Creating good habits and breaking bad ones is a process that requires plenty of effort and a serious dose of determination. The good news is there are strategies you can adopt to increase your chances of success. This article will focus on creating the right mental and physical environment to allow your new habits to thrive.
The Role of Your Environment
First off, let’s talk about the importance of your surroundings. One study revealed how our environment affects behavior by examining kitchenware size (1). Researchers found that people who were given larger bowls served themselves between 28–32% more cereal than those given smaller bowls, and tend to eat 90-97% of what is on their plate, irrespective of plate size.
Researchers call this phenomenon “The Default Effect.” So what’s the key takeaway? We usually stick with the default option, even if it goes against our best interest. People tend to take the path of least resistance, so if you want to create a new habit it’s essential to set yourself up for success.
Three Steps to Good Habits
(1) Automate Good Decisions.
Whenever possible, design an environment that makes good decisions your default option. For example, if you keep your gym clothes buried at the bottom of your drawer and your workout equipment tucked away in a closet, chances are you're going to need more motivation to get moving. But if you set up your equipment in a convenient location and make sure your clothes are easily accessible, exercise will become the default, and you'll be much more likely to follow through with those workouts.
(2) Get in the Flow.
Incorporate fitness into your everyday routine by designing an environment that fits your current patterns. So, suppose you want to start a running routine. In that case, you could plan your route to include your favorite coffee shop you'll visit anyway. Similarly, you are more likely to exercise if your gym is located on your way home from work rather than in the opposite direction. Find ways to easily incorporate your goals into the life you're already living.
(3) Subtract the Negative Influences.
Remove any obstacles or temptations preventing you from reaching your goals. This includes stocking your fridge with healthy options and removing those unhealthy snacks from the house. You should also try eliminating distractions that may take away your focus and motivation to exercise. Put those headphones in, turn your music on, and then put your phone way out of reach.
The Power of Mindset
But it's not just about what's going on around you - your mindset also plays a role in your success. One key factor is what science calls "self-regulation" (2). This is the ability to control our thoughts, emotions, and actions to reach a goal. For example, setting a goal to exercise, creating a plan about how to achieve it, and monitoring progress each day are all ways we can use self-regulation to make that physical activity a habit.
Habits aren't only about you. Another important factor is what research calls "social cognition" (3). This refers to how we process and use information about the people around us. Research has shown that having a support system can significantly increase the chances of success in achieving goals (4) . Recruiting a friend, partner, or family member can seriously impact your success. You can also take advantage of online communities or forums where you can find like-minded people working towards similar goals. Regardless of where you're doing it, sharing your progress and receiving feedback and encouragement from others can be a powerful motivator.
Here's to Your Future Success
Forming new habits is not easy, but by understanding the role of your environment, mindset, and social influences, you can set yourself up for success. Take control of your surroundings by automating good decisions, incorporating your goals into your daily routine, and removing any negative influences. Utilize the power of self-regulation by setting goals, creating plans and monitoring your progress. And remember to appreciate the value of support, whether it be from a friend, family member or an online community. With the right mindset and environment, you can turn good intentions into good habits.
- Johnson, E. J., & Goldstein, D. G. (2004). Defaults and donation decisions. Transplantation, 78(12), 1713-1716.
- Lenne, R. L., & Mann, T. (2020). Self-Regulation. The Wiley Encyclopedia of Health Psychology. (pp. 623–630). Wiley.
- Carden, L., & Wood, W. (2018). Habit formation and change. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences. (20, 117–122). Elsevier BV
- Ozbay, F., Johnson, D. C., Dimoulas, E., Morgan, C. A., Charney, D., & Southwick, S. (2007). Social support and resilience to stress: from neurobiology to clinical practice. Psychiatry, 4(5), 35–40.