Let’s say you have a goal to reduce your snacking.
You spend your morning with the goal in mind — feeling really good about the decision. At lunchtime, you purposefully turn your attention away from the brownies the cabinet and feel virtuous. Around 3pm, your stomach rumbles and you think about the brownies…and jerk your thoughts away. “No, I am not snacking” you remind yourself. You have a nice dinner and carefully eat the one square of chocolate you promised yourself. Then 9pm comes around and finds you shamefully shoveling brownie into your face with your bare hands over the sink.
The next morning you again commit to reduce your snacking as you clean the chocolate smears from your cheeks — feeling really good about the decision.
Its a vicious cycle.
And one that has been written about in far too many places for me to feel like I’d add much to the conversation. However, there is one small change that may have helped mitigate this cycle.
Imagine if the brownies were gone?
“You may think that you control most of your choices, but the truth is that a large portion of your actions every day are simply a response to the environment design around you. The forms you are mailed, the food on your kitchen counter, the items on your desk at work — they all impact your behavior in one way or another,” James Clear, author of Atomic Habits.
In other words, if you don’t create and control your environment, it will control you.
But, guess what? This is great because you can design your environment to work FOR you instead of against you — supplementing your willpower instead of eking it away.
By changing using the concept of environmental design, you can make it harder for yourself to do the ‘bad’ behaviors and easier to do the the ‘good’ ones.
Here are a few ways to get started:
- Notice what “sparks joy” for you and what does not.
Example: I hate waking up early and I hate when its cold. Its harder for me to stick to my goals of waking up early because its cold, and my bed is not. So I have my clothes waiting next to my heater so they are toasty. Slipping into a pair of baked socks and sweater is a nice reward for leaving my bed.
- Utilize wasted time to do the boring yet important tasks you want yourself to do.
Example: While driving, I floss my teeth with a flosser. Do I look weird? Yes. Do I care? No. It is easy to remember to floss because I have the flossers in my car door and a trash can to toss them in.
- Prepare for a task that takes some set up time before you need to do it. Conversely, make it a pain to get necessary supplies rrady for a task you don’t want to do.
Example: I am building the habit of removing my contacts nightly, but if I need to hunt down the case, the glasses, the cleaning solution…well its WAY easier to just sleep in them. So I have all these things in a cute container on my sink next to my yummy melatonin gummies (Pavlov would be proud). When I don’t want to look to be on my computer anymore, I put in the trunk of my car.
These are just a few ways to be nice to your inner angels and starve your inner devils. There are tons of ways to use environmental design in your own life, but the first way to begin is by noticing how your environment impacts your choices.
And once you notice it, what will you do to make a change?