For the New Year: Creating Your Habit Environment

Photo by ianhun2009

Photo by ianhun2009

Let’s imagine that you’re going to change your diet — you’re going from eating chips, ho-hos, Double Down Chicken Sandwiches and taco “meat” in a Dorito shell, to eating fruits and veggies and beans and nuts and whole grains.

Sound easy?

But when you’re stressed and tired from a long day of rebranding meetings and obsessively checking your Facebook, and don’t have much willpower, you’ll reach for the easiest snack, the thing you’re used to and comfortable with.

And when your co-workers or family breaks out the cupcakes or homemade cookies, you can’t resist the temptation, just this once.

Old habits are hard to break for many reasons, but your environment is one of the biggest. Stay in your old environment, and your old habits will be much harder to change. But change your environment, and it’s easy.

Some examples:

  • Go to a retreat and eat nothing but the delicious and healthy vegetarian food they make for you — that’s easy. Go back home when the retreat is over, and you fall back into your old patterns (i.e. stuffing your face with eggo waffles and bacon).
  • Hang out with a bunch of runners who invite you on some beautiful runs, and it’s easy to become a regular runner. But hang out with people who like to watch sports on TV all weekend, or play video games, or drink beer at pubs, and you’re less likely to run regularly.
  • Hang out with smokers, at places where everyone smokes, and you’re not likely to kick the habit.
  • Having junk food all around you at home and in the workplace, and when your willpower isn’t strong, you’ll give in.

There might be some of us who can overcome a more difficult habit environment, but why make it so much harder on yourself?

Change your habit environment to one that’s geared to a successful habit change. Because, you know, life’s too short to keep messing up your habits.

Ways to Change Your Habit Environment

Some examples things you can change that will help you succeed:

  • Hang out with people who are doing the habit you want to do.
  • If there are people around you who don’t do the habit you want to do (i.e. they’re smokers or put bacon grease in all their food), talk to them about what you’re trying to do, and ask for their help. Ask them to support you, and not rag on you all the time for changing. If they can’t do this, consider dumping them. That’s harsh, but what kind of friends won’t support you?
  • Get rid of junk food (or cigarettes, etc.) in your home and office.
  • Have only healthy things around you. Prepare them in advance, when you’re not tired.
  • Block websites that distract you, if you’re trying to procrastinate less.
  • Join a supportive community online who are doing the things you want to do.
  • Read blogs and books that inspire you to do the habit.
  • Have reminders all around you.
  • Develop a mantra, and put it on your computer and phone.
  • Ask people around you to remind you.
  • Create a public challenge for yourself, to create accountability.
  • Have a habit partner you report to each day, and make a vow never to miss.
  • Blog about it daily.
  • Go for regular runs, walks or hikes with a friend. Meet every day — if you’re meeting someone, you’ll make sure to be on time.

The possibilities are endless, but by trying out one or two ideas at a time, you can craft a habit environment that works for you.

If it isn’t working, change your environment again. Keep doing it until the habit sticks.

If you need more accountability, crank it up with a challenge. If you are giving in to temptation, remove the temptation. If you keep forgetting, put up reminders or have someone help you. If you need supportive people, find them and make them a regular part of your life.

There are no excuses, only an environment waiting to be changed.


Reprinted with permission from http://zenhabits.net/ (public domain).

Leo Babauta is the creator and writer for Zen Habits. He’s married with six kids and lives in San Francisco (previously on Guam). Leo is a writer and a runner and a vegan.

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