Why you should engineer your environment for better habits

An important lesson I’ve learned in the last year is how important environment is for forming productive habits. Good habits don’t arise from exerting more will power. Instead, they come from engineering an environment that makes good habits easier, and bad habits harder.

For example, If you want to play more guitar and less video games, the solution is simple: engineer your environment so that it’s harder to play video games and easier to play guitar. Unplug the Xbox. Hide it in a closet. Remove it from your environment and increase the activation energy to start. Get your guitar out of its case and place it somewhere visible and accessible. I’ve noticed that even the slightest decrease in accessibility to my guitar (e.g. I have to reach over some furniture to pick it up) will have a significant effect on how often I play.

Your environment is more than the objects in your room. It’s the content of your phone and laptop. It’s the food in your fridge. It’s the people you spend time with. When you find yourself in the middle of a bad habit, ask yourself, what in your environment enabled it?

If I have junk food in the kitchen, I will eat it. If Instagram is on my phone’s home screen, I will open it. If my friends complain and insult others, I’ll join in. The list goes on, but the solution is usually straightforward. Change your environment. Don’t buy junk food. Delete Instagram. Find nicer friends.

Some of these changes are easier said than done, but my point is you can’t rely on will power alone to change your behavior. We all get inspired to change our habits from time to time. This usually comes with a burst of motivation. But that motivation will run out. If your environment still makes bad habits easy and good habits hard, you’ll fall back into old patterns. When you have that extra motivation to choose better habits, use it to engineer your environment and make that decision easier for future you.

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