Recently, I started to use a simple strategy to break my unhealthy habits (like eating a plate full of cookies) and create healthy habits (like flossing every day).
This little tactic is so simple that you’ll be able to implement it in just a few seconds, but if you’re anything like me, it can make a big difference in your life.
Here’s how it works…
The Impact of Your Environment
How much time do you spend thinking about how the environment you live in (your home, your office, and your community) determines the type of actions you take?
If you’re like me, this isn’t something that you actively consider very often.
But I’m just starting to realize how important your environment is for achieving your goals. This is especially true if your goal is to create healthy habits.
Earlier this week, I wrote about the importance of starting. I believe that the ability to consistently start new behaviors is one of the most critical steps for achieving long term success.
But, as you have probably noticed already, starting a new habit isn’t easy and breaking your bad ones can be even more difficult.
In many cases, there’s a simple reason for this…
The environment that you live in makes it easier to practice bad habits (which is why you’re doing them now) and more difficult to practice good ones (which is why it’s hard to stick to your new behaviors, even if you really want to make a change).
Another way of saying this is that your environment (where you live, where you work, and where you socialize) is designed in a particular way that may not be optimal for your goals.
It doesn’t have to be that way though. Here’s what you can do about it…
The Visibility Method
When I started analyzing my own behavior, I noticed that many of the actions I took each day were simply a response to the way things were organized around me.
For example, when there was a plate of cookies on the counter, I would eat one (or five) each time I walked into the kitchen. I didn’t do this because I wanted a cookie. I didn’t have a craving for it — at least, not until I saw it. I was simply responding to the environment around me.
After thinking about this, I’ve started to design my environment in very small ways to make it easier to get started on the things I want to do and harder to get started on the things I don’t want to do.
The basic idea is that if I want to do something, I try to make it visible to me. I put it in a location where I won’t forget about it when it comes time to do it.
For example, I’ve placed my vitamins on top of the refridgerator. That way, when it’s time to eat, I see them sitting right there in front of me and I’m reminded to take my vitamins.
This idea of making the habits I want to perform more visible and the habits I don’t want to perform less visible is a simple technique that I’ve started to call the “Visibility Method.”
Here are two more examples…
Example 1: Breaking Unhealthy Habits
If you want to make it easier to break a bad habit, then you need to increase the number steps required to perform that habit.
Remember my habit of eating a cookie each time I walk into the kitchen? Well, if I put those cookies into a tupperware and place them in the pantry, then it turns out that I am much less likely to eat them. The simple act of taking them out of my sight makes them easier to deny. In fact, I don’t even think about them unless I see them. Out of sight, out of mind.
The overall goal here is to increase the number of steps required to perform your bad habits. Taking things out of plain sight is one way to do this. The pantry door seems like a pretty insignificant barrier between myself and a cookie, but it turns out to be enough to kick the habit. Any barriers that you can put between you and your bad habits will make it easier for you stay on track.
Example 2: Creating Healthy Habits
If you want to make it easier to create a good habit, then you need to decrease the number steps required to perform that habit.
For example, my parents did a great job of getting me to build the habit of brushing my teeth from an early age. Twice a day, every day. And it’s been like that for all of my life.
Flossing, on the other hand, was a different story.
I just never got into it. There were all sorts of reasons. This included logical things (I wouldn’t remember to take the floss out of the drawer) and weird things (I didn’t like wrapping the floss around my fingers).
Regardless, even though I tried to remember to floss everyday, I rarely would.
Today, I floss every day without fail. Here’s what changed…
First, I switched from using the long string of floss to using pre–made flossers. That made the process simpler and didn’t require me to wrap the floss around my fingers.
Second, I bought a little bowl, filled it with the pre–made flossers, and placed it next to my toothbrush. That way I didn’t have to remember to take the floss out of the drawer.
These two changes solved most of the problems, but I would still forget to floss on occasion. The final change I made was to take the lid off of the bowl so that I would always see the flossers each time I brushed my teeth.
With the flossers visible on the bathroom counter, I never forget to floss.
Trust me, I know this extended discussion about my flossing habits sounds ridiculous, but the fact is that the environment that you live in can drive your behavior. This is true whether you actively design your environment or not.
The items we see around our homes, our offices, and our community can act as triggers for good habits and bad ones. To put it simply, the environment you live in dictates your behavior more than you may want to admit.
This is something that we often overlook and we end up being the victim of our environment instead of the architect of it. Instead, use this to your advantage and design an environment that makes it easier to achieve your goals.
Putting The Visibility Method Into Practice in Your Life
There are all sorts of ways that you can use this the Visibility Method to make it easier to stick to healthy habits and break unhealthy ones.
Want to drink more water each day? Buy a special water bottle and put it on your desk. Take a drink each time you look at it.
Wish you would read more? Place a book in the same spot that you usually keep the TV remote control.
Want to become more creative? Put your camera next to your car keys. Take a photo of something new each time you leave the house. It can be a photo of anything.
Having trouble getting up for that morning run? Set your clothes and running shoes out the night before and place them by your bed. When your alarm goes off, your clothes will be the first thing you see in the morning.
Getting stressed out and forgetting to take time to breathe? Set a reminder on your calendar for mid–morning and mid–afternoon. Each time the reminder goes off, breathe in deeply through your nose for 3 seconds and breathe out fully through your mouth for 5 seconds. Repeat this 5 times. It’s a quick de–stressing technique that takes less than a minute to complete.
You get the idea.
Design your environment to make the reminders of your healthy habits more visible and the reminders of your unhealthy habits less visible. This simple strategy makes change easier and is a quick way to tailor your environment to support your goals.