Environment Often Matters More Than Motivation.
In his book Germs, Guns, and Steel, anthropologist and author Jared Diamond points out that different continents have different shapes.
North and South America are tall and narrow, with a north-south orientation. The same is true for Africa. But Europe and Asia are flat and wide, with an east-west orientation.
It turns out that this difference in shapes played an important role in the spread of agriculture.
Many farms and villages in Europe and Asia were located on similar latitudes. This meant their weather patterns, amount of sunlight, and seasons were all similar. This enabled farmers from Western Europe all the way to China to grow the same crops with similar farming techniques.
This was not true for farmers in north-south oriented continents since sunlight, seasonal changes, and temperatures change dramatically when you move north and south. Just think about how different the climate is in Florida compared to Minnesota.
This meant that farmers in these continents had to spend more time figuring out which crops grew best in different climates.
Because of this difference in shapes, agriculture spread much quicker in Europe and Asia. This meant populations grew at a quicker pace. And increased populations lead to larger armies, more technological innovation, more progress, and eventually more wealth and power.
The Importance of Environment
It was differences in environment, not differences in willpower, that gave farmers in Europe and Asia an agricultural advantage. It’s unlikely that European and Asian farmers were far more motivated and determined than those in the Americas and Africa. They simply had geographical advantages.
This example is important to read about because it brings up an often overlooked point: environment plays an important role in success.
Unfortunately, most of us downplay the importance of environment. When we see a successful person, we assume they got to where they were solely by their determination, grit, and inherent ability. And while these factors do play a role, it’s still difficult to succeed if you aren’t in the right environment.
The Relationship between Habits and Environment
F.M. Alexander once said:
“People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures.”
It’s no secret that habits are the cornerstone of success. It’s the little things you do day in and day out that determine your long-term success. This is why it’s so important to develop good habits.
Unfortunately, most people fail to realize that the environment they have set up for themselves is not conducive for developing good habits.
- It’s hard to eat healthy if you have candies and sweets in your kitchen.
- It’s difficult to sit and write on a daily basis if you write in a room with the TV on and your phone by your side.
- It’s tough to develop a nighttime reading habit if you keep your books stored in a hard-to-reach place in your closet.
James Clear makes this exact point in the video below from 2:10 to 3:10. He explains that one of the most overlooked drivers of your behavior is your environment:
“Your environment often influences your desire. We want things simply because they are an option, simply because they are in front of us at the time. Thankfully, you don’t have to be the victim of your environment, you can also be the architect of it. You can decide to design your environment to make your good behaviors easier and your bad behaviors harder.“
The key to developing good habits is to design an environment that makes them easier to do. James explains:
“When it comes to your habits, if you want to practice your guitar more frequently, put it right in the middle of your living room so you run across it all the time. You wanna read more? When you make your bed in the morning, take a book you want to read and put it on top of the pillow. When you come back that night, pick it up, read a few pages, then go to sleep. Many of our desires are simply shaped by our environment.
The moral of the story: I have never seen someone stick to positive habits in a consistent fashion in a negative environment. Maybe you can have the willpower to do the right thing one day, but if you’re constantly fighting against those forces, it’s going to be very hard to follow through.“
You don’t need to be the most strong-willed, focused, driven person on the planet to implement life-changing habits. You just need to set up the right environment that makes them easy to do.
Create an Environment that Encourages Positive Habits
Here are a few ways to design an environment that makes good habits easier to implement.
Use smaller plates to eat less. Studies show that when you use a small plate, even a small portion of food can cover most of the plate, which tricks your brain into thinking you’re eating more. This helps you feel full from eating a smaller portion.
Keep sweets and desserts hidden or nonexistent in your kitchen.We naturally eat what is readily available. If you have a cookie jar right in the middle of your kitchen, you’ll inevitably grab a cookie every now and then. If instead the cookie jar is hidden in a cabinet or other hard-to-reach place, you’re less likely to grab one. Out of sight, out of mind.
Meal prep. Prepare healthy meals on Sundays for the week ahead. This makes it easier to grab a healthy lunch on your way to work each morning instead of buying fast-food on your lunch break.
Unsubscribe from excessive email newsletters. Keep your inbox clear by unsubscribing from all those newsletters you never read anyway.
Listen to white noise while working for increased concentration. I personally listen to Noisli whenever I write.
Do your deep work at the same time each day. Whether you work best in the early mornings, late nights, or somewhere in between, start doing your deep, important work at the same time each day. This trains your brain to sink into a deeply concentrated state at the same time each day.
Automate your savings and investments. Set up automatic savings and investment plans on your brokerage accounts and retirement accounts to ensure that a chunk of your income flows to savings before you can even touch it. This also helps you resist the temptation to time the market. Instead of predicting when the market will rise or fall, you simply invest whenever you have cash available.
Track your spending and your net worth. What gets tracked gets improved. Either use a simple Excel spreadsheet or a free app like Mint to track both your spending and your net worth. By doing so, you’ll have a better idea of where your income is actually flowing to and where you need to tighten the reins on spending.
Listen to podcasts during commutes. Podcasts are the best way to eavesdrop on two smart people talking to each other. I personally use the free app Stitcher to listen to podcasts on the way to and from work each day. This is a great way to pick up bits and pieces of knowledge over time.
Make reading easy. Set a book right next to your bed. Before you fall asleep, read a few pages. Do this each night. You’ll be shocked at how much you can read over time. An added benefit: reading may help you fall asleep quicker.
Choose to be the Architect of Your Environment
As James Clear said:
“Your environment often influences your desire. We want things simply because they are an option, simply because they are in front of us at the time. Thankfully, you don’t have to be the victim of your environment, you can also be the architect of it. You can decide to design your environment to make your good behaviors easier and your bad behaviors harder.”
Choose to be the architect, not the victim, of your environment. Design your life so that positive habits become insanely easy to follow through with. Your future self will thank you for doing so.