CONTROL YOUR ENVIRONMENT, NOT YOURSELF

Accept that you have limited control over your behavior, that it is largely automatic and irrational–that it is determined by your environment [Ariely, Christakis, Fogg]. Free will, in so far as it exists, resides primarily in your ability to design this environment [Freedman].*

Your environment consists of triggers, or reminders and temptations. How do these influence what you do? Watch yourself. Play with “activation energy”: make good behaviors easier and bad behaviors harder [Csikszentmihalyi]. For example, leave an exercise mat beside your bed at night and fall onto it when you wake up, or lock yourself out of the internet with a software like Freedom.**

*Just as you can become conscious of patterns, you can become conscious in the moment, more mindful. “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.” [Victor E. Frankl, by attribution]. But willpower is limited and deplete-able  [Baumeister and Tierney]. Better to save it for the things you cannot plan for.  And to rely on behavior design for long term change [Fogg].

**Activation energy is even more important than it seems. If your energy isn’t up to the task, you may miss out on fun:

One needs such disposable “activation energy” to enjoy complex activities. If a person is too tired, anxious, or lacks the discipline to overcome that initial obstacle, he or she will have to settle for something that, although less enjoyable, is more accessible.

This is where “passive leisure” comes in. To just hang out with friends, read an unchallenging book, or turn on the TV set does not require much in the way of an upfront energy outlay. It does not demand skills or concentration. Thus the consumption of passive leisure becomes all too often the option of choice, not only for adolescents, but for adults as well. [Csikszentmihalyi, p. 68]

 

References:

Dan Ariely. 2010. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions. Harper

Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney. 2011. Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Strength. Penguin

Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler. 2007-07-26. The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network over 32 Years. N Engl J Med; 357:370-379.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. 1997. Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life. Basic Books

BJ Fogg et al. 2011-02-23. Top 10 Mistakes in Behavior Change…and Some Ways You Can Fix Them. Slideshare

Victor Frankl. Man’s Search for Meaning

David H. Freedman. 2012-06. The Perfected Self. The Atlantic

 

 

One comment

  1. rochelle

    Thanks, I just read something similar in Diet for a Small Planet, where the author talks about setting up your kitchen so that everything you usually need is very easy to get to, and visible, so you’ll be more likely to make nice nutritious meals!

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