Environmental Design: The Easiest Way To Kick Bad Habits

You might not need will power to change bad habits, maybe all you need is a change of environment. 06.10.24

Nobody's Perfect: We All Have Them

We all have terrible habits. It comes with the territory of being human. Okay maybe they aren't terrible, maybe they're just undesirable. Or maybe they actually are terrible. Let's just say we all could use some improvements. Life, much like a boat cast out into the ocean, rocks back and forth, constantly trying to keep balance. Both good and bad habits are a big part of that balance. Too many bad habits and the boat starts to tip.

You sleep in late too often, or you started to smoke cigarettes, bite your nails, let people take advantage of you, eat junk food, i mean this list could virtually go on forever. It doesn't take much to tip the boat.

Maybe It's Not Will Power That You Need

The first thing that comes to mind when we think of breaking a habit is "I need the will power" or "If only I was more motivated". New Years comes around and everyone starts posting on their social media accounts about how they've been a total piece of shit all year, and how they are ready to make amends with that former self. A New Me they say. They fill your feed for the next three to five weeks with a barrage of "See me, I'm doing it!" and "Look look look!" and then one day, it just suddenly stops.

It's hard to form good habits and keep them. It's much easier for the opposite; to form bad habits and maintain them. What if you didn't need to rely on will power or being self motivated to make the change though? What if there was an easier way. What if you were just merely a product of your environment?

Your bad habits are nested into your daily routine completely concealed from your conscious mind. You don't even notice when they are forming. It's like seeing your cousin who lives across the country. Two years has passed and all of the sudden he's grown two feet taller and has a full blown beard now.

Habits are much the same. Over time they grow stronger and more embedded into our existence unbeknownst to us. A catalyst occurs and it's brought to our attention. Normally this is someone close to us finally speaking up and saying "Hey I see you over there, stop being such a piece of shit". And then we finally see ourselves in the act. We can look in the mirror and see ourselves for what we are: An awesome person with a really bad habit.

All Habits Start With A Trigger

What's a trigger? A trigger at its root is a stimulus that elicits a reaction. For the slower, less technical folk like myself, it's whatever cues up a craving. We don't even notice them. They come in all shapes and forms, from something we see, to a smell, or even something we hear. So first we identify the habit, and then we identify what triggers it.

Examples of Triggers In Real Life

Let's take some examples from every day life to help identify what a trigger might look like.

I’ve had plenty of friends in my life tell me they want to quit smoking. And I always am curious and ask “Well when do you smoke the most? Where are you?” Ninety percent of them will reply with very specific times and places. Wake up, make coffee, front porch: smoke. Get in the car to go somewhere: smoke. Told you get a fifteen minute break from work: smoke. Every time they are triggered it's a familiar place or event that provokes it. The smell of coffee, the act of driving, hearing "take a break" - all of these are triggers. For me personally when I'm watching an older movie and someone lights up a cigarette, that's a trigger. No idea why, but that's it. I see it and *boom*.

○ Get home, throw your stuff on the table, turn on the TV and catch sight of the couch: grab a snack. The sight of the couch and tv trigger that feeling of hunger. You might not even be hungry but you make a snack to enjoy while watching your new show.

○ End of the night lie down in the bed and open up your phone: commence doom scroll. The act of laying down and being in bed make way for social media doom scrolling.

○ Hanging out at home and someone in the house cracks a can of soda or beer: beer time. The sound of a can popping prompts the desire for a cold one.

○ You start to think about the gigantic list of things you need to get done this week and start to feel stressed: eat. Food is a form of comfort, it hits our dopamine receptors dead on, often times when we feel strung out, we eat because it feels good and takes our mind off the negative feelings.

You don't have to be Einstein to see where I'm going with this. Triggers surround us in our day to day lives. Our best defense to them is to be tuned in and self aware.

Changing Your Environment To Break The Cycle

Ever noticed on vacation it's a lot easier to shake a bad habit off? Why is this? Well first off there is definitely a void of stress while being on vacation, we get to leave all of life's wonderful problems back at home. So that's one. But second, we get to leave all those wonderful triggers at home too. If we can displace ourselves from the situations that trigger the bad habits, we are much more likely to be able to avoid them all together.

Triggers come from our environment. If everytime you sit down at your home desk to work, you immediately get a craving for something sweet, what if you go to the library or somewhere quiet that's outside of the house to work instead? You always smoke when you get in the car, well this is definitely a case by case but if public transportation is possible choice or riding a bike, could you do that instead? See where I'm going with this? By shaking up our environment and surroundings, we have a better chance at actually breaking the cycle.

How To Identify And Change The Habit

1. Identify the habit you want to change
2. Identify where and when you are falling victim to the habit (environment)
3. Identify what the exact trigger is
4. Come up with a substitute action or gameplan
5. React on it
6. Be patient with yourself

Using Environments To Formulate New, Better Habits

We can use our environment to not only recognize our bad habits, but also to develop better, new ones. Number one is reducing the effort to act on the new one. You want to run more, put your running shoes in a place where you can see them, preferably by the door. The trigger could be catching sight of them. You want to start reading more, put your book on the couch so instead of watching TV and snacking, you pick it up and read a few pages instead. You want to drink more water, buy a big water bottle and stick it on the center of your counter so every day you remember to fill it. You want to feel better at home, get rid of all the clutter lying around the house.

Personally, I wanted to be able to cut my cravings for sweets. Around ten o'clock at night when I plop down on the couch, I get this sudden urge. There's just something about sitting on the couch that triggers a craving for something sugar-packed. And I know I'm not only speaking for myself here, plenty of us fall victim to this daily. I knew if I limited the sweets at home (my environment), that come ten o'clock I wouldn't have anything to indulge in and I'd be too tired at that point to go to the store and buy something. Over time I was able to adjust to the idea of not having sweets. I still get the cravings all the time, but I'm less vulnerable to them. I know my laziness to go to the store will trump my desire to smash a bunch of sweets. See, and there's using a negative attribute to benefit myself. Ha! Being lazy is a good thing!

Friends Are A Part Of Your Environment

Your social environment is just as important as your physical. Our friends play a major role in the habits we keep. You want to stop drinking alcohol. Well if all of your friends are always involving drinking in their plans, it's going to be a lot harder to stop for you. The wonderful degenerate friends that keep us laughing also keep us drinking. It's hard to stop when every time we do anything, there is a bottle of vodka or sixer involved. If your friends all eat fast food regularly and you are trying to cut it out of your diet, it's going to be tougher. Same goes for committing crimes, using drugs, smoking cigarettes; whatever habits they keep you are automatically going to be more susceptible to. The people we surround ourselves with have a direct impact on our lives and the habits we keep.

Bottom Line: Bad Habits Are Annoying

We all can agree that bad habits at their core are super annoying. They are that reminder of how much our self control can suck. I'm going to leave this with an ode to self awareness. It's the final piece. If you aren't self aware of your surroundings, then it's going to be impossible to impliment any sort of change. You have to able to identify your habits and what triggers them. This won't just happen overnight either. You have to keep your expectations in check with your timeline. Start small. Practice mindfulness and being aware of your surroundings. You have to visualize the change, and see yourself making it. You got this. Bad habits suck. Curb them with your environment.

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