Lesson 4: How to Design Your Environment for Success

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Welcome to Week 2.

At this stage, you know the desired identity you’re trying to build. You have a two-minute version of your habit that reinforces that identity, and you’ve designed a clear and specific implementation intention for inserting this small habit into your daily routine.

Now it’s time for us to discuss a few strategies to optimize this process and make it even easier to stick with your new habit day in and day out.

One of the simplest ways to do this is to make the cues that trigger and prompt your habits as obvious and as visible as possible.

Every habit is initiated by a cue, and we are more likely to notice the cues that stand out. Creating obvious visual cues can draw your attention toward your desired habit.

Unfortunately, the environments where we live and work often make it easy to not do certain actions because there is no obvious cue to trigger the behaviour. It’s easy to not eat fruits and vegetables when they are out of sight in the bottom of the fridge. It’s easy to not do yoga when your yoga mat is hidden away in a box in the basement. It’s easy to not write “thank you” notes when the stationery is stashed away on a seldom-seen shelf. When the cues that spark a habit are subtle or hidden, they are easy to ignore.

For this reason, redesigning your environment can be one of the most effective steps you can take to instil good habits. I refer to this process as “environment design”, and I’ve experienced the power of this approach in my own life.

I like to wear my wrist watch but would forget wear it a lot of times in the past. I attempted to build a habit by implementing some of the ideas we already talked about. wearing a watch is a quick action that takes less than two minutes to do, so it satisfies the two-minute rule. I was good to go there.

Next, I created an implementation intention: I will wear my watch after I come out from the bathroom after my bath. But even with this simple and effective setup, I would only wear it occasionally. One of the key issues holding me back was the layout of the environment.

At the time, I was keeping my watch at various places after  taking it off. Because it was out of sight, I would forget to wear it. I had a good plan and clear implementation intention, but I just wouldn’t think to look for it. I never saw the watch, so I forgot to wear it a lot of times. The cue wasn’t obvious.

Environment design was the strategy that got me over the hump. I decided to keep the watch next to my reading glasses every time I went for a bath. Now, it was out in the open, next to my reading glasses where I could easily see it. Almost like magic, this simple environment change was all it took for me to stick with the habit of wearing my watch. When combined with my implementation intention, it was easy for me to follow the new behaviour. I will pick up the watch after I put on my reading glasses. Now I’ve been doing it this way for a couple of years, since I have to wear my reading glasses to start work.

Let’s discuss a few ways you can use environment design to support and reinforce your habit intentions. Here are a few ways you can redesign your environment and make the cues for your good habits more obvious:

  • If you want to remember to do five burpees before you get in the shower, add a Post-It note to the shower door.
  • If you want to remember to refill your water bottle every time it’s more than halfway empty, use a Sharpie to draw a small line at the halfway mark on the water bottle.
  • If you want to remember to write in your journal for five minutes at 8 am, store the journal on the kitchen table so you see it when you sit down for breakfast every morning.
  • If you want to remember to read a book instead of looking at your phone every time you’re bored, set your phone’s lock screen photo to be a photo of the book you’re trying to finish.
  • If you want to remember to go for a run every morning, lay out your workout clothes and shoes the night before.
  • If you want to remember to practice your Spanish, lay out your flash cards on the kitchen table so you can flip through them as you eat.

Say you want to write five hundred words each day. When you leave your bedroom in the morning, close the door and put a Post-It Note directly at eye level that says, “Write 500 words.” At bedtime, you are not allowed to open the door until those words are written.

Similarly, if you want to begin each day by reading a good book or doing yoga or meditating, put a Post-It Note on your phone when you go to bed that says, “Do 5 minutes of yoga”. When you wake up, you’re not allowed to take off the Post-It Note and use your phone until you’ve completed the habit.

I think we can summarize this strategy as follows: If you want to make a habit a big part of your life, you need to make the cue a big part of your environment. Make sure the best choice is the most obvious one. In the long-run (and often in the short-run), your willpower will not beat your environment.

You can alter the spaces where you live and work to increase your exposure to positive cues. Making a better decision is easy, natural even, when the cues for good habits are right in front of you.

That’s all for Lesson 4. See you in the next lesson,

Vikaas Kausshik

p.s. If you want to tell a friend about 30 Days to Better Habits, you can use the sharing links below, or just copy and paste this URL to send to them: 30 Days to Better Habits

Helpful bonuses and downloads

  •  30 days to better habits workbook – This 20-page PDF includes an action checklist (including templates for key strategies) for each lesson of the course, plus lesson summaries and a key terms dictionary.
  • 30 days to better habits examples – The examples database is a Excel Sheet of 100+ examples of how to implement each strategy covered in this bootcamp for dozens of different habits.