How to Stick With Good Habits Even When Your Willpower is Gone
Most people think that building better habits or changing your actions is all about willpower or motivation. But the more I learn, the more I believe that the number one driver of better habits and behaviour change is the choice architecture of your environment.
To Change Your Behaviour, Change Your Environment
Every habit is initiated by a cue, and we are more likely to notice cues that stand out. Unfortunately, the environments where we live and work often make it easy to not do certain actions because there is no obvious cue to trigger the behaviour.
It’s easy to not practice guitar when it’s tucked away under the stairs. It’s easy to not read a book when the bookshelf is in the corner of the guest room. It’s easy to not take your vitamins when they are out of sight in the pantry. When the cues that spark a habit are subtle or hidden, they are easy to ignore.
Thankfully, there is good news in this respect. You don’t have to be the victim of your environment. You can also be the architect of it.
Here are a few ways you can redesign your environment and make the cues for your preferred habits more obvious:
If you want to remember to take your medication each night, put your pill bottle directly next to the faucet on the bathroom counter.
If you want to practice guitar more frequently, place your guitar stand in the middle of the living room.
If you want to remember to send more thank-you notes, keep a stack of stationery on your desk.
If you want to drink more water, fill up a few water bottles each morning and place them in common locations around the house.
If you want to make a habit a big part of your life, make the cue a big part of your environment. The most persistent behaviours usually have multiple cues. Consider how many different ways a smoker could be prompted to pull out a cigarette: driving in the car, seeing a friend smoke, feeling stressed at work, and so on.
The same strategy can be employed for good habits. By sprinkling triggers throughout your surroundings, you increase the odds that you’ll think about your habit throughout the day. Make sure the best choice is the most obvious one. Making a better decision is easy and natural when the cues for good habits are right in front of you.
So let us look at how we can apply the changing of our environment to a fitness perspective:
1. Changing gyms – sometimes we all become a little complacent at our usual gym. Changing gyms will revitalise this contagious motivation that surrounds us as we meet new people, learn new information, protocols, training methods, diet techniques and engage different muscles using a variety of different machines.
2. Making space – we may not feel so inclined to train at home if we are struggling for space and sometimes – we don’t want to be cooped up in the garage training where there is zero atmosphere. Why not clear out your living or spare room to make a small studio space where you can train more freely and enjoy your workout.
3. Get outside! – sometimes we get bored of looking through a single pane of glass at the local gym when doing our cardio on the treadmill, stepper or cross trainer. Yes it’s warmer/cooler and may be seen as safer but the same image in our minds can make us lose senses and focus towards a more intensified workout. With British Summertime now upon us why not put your headphones in, ignore the gym entrance and go for a stroll, run or park exercise routine over your local district. You’ll have the benefit of fresh air as oppose to air con and will feel a huge sense of relief as you complete your workout. For the runners amongst you; I can also guarantee you’ll complete a further distance than you would on the likes of a treadmill!
Environment design is powerful not only because it influences how we engage with the world but also because we rarely do it. Most people live in a world others have created for them. But you can alter the spaces where you live and work to increase your exposure to positive cues and reduce your exposure to negative ones. Environment design allows you to take back control and become the architect of your life. Be the designer of your world, and not merely the consumer of it.
Thanks for reading – Coach SLF.