Cognitively we know that if we want a different outcome, we have to do something different. However, if we do not make any changes to the environment in which we are living and working, the changes that we are attempting are much less likely to happen.
We must acknowledge first that motivation waxes and wanes. No one can sustain high levels of motivation twenty-four hours a day. So, as we are planning out the changes that we want to implement, we must do the most demanding tasks around change when our motivation is high and have the environment set up to support us when our motivation is low.
We must also acknowledge that no matter how much willpower we feel we have, if our environment is working against our desire to change rather than supporting it, we are in for a very bumpy ride. In so many ways, the habits of our current culture work against the natural rhythms in our bodies and set us up for living in stress response. We are overworked, under-rested, overstimulated, and under-connected. This state of living is not only supported and spurned on by our culture, but it is also taking its toll on the health of our bodies, brains, and relationships, not to mention our dreams.
To support our desire to change, it is more helpful to create an environment that encourages the change to happen more easily, rather than attempt to rely on the depletable resource of willpower. The environment referred to here includes not only our physical spaces, but also the help of social connection with others and the setup of painful consequences for not following through.
The behaviors that we currently have are all shaped and reinforced by the environments that we live and work in as well as the people we surround ourselves with. Just as our values were influenced by the people and places in which we were raised, our habits are reinforced or broken by the same. And knowing this, we can set ourselves up for more success through a shorter timeline. Many are not reaching their highest potential in life simply because the environment in which they are living is maintaining who they have been.
Once we have made the decision to change, we must acknowledge that our environment is supporting the old identity. If no changes take place in the environment, it will work against good intentions and keep things just as they are. If this were not true, our life would already be different.
The first step here is to clean out all the things in the environment that are supporting who we used to be. We must remember that everything in our universe is energy and our environment supports the vibration we are living in- or were living in. We can make forward progress much easier by removing the things that are keeping us tied to the past. A great resource on this process is Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. She states that “A dramatic reorganization of the home causes correspondingly dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective. It is life transforming.” This is a way to make the process of becoming much easier with an environment that supports and represents our next identity.
This step also means assessing what beliefs, behaviors, and patterns can be “cleaned out” or discarded that are distracting us from working toward or reaching our goals. Often, when an old habit or behavior is being discarded, it is replaced with a different behavior that also does not support healthier living. Recognizing which habits are getting too much time and attention to continue will be just as helpful in the cleaning out process as removing items from the environment.
We want to set our environment up to prompt the desired behaviors and to encourage us to follow through on the new habits. When overcoming something like an addiction or unhelpful ways of coping, we must also look at how the environment is triggering the desire to revert to the old behavior.
Recognizing that our environment can influence us in that way, we can also begin to manipulate the environment to trigger a different and more desired behavior. As an example, think about wanting to stop eating sweets, but having cookies and candy in the pantry right next to the items you reach for to cook dinner every day. Taking control of the environment can change the behavior. The opposite is also true. If we set out the shoes, clothes, and equipment next to the bed for a morning workout with the ritual of putting on the workout clothes upon arising, our chances of working out are much greater.
Setting up an environment to support the next identity also requires checking in with the support people that are in place for the new behavior. Connection is the key to our nervous system’s feeling that it is safe to change. Identifying the right people on whom to lean for accountability and support will also enable the new behaviors to become automated more quickly. A huge trigger for unhelpful and unhealthy behaviors including numbing out and addiction is feeling alone. When we have someone we can discuss our goals and progress with or even work toward those goals with, our chances of success skyrocket. The key to remember is that we do not have to have the new behavior in place or even have the old behaviors extinguished before we can reach out to others for support. This applies to any behavior, including things like caffeine intake and social media distraction.
Finally, if we are setting up our external environment to encourage the new behaviors, we also want to set up the internal environment to do the same. That means committing to the changes and even writing the commitment out to better hold ourselves accountable. When we have a signed contract with ourselves, we are more motivated to uphold the commitment. When we make a decision and our brain believes that this decision cannot be reversed, it releases chemicals to support our decision, so that we feel more confident about it and more equipped to be successful in reaching the goal. Our posture even changes when we are fully committed to something rather than just considering it.
So, this week, commit to what you want and who you want to be. Check out how you can change your environment to support that intention. And remember that I will be practicing right along with you.
Chat again soon,