I’m a huge fan of keeping things simple (I even put it in my business name: eat.simple). I especially feel this way when it comes to food, fitness, and fat loss. If you’re sick of white knuckling it through your day, struggling with non-existent motivation, or the phrase “I’ll just start again on Monday” is on regular rotation in your vocabulary, there’s one life-changing tactic I use with all my clients that’s proven to accelerate results.
I realize life-changing is a fairly dramatic word, but without this one step, you’ll be working harder than you need to. The simplest and most impactful thing you can do to accelerate your results is to set your environment up for success.
The Role Your Environment Plays
Think about the unfavourable snack foods that you keep in your pantry. You know, “just in case.” Or the fact that you have no clue where you put those free weights you bought during the pandemic.
Does that get you closer to your results or further away?
When you remove the foods that tempt you from the house and replace them with ones that support your goal, you have the best possible chance of succeeding. Same goes for exercise. If your workout gear is tucked away in a back closet, how likely are you to use it?
Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behaviour.
This nugget of truth from author and habit expert, James Clear is 100% spot on. People tend to believe that their healthy habits are a product of motivation, willpower, and effort, when in reality, it’s your environment that gives you the biggest bang for your buck. Clear says, “If you want to maximize your odds of success, then you need to operate in an environment that accelerates your results rather than hinders them.”
Examples of how environment impacts you:
Your phone is right next to your desk, so you check Instagram more often than you’d like
You didn’t make time to go grocery shopping, so it looks like it’s take-out again tonight
The room you work out in is cluttered with junk, making it hard to find space to do yoga
You use a large dinner sized plate, and fill it up with more food than you need
You keep ice cream in the freezer and eat it after a really stressful day
Change Your Environment, Change Who You Are
Environment plays a big role in your ability to reach your goals. Not just from a conscious perspective (remove the ice cream from the freezer so it’s harder to indulge), but also from a subconscious perspective.
By altering your environment, your subconscious mind starts to adopt behaviours and attitudes that are conducive to your success. Say, you went ahead and purged all the cookies, bagels, muffins, and cereal from your pantry and replaced them with bowls of fresh fruit and veggies. The food you’re surrounded by begins to change the way you think about yourself.
In other words, if your cupboard is filled with processed, sugary foods, you’re more apt to think of yourself as someone who eats those types of foods. You might also believe you’re someone with no willpower or destined to always have cravings. FYI, you might want to look into your limiting beliefs here.
In contrast, if you had fresh produce at arm’s reach (and eye level), you’d likely start to believe you’re someone who enjoys eating real, whole food that supports your body. Someone who likes to get outside for fresh air. Someone who can stay on track more easily and totally crush their goals.
Make Healthy Choices Effortless
Massachusetts General Hospital physician, Anne Thorndike, was curious if environment could affect people’s eating behaviours at her hospital, so she and her team created an experiment they called, “choice architecture.”1 In the experiment, they arranged the cafeteria’s refrigerators so that water and other healthier drinks were located at eye level, while less healthy options like soda were placed below eye level. They also added five baskets of bottled water throughout the cafeteria near the food stations.
After tracking sales for three months, they discovered that soda purchases had dropped 11.4% and bottled water sales had increased by a whopping 25.8%. And that was with no other external influence or motivational factors. Simply by moving the preferred choice to a different location, people chose it more often than the less-healthy option.
A Guide to Setting Yourself Up for Success
Our daily lives are made up of a lot of the same habits: Wake up, brush teeth, grab a fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt and glass of OJ — or skip breakfast and treat your not-quite-fat-adapted self to a sugar bomb once you get into work. Want to change your programming (and your go-to food choices)? You have to change your environment.
Make What You Want to Do Easy. When something is easy to do, there’s less resistance (and less procrastination). That workout program you never started will be much more effective if you set your space up appropriately. Place some dumbbells next to your desk and do a set of curls every time you get up. Or put your running shoes next to the front door, so you’re more likely to lace up and go for a walk when you see them.
Make What You Don’t Want to Do Hard. If your brain knows that there are crunchy, salty, starchy, fatty, sweet, sticky, snacky (probably junky and highly processed) foods in the house, you will eat them. You are wired to devour these foods. So why tempt yourself with them all day, every day? Get them out of the house. Or better yet, only buy them on special occasions and preferably in smaller quantities.
Eliminate Extra Decisions. Decision fatigue is a very real psychological phenomenon around a person’s capacity to make decisions. The more decisions you need to make, the more fatigued your brain becomes, and the poorer your choices will be.Decision fatigue explains why you buy the Costco-sized bag of chips when you’d just declared all processed food off the table. And it explains your ‘do nothing’ mentality when you have the choice of going for a run or vegging out in front of the TV. Eliminate unnecessary decisions by prepping your lunch ahead of time or getting your daily walk out of the way first thing in the morning.
Stack Your Habits. Think about your no-brainer habits: brewing a cup of coffee, taking your shoes off, watching TV, etc. Your brain is very efficient at remembering to do these things and one of the best ways to set your environment up for success by stacking new habits on top of existing ones. You could decide that every morning after you pour your cup of coffee, you meditate for 5 minutes. Or you immediately change into workout clothes after taking off your shoes at the end of the day. Or you do planks during the commercial breaks.
Surround Yourself with Like-Minded People. Studies show that we reflect the behaviours of the people around us. That means it’s crucial that your people are supportive, inspiring, and most importantly aren’t destructive, negative, or have the tendency to sabotage you. You’re the average of the five people you associate with most, so don’t underestimate the effects of your pessimistic, unambitious, or disorganized friends. Like Tim Ferriss says, “If someone isn’t making you stronger, they’re making you weaker.”
Ready to Fast-Track Your Results?
You can’t ignore the fact that your environment influences your decisions, your behaviours, and even your attitude. If you want to accelerate your results — whether it’s losing fat, getting in shape, or preventing procrastination, follow these steps to create an environment that supports your goals, rather than works against them:
Make What You Want to Do Easy
Make What You Don’t Want to Do Hard
Eliminate Extra Decisions
Stack Your Habits
Surround Yourself with Like-Minded People
Got tips on setting your environment up for success? Share ‘em in the comments below.
Erin Power is an NBHWC board-certified health coach and the Coaching and Curriculum Director for Primal Health Coach Institute. She’s also the co-host of Health Coach Radio, the podcast by health coaches, for health coaches. Erin lives outside of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on a hobby farm in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.