“You don’t have to be the victim of your environment. You can also be the architect of it.” James Clear
“Man is largely a creature of habit, and many of his activities are more or less automatic reflexes from the stimuli of his environment.” G. Stanley Hall
Change agents frequently find that what appears to be a people problem is a situation problem. Instead of trying to change people’s attitudes, they tweak the environment and make change happen painlessly. Instead of relying on workers following proper procedures, safety engineers install guards and controls to prevent workers from taking shortcuts. They know that it’s easier to tweak the environment than to force compliance. We can likewise tweak our own environment to foster good habits and discourage bad ones.
One of the most destructive myths related to behavior change is that it is difficult. It doesn’t have to be. Our habits don’t occur in a vacuum. They are triggered by prompts in our environment. Remove those negative cues, create a positive environment, and change happens naturally.
If you are overly reliant on willpower, it means you are operating in a negative environment. Change will be difficult if you don’t do something about it, but not because it had to be. It’s like choosing to take a long journey with pebbles in your shoes instead of removing them first. Every temptation you fail to remove will ceaselessly chip away at your willpower until you give in during a moment of weakness.
We often attribute good habits to willpower and discipline, and while these things are important, the environment plays a bigger role. It is much easier to develop good habits in a positive environment. An environment that makes good behavior easy and obvious is the key. Atomic Habits author James Clear says, “If you want to make a habit a big part of your life, make the cue a big part of your environment.”
Our brain is continually acting on environmental cues. We walk into a library, and we talk in whispers. We walk down a dark alley, and we become guarded. Our habits are profoundly influenced by our environment. Like flowing water, our actions seek the path of least resistance.
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