Change your environment to change your habits

Since Sunday, I have been able to easily get myself out of bed at 7am to shower, get dressed, and study before work. Coincidentally, I finished moving everything into my new apartment on Sunday. One of my first learning experiences in this new apartment has been the reminder that it becomes much easier to change something about the way you do things when your environment changes.

When I first moved to Indianapolis in January 2017, I suddenly cut back significantly on drinking soda. I went from drinking about a gallon of soda a week (which was already significantly down from three to four gallons a week two years prior), to a personal size bottle of soda every week and a half or so. I had wanted to drink less soda for a while, but I had never mustered up the willpower to go through with it for more than a few days at a time. All of a sudden, in a new environment (and at a new job where there was free coffee), it became much easier and more effortless to stop a single bad habit.

I’ve been reading Self Discipline by Steve Pavlina, and one of the things he wrote that stuck out to me was that willpower can only be used for short bursts, so it should be used to shape your environment to make it easier for you to begin following through on a new habit. For example, if you feel a sudden burst of motivation to begin spending two hours a day learning to code, it would be wiser for you to use that burst of energy to set up a clean study space for yourself, remove or block distracting programs from your electronics, move your phone charger away from your computer, and purchase some books about the technologies you want to learn, than for you to use it sitting at your computer learning for eight hours.

My environment is different now that I live in a different place. My new roommates have plenty of space in the kitchen and dining area to study (I haven’t finished unpacking my bedroom), so when I wake up early and shower, it’s easier for me to sit here and study than to get back to my bed and watch YouTube videos on my phone. Of course, an environment change doesn’t have to be as drastic as moving to a new apartment, but big changes can do big things for your habits.

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