Have Bad Habits? Focus on Changing Your Enviroment

Today’s post is all about habit formation and the positive impact small changes to your environment can have on your health, productivity and overall happiness. A few months back, I read something that really stuck with me, it went something like this (paraphrasing a bit here):

Too often in life, we think that in order to change our behaviors, we need to change ourselves. For example, if one is overweight, they feel the need to be more like a lean individual. They place the emphasis on changing who they are rather than simply changing their environment. They start shaming certain food groups, hating the person they see in the mirror, and doing all they can to model those with bodies they feel they should have. They buy weight-loss pills in attempt to loose weight fast, yell at their peers for bringing cookies to work, and avoid going out to dinner with friends. Unfortunately, what usually happens to these individuals is not sustained behavior change leading to long-lasting results. Instead, these individuals often have decreased happiness scores as a result of the stress placed on trying to personify someone they are not. How much easier would it be if this individual could simply make some small changes in their environment to favor a healthier lifestyle rather than feeling the need to change who they are?

I think the reason this quote really hits home is because I’d venture to say that almost everyone reading this post has made changes in their life to model that of someone else- an athlete, actor/actress, popular classmate, or anyone else possessing a highly desirable trait. This is evident in the field of health and wellness. We see an athlete, crossfitter, or popular blogger using a certain product, performing a certain exercise or following a particular diet, and we immediately adopt that change in an attempt to produce an identical result. Sure, sometimes these changes can be positive, but more often than not, they are short-lived, producing only a temporary dopamine surge. The reason they are so short-lived? I suppose I’m not completely qualified to answer that, but I can make the assumption that the reason is due to the fact that often times the changes we attempt to make often fail to align with our genetics, environment and individual needs, leading to limited results (if any). Further, we often try to make changes that will produce results overnight, which is simply unrealistic.

But what if instead of focusing on changing ourselves, we shifted our attention to our environment, as mentioned in the quote above. Using the above example of attempting to lose weight, wouldn’t it be less stressful to start your journey by simply removing poor food options from your home rather than shaming yourself into an extremely strict diet that you heard worked for someone else? I sure think so. You see, when it comes to living a healthy life, nothing impacts us more than our immediate environment. What’s more is that because we all carry different genes and have different needs, we simply can’t expect what works for others to work for us, this is why focusing on your environment is a great place to start when it comes to a wide variety of behavior changes.

Here are a few more examples of environmental changes as they relate to health and wellness goals:

**The key here is to make the environmental change obvious, as silly it may seem.

  1. To increase physical activity: place a set of dumbells, a kettlebell or a pair of sneakers in front of your door. This way, each time you enter the door, you have a reminder to exercise (put a hand-written sign if you need an additional push). Other examples would be replacing a chair with an exercise bike, or opting for the stairs instead of the elevator. You'd be surprised how much an impact this has.

  2. To avoid spending money- only carry cash. We don’t like spending cash. The act of handing someone else your hard earned money is painful, so try ditching your cards for a few months and sticking to just cash.

  3. To decrease stress- set a reminder to meditate for 5 minutes every morning before you start your day. To make it even more of a commitment, set a yoga mat up in your room beside your bed to remind yourself upon waking.

  4. To increase work productivity- get a jar and fill it with marbles equal to the number of tasks you’d like to complete. After completion of every task, move one marble to an adjacent jar, until the first jar is empty. (courtesy of Atomic Habits by James Clear)

While I know these changes may seem obvious, if you’re struggling to achieve a certain goal, try changing your environment. Give yourself some credit and realize that you don’t need to live someone else’s life, you need to optimize your own.