Leveraging on your environment is one of the most important strategies you can utilize in achieving your goals.
Why Environment Plays A Role in Our Goals
Some people have no problem setting goals, but they do not have any strategy. They think goal achievement is all about (a) sheer motivation and (b) relentless action. While both factors are indeed very important, they can only get you so far. There are two reasons:
- No one is 100% motivated all the time. While we may start off a goal with peak motivation, the reality is it doesn’t stay high all the time — there will be up and down times. Our motivation also changes when we are dealing with negative people and facing setbacks. By relying on motivation, we’ll only get limited results in the end. We also inevitably set ourselves up for failure.
- Our environment influences our thinking and actions. While internal drive is important, we are very much influenced by our environment, and in more ways than we may recognize. Say you have water, a cup, and a basin. What happens when you pour the water into the cup? Water, having no definite shape, takes the shape of the cup. What if you pour the water into the basin? The water will now take the shape of the basin. And if you pour the water straight onto the ground? It splatters everywhere and forms a large puddle.
Using this analogy, our energy is like water, while our environment is the container holding the water. When our environment is a good fit for our goals, our energy will be channeled into the right places every day — all we have to do is show up. But when we have an environment that’s a bad fit, we are constantly pushed and pulled all over the place, and it becomes difficult to succeed.
In essence, motivation gets us going, but the right environment secures our success.
If your environment is not conducive to your goals, you waste a lot of energy going up against it every day. If you are trying to lose weight, an unconducive environment is one where you are constantly surrounded by fatty food, fast food restaurants, people who like to eat, people who don’t exercise, and “gourmet” magazines/TV programs. There’s just too much negative stimuli you have to battle mentally, on a daily basis. While you might get through day 1 unscathed based on discipline alone, beyond that it becomes an uphill battle trying to stay on course.
A better way is to change your environment into one that supports you in achieving your goal, such as joining weight loss groups, stocking up on healthy food, etc.
The same applies whether you are trying to quit a bad habit like to quit drinking or smoking, or to build a good habit like waking up early. Environment matters and is the key to your success.
How I Created a Positive Environment To Achieve My Goals
When I went on a 30-day vegetarian trial in January 2008, I spent a few days setting up an environment conducive to my goal.
I went to buy a blender so I could easily make my own fruit smoothies. I went to the supermarket and stocked up on vegetarian food so I would have a constant food supply at home. I created a goal sheet for my vegetarian goal, writing out my motivations for trying a vegetarian diet and plastering the sheet with pictures of nice, appetizing vegetarian food. I set my desktop wallpaper to a picture of a whole variety of juicy, fresh fruits.
I told the people around me that I was going to adopt a vegetarian diet for the next one month, so that they would be walking reminders of my goal. I joined vegetarian communities, both online and offline, to connect with like-minded folks. I placed bookmarks of vegetarian sites in my browser.
I also identified possible obstacles I would face in adopting this diet, and came up with action steps to counter them. For example, I anticipated it would be tricky getting vegetarian food, so I planned in advance by either packing my meals or going to restaurants that sell vegetarian food.
Because I created the right, conducive environment to achieve my goal, I was able to hit my goal surprisingly easy. Throughout the month, I did not have any interest nor cravings to eat other types of food — I simply went along with my plan and stayed on course quite effortlessly, much to the surprise of naysayers around me. And I’ve stayed a vegetarian since (in fact, I’ve since become vegan).
Here are other examples where I created an environment to support me in my goals:
- To improve my fitness level, I joined weekly kickboxing classes, frisbee sessions, and badminton sessions with friends. By joining these groups which have recurring weekly activities, I’m reminded and compelled to join the sessions by virtue of my membership.
- I recently joined a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat as I wanted to cultivate the habit of meditation. Being immersed in such an intensive environment, with proper facilities and people to guide me along, enabled me to easily integrate the habit into my life after I came back.
- Being self-employed, it’s easy to slip into a mode of stagnancy if I’m not watchful. As a countermeasure, I visit my partners’ office and work there once a week. I regularly meet people in the industry for inspiration and ideas. I lock in my coaching clients for a rolling two months so I will need to commit myself to these clients for that period. I make announcements of my plans at my blog so there is an increased level of accountability. Among other actions.
Create the Best Environment
Here are some things to evaluate as you create a supportive environment:
- Your physical space. Where do you spend the most time each day? Examples would be your office workspace, your home office (if you have one), your bedroom, and your home living environment. How can you change these to support your goal?
- Your devices. Given that we spend so much time on digital devices today, they have sort of become a second “space” that we hang out at, even if it’s not physical. How can you use your devices in a way that supports you in your goal?
- The people you’re with. Environment does not just pertain to the physical environment, but also our social environment. Who do you spend the most time with? Are these people who support you in your goal?
- Communities you’re a part of. This includes online and offline communities. What communities are you a part of? What communities can you join to support you in your goal?
- Your daily routine. What do you do as part of your daily routine? What classes do you join, if any? What YouTube or TV programs do you watch? Do you read any books or listen to podcasts? Do these support you in your goal?
The more you can create an environment conducive to your goals, the easier it’ll be to achieve your desired results.
Here, there are three ways to create/leverage on your environment for your goals.
1) Make the best of existing environment
Here, you don’t make any changes to your environment, but rather try to use it in an optimal way to fit your goals.
Say you decide to lose weight this month. You have a blender you normally use to make milk smoothies. Rather than use the blender to make your usual smoothies, you use it to make healthier fruit and vegetable smoothies instead. You may also have a swimming pool near your place which you never use. Now, you can leverage it by swimming regularly there.
2) Change your environment
The second step to change your environment to fit your goal.
Using the same weight loss goal example, changing your environment includes: Stocking your fridge with healthy food. Researching healthy food recipes and buying new kitchen tools to help you in your meal prep. Putting up posters of healthy, athletic people around your room to remind you of your goal. Setting your desktop wallpaper to a picture of an aspirational model. Writing out your goal and placing it in front of you. Saving bookmarks of healthy eating websites in a visible location on your browser. Installing weight loss and habit tracking apps and putting shortcuts on your mobile home screen, so that you’re again reminded of your goal daily.
3) Move to a new environment
The third step is to move to an entirely new environment that supports you in a goal. This is sometimes necessary if your current environment is limited in how it can support your goal.
Continuing with the above example, this includes joining a weight loss club. Joining exercise classes. Getting a gym membership. Joining meetup groups that involve exercise and activity, such as hiking and jogging groups. Meeting up with people who wish to lose weight and eat healthy, rather than people who eat junk food.
Any one or all of the three steps can be done in tandem for your goal. The more your environment supports you in your goal, the more readily you can achieve it.
Think about one of the top goals you have currently and ask yourself these three questions:
- How can your current environment support you in your goal?
- How can you change your environment such that it best helps you achieve your goal?
- What other environments can you use to generate the best momentum toward your goals?
By strategically using your environment for your goals, your goal pursuit process will become much more seamless. Have fun creating the best environment for your goals. :D
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