mental strength. Get away from them and seek better allies.
- I barely follow the news – The news is not designed to inform you of anything. It is designed to make you angry and bitter. The media covers the worst aspects of humanity instead of giving us the nuanced information we desperately need. News will provide you with an emotional high, but it will not make you wiser, better, or more capable.
- I don’t waste time on social media – Social media is a distraction and produces rampant FOMO (fear of missing out), consumerism (with targeted ads), and celebrity obsessions (consider the popularity of “influencers”). Get off social media and go outside. You’ll feel better and more refreshed.
When your mind is focused on what you can’t control, you’re wasting resources. Get focused on what’s right in front of you, and you’ll have more energy to resist the next bad habit.
Design Your Environment For Success: Engage With positive people and ideas
“Be the designer of your world and not merely the consumer of it.” – James Clear
Strong willpower develops from consuming powerful, inspirational messages. Your willpower will not grow if you’re constantly obsessed with vapid, mundane, and morally-bankrupted works, philosophies, and ideas.
Therefore, consume the things which elevate you:
- I consume media where heroes win.
- I listen to podcasts focused on self-improvement.
- I engage with virtuous, kind people who push me to be a better person.
Of course, you need to keep expanding your mind. However, limit your intellectual exploration. I spend an hour to two hours a week reading articles, following the news, and expanding my understanding of the world around me. After my two hours are up, I return to my work, my family, and my health.
4. Clean Your Environment: Keep your areas as clean as possible
Lastly, if you want to excel at habits, you need to clean your environment. The more clutter you have in your area, the harder it is to focus. Why? Firstly, clutter distracts you. You’ll struggle to focus on an assignment if there’s a pile of papers on the corner of your desk. You’ll spend more time thinking about filing the documents.
Secondly, clutter makes finding what you need more difficult. When I wanted to draw, I would sometimes lose my favorite pen under all the junk I had lying around. The loss of my pen and the struggle to find it demoralized me. I failed at maintaining my daily habit.
Thirdly, clutter gives you a feeling of lacking control. If you can’t keep your house clean, how can you ever expect to improve as an individual? Succeeding in small ways, such as keeping your area neat, will always show you how you’re capable of excelling in significant ways.
How To Defeat Clutter
- You need to clean regularly – Schedule times to clean around the house and get rid of clutter. Certain areas of your home may have their special day: you can clean the bathroom on Wednesdays and clean the fridge every two weeks. By setting cleaning times, you’ll find it easier to keep everything together.
- Additionally, cleaning is an excellent way to procrastinate productively. Let’s say you have a report you don’t want to finish. Try cleaning around the home. Cleaning is a great way to step away from work and clear your head.
- Buy less shit – If you want fewer things to sort through, then buy less shit. Don’t submit to the notions of consumerism: you cannot keep up with the Joneses, and it’ll make you miserable if you try. Be frugal and reject buying clutter.
- Throw away what you don’t need – If you don’t need something, then consider giving it away or tossing it. Additionally, you could sell unwanted items and net a nice profit.
- If you need to, have a junk drawer for awkward things – Embarrassing but this is a viable solution. There are some items which are difficult to sort. Therefore, designate a junk drawer where you can toss items for sake keeping. Commit to sorting through the junk drawer every so often, so you don’t use it as a crutch.
Remember that distractions drain your willpower. You’ll become more focused if you improve your environment. Cleanliness makes finding items easier, and less clutter means less stress. Less stress means better mental health and emotional strength: two things necessary for forming better habits.
Return Power To Yourself
“Becoming the type of person you want to become — someone who lives by a stronger standard, someone who believes in themselves, someone who can be counted on by the people that matter to them — is about the daily process you follow and not the ultimate product you achieve.” – James Clear
If you want to build better habits, then you need to zero in on controlling your environment. Once you manage your environment, creating the best habits becomes much more straightforward.
Next week, we conclude with tracking and rewards. Habits are easier to break and easier to form when you track your actions and provide rewards for good behavior. Come back next week for the conclusion to the habit series.
- What is one aspect of your environment you don’t like? Is it a person you talk to or a piece of media you consume? What do you think would happen if you removed this negative influence from your life?
- What are the positive aspects of your environment? Is your home clean? Do kind people surround you? How can you strengthen these positive aspects of your environment?
- What’s one bad habit you’d love to break? How can you change your environment to help you break that habit?
- Atomic Habits by James Clear – The book which inspired this series, Atomic Habits is the definitive book on habits. James covers how to build better habits, overcome bad habits, and the wisdom of controlling your environment to become the best version of yourself.
- Motivation is Overvalued. Environment Often Matters More. by James Clear
- How to Improve Your Health and Productivity Without Thinking by James Clear
- What Is Character? Its 3 True Qualities and How to Develop It by Art of Manliness
- Change Your Life by Changing Your Environment by Zat Rana
- Is this Environment Empowering Me?
Please remember that it’s important to do the actionables. You’re not on this earth to simply read but to do. To become an individual, you must act more than you consume.
*Image credit to Unsplash.