Getting in shape, quitting smoking, having a healthy diet, reading more, taking cold showers, being more productive, spending less time on social media ...
Whatever you are trying to change in your life, it almost always involves establishing a new habit or changing an old one.
One term that is closely related to the art of building new habits, is the concept of Willpower. Many people think it is enough to simply force themselves to stick to their chosen habit through willpower and discipline and the behavior eventually will become an effortless habit.
However, willpower can be compared to a muscle, a source of energy that depletes over time. Relying only on willpower could serve in the very beginning when motivation is still very high. Whatever goal you have set for yourself, you are excited to give it a shot and eagerly do the first steps.
Over time your willpower will decrease. This depletion can be seen over the course of several days and weeks, but also in a single day, as your willpower starts off high in the morning and declines towards the evening.
At this point it will be very difficult to pack your bag for the gym, to resist that delicious pizza around the corner, or to finish that book instead of wasting time on social media.
To make you stick to your habits and ultimately let them become automated, the solution simply is to make sticking to them easier.
As human beings we always prefer the path of least resistance, so why not designing our habits as the path of least resistance?
This is where Environmental Design comes into play. Its basic idea is to design your environment in such a way that doing the activity you are trying to make a habit of will become the default state, because there is nothing in its way that could distract you from doing it.
In their book Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard, Dan and Chip Heath use the The Path you’re traveling on as a representation for your environment and emphasize the importance of making the desired path as easy as possible while making the undesired path as hard as possible.
A good example of how to use Environmental Design is your phone. The first thing many people do after waking up is to reach for their smartphone and check messages, e-mails or notifications from social media. This sets you in a reactive state and will prevent you from focusing on your true priorities.
Therefore, before going to bed, intelligently design your environment. Put your phone in airplane mode and place it somewhere impossible to reach from your bed. Prepare your to-do list with the 5 most important things you want to achieve the following day and place it somewhere you can see it as soon as you wake up.
After waking up, you can directly focus on the tasks that lie ahead. Should you still instinctively reach for your phone, there will be no distractions available due to the airplane mode.
This will allow you to start your days in a productive instead of reactive state.This is one of the most important aspects of productivity, because remember:
“If you commit to nothing, you’ll be distracted by everything”
If you try to maintain a healthy diet, only buy whole, unprocessed food. If you don’t have any junk food, you can’t eat it.
If you have problems going to the gym regularly, try to pack your bag early in the morning or even after your last workout and put it where you can see it all the time.
Going to the gym, is actually a process of several steps, which starts with packing your bag. If this step is already done and you focus on the next small step to come, which is getting on the way to the gym, it will be easier for you to stick to all the further small steps that make up the habit of working out regularly.
By breaking the desired habit down into small parts that you complete step by step the whole process becomes automated and you will have your workout finished without even realizing it.
So whenever your willpower is low and you don’t have the motivation to stick to your habit, make sure that your environment is designed in a way that makes it easy for you to start with the smallest step which lies at the beginning of the activity and then focus on the next step to come until the activity becomes automated and you achieve what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls Flow state.
Over time, you will get a feeling for how to surpass the hurdles of low motivation, laziness and lack of willpower and will be able to make lasting change by sticking to your habits.
Call To Action
Think of which distractions in your life hinder you from achieving your goals and consciously start to design your environment accordingly.
What are your struggles when it comes to sticking to your habits? Which techniques and ideas do you use to build strong habits? Let me know in the comment box below!