Don't Blame Yourself. Blame (and Change) Your Environment.
The human brain is a remarkable prediction machine. Whether you are conscious of the fact or not, our brains are continuously taking in information from our surroundings and making split second decisions to put us in the best position (under it’s current understanding) to be successful.
Oh, mom’s making tea and the kettle is sitting on top of a blazing fire….I probably shouldn’t touch that.
oh, it’s snowing outside…..it’s probably cold, I should dress warm to avoid getting sick.
oh, I’m in Kansas, there’s a tornado coming through, this didn’t fare too well for Dorothy & Toto last time…..I think I’ll stay inside today.
Through repetition, our brains begin to notice the important cues, and catalogue their results for future use. This way we can make quick, effortless decisions that save our energy for new situations/circumstances that may arise.
Unfortunately for us, we have gotten too good at accounting for this and sometimes the outcome is less than desirable. Not only have manufacturers gotten the exact science down of how a product should taste (i.e sweet, crunchy, salty, etc) in order to hook us, but they also understand the strong role that environment plays in the actions we take. Environment is the invisible hand that shapes our behavior.
You ever walk into a store with the intention to buy something small like a roll of paper towels, but end up leaving with a stick of gum, a flat screen tv, and two kids of different nationalities? That is no coincidence. People often choose products not because of what they are, but where they are. Our decisions aren’t as rational and as “ours” as we would like to believe. For example, items at eye level in grocery stores tend to be purchased more than those near the ground. End caps, or units situated towards the end of aisles also experience similar success. The more “obvious” a product or service is, the more likely it is that you will try it.
How does this apply to you?
Well, fortunately the same concepts being used to get you to consume can be used to help you succeed in your effort to maintain healthy eating habits.
If you want to build good habits, you need to make them the obvious choice and you need to make them easy to perform. We tend to lean towards choices that are most convenient and require the least effort. It’s not lazy it’s just human nature. You’ve got to work with that fact and not against it.
With this fact in mind, design your environment to help you succeed. If you are looking to build better habits make it “easy to do right” and troublesome to adapt habits that bring you further away from your goals.
Looking to eat a more nutrient dense breakfast?
Set yourself up from success by laying out the pots, utensils, and ingredients the night before to make things easy.
Looking to eat more fruits and vegetables?
Put them on display on your countertop, instead of at the back of your fridge where you will forget about them. Cut up some veggies and fruit and put them in a container so that they are easily accessible.
Want to get up and go to the gym early?
Lay out your workout clothes and sneakers, so that when you wake up in the morning they are already waiting for you.
If you are trying to break a habit, make it difficult to make that choice.
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, don’t just rely on willpower. It’s a losing battle. Instead, clear your environment of the item in general or have a significant other/child/etc hide it from you.
What are some specific habits that you are struggling with building or breaking right now?
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