It’s an old debate: nature or nurture? Nature says that our personalities, behaviors, and choices throughout our lives are predetermined by our genetic code. Nurture says that we’re born a blank slate and that we become the person our upbringing and environment influences us to be.
Few people claim that it’s entirely one or the other anymore. Instead, the question is now how does nurture (our environment and upbringing) influence our nature to make us who we are?
Think of our environment as a trigger for behaviors and habits we’re already predisposed towards. As in, where you spend your time and the people in that space will make certain parts of your personality more or less likely to manifest.
So, if you’re naturally more inclined to enjoy reading, being raised by parents who read to you makes it much more likely that you’ll be a reader as an adult. If you weren’t exposed to it as a child, you may never have created the reading habit, even though it’s something you would otherwise enjoy.
Picking Up New Habits
Let’s say you wanted to pick up a new habit as an adult – like reading. How do you do it?
First, start with why it’s important that you want to read. If your why isn’t strong enough, dig deeper or find something that actually resonates with you.
Then, start creating an environment that encourages you to read.
To do this, you might place your book next to your favorite chair and put the TV remote across the room. Or, go to a different room, like an office or bedroom, to turn that room into your reading space. This works better than trying to read in a room you’ve conditioned yourself to watch TV in.
You could also insert yourself into an environment that encourages you to read. You can join a book club, or go to the library, or simply go and sit somewhere quiet with nothing but your book, like a park or your back porch.
The point is to make it easy to do the thing you want to do, and harder to do the things that distract you.
Nutrition and Sleep
We can apply this to your nutrition by making sure you keep nutritious snacks around instead of lots of junk food. This shift in your environment automatically makes you less likely to eat junk whenever you’re bored or stressed, simply because it’s unavailable.
We can also influence your nutrition choices through the environment you eat in, such as avoiding distractions while you eat.
You can implement this by not eating while watching TV or working at your desk, and putting your phone away during meals. This works because eating while distracted makes you much more likely to eat more at that meal and then to continue eating more throughout the day.
(One study showed that after a meal, women who ate attentively snacked 30% less than women who were distracted. In another, distracted participants reported feeling less full and ate twice as many cookies 30 minutes after lunch than non-distracted participants.)
If you struggle getting quality sleep, one of the first things experts will tell you to do is make sure your sleeping environment is conducive to quality sleep. They’ll tell you to make it as dark as possible, cool, and comfortable. They also recommend that you keep your room tidy, as clutter can cause stress, and make sure you only use your bed for sleep and sex. If you make a habit of working on your laptop or scrolling through Facebook in bed, you’ll learn to associate your bed with those stressors, instead of sleep and relaxation.
Putting It Into Action
Here’s what you can do to create an environment that supports your goals:
- Get clear on why you want to get better at something. Having a strong why makes you much more likely to do something.
- Make it easy to do the action you want to do.
- Make it harder to do the action you’re trying to avoid.
- Create a space that triggers the action you want to do. If you want to get better at pull-ups, mount a pull-up bar over your bathroom door and do a set of pull-ups every time you go in and out of the bathroom.
- Minimize distractions from the action you really want to do. Multi-tasking is a myth.
- Join groups or clubs that encourage the action you want to take. If you have a hard time exercising alone, join a gym with group classes or hire a personal trainer to provide accountability and structure.
Making friends with people who have similar goals is another way to foster a successful environment. We’ll cover that in more detail in a future post. For now, I want you to reflect on this:
How does your environment currently make success more challenging?
What changes can you make to your current environment to help you become more successful?