Better than willpower.
I’ve been nudging myself to write this blog for a while now, by reviewing books (in the resources section), my recent experiences and conversations, my podcast — and it worked.
We all know many things. Things, that no doubt, can improve our life. If only we could make ourselves do all, that we know.
People think, even lots of my friends, my coaching clients, my parents and roommates, people who see how I live my life daily, how I do and organize everything around me — they still believe, I’m some sort of willpower outlier, eating clean and exercising all the time, no matter where I am, no matter what happens in my life — traveling, holidays, celebrations, busy schedules, stress at work or in life. My mom still thinks my super-power is my willpower — my ability to make myself do anything, I think I should do.
Well, it’s not even close to reality, to be honest.
As I shared in one of my vlogs/coaching talks — I’m just very good at self-management, or to be more precise, at my-environment management.
“When scientists analyze people, who appear to have tremendous self-control, it turns out those individuals aren’t all that different from those who are struggling. Instead, “disciplined” people are better at structuring their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self-control. In other words, they spend less time in tempting situations.
Once you notice something, you begin to want it.”
Do you stop to look at some freshly-baked cakes, cookies’ recipes you’ll bake, when the diet is over?
Let me guess, your diet is usually over much sooner than you plan? Most probably it ends with eating cookies.
The key to iron willpower is noticing on purpose, what you want to “consume”, that turns you into what you want to be. Be that vegetables, healthy cooking books, inspiring people and ideas, nutrition coaches and fitness models, healthy habits articles and blogs (like the one you’re reading), productivity tools, self-improvement practices, smart documentaries instead of the 20th watch-through of all seasons of Friends of Star Trek.
The question is, “How do you make yourself notice things, that you want to consume, that turns you into what you want to be?”
Cookies seem to sneak in, no matter what you do and where you are!
How do we make broccoli that sneaky?
Let’s start at the beginning, where your habits REALLY start.
“WE ARE THE PRODUCTS OF OUR ENVIRONMENT”
At a recent biohacking conference in Moscow I met Chris, who gave this mind-blowing presentation about the power of our environment to shape what we do and, at the end of the day, to shape who we become, to shape the life we live.
It still echoes in my mind often.
You might think, that your cookie-binge starts, when you are at a store or your neighborhood bakery, seeing or smelling the cookies, deciding on the spot, that now is the time to give in to cookies and set broccoli aside for another day.
But actually, that decision was formed by seeing your friends posting their home-baked cookies on Instagram (You, of course, liked it to support), then more cookies recipes popped-up in your Facebook feed “out of the blue” (And they probably were not sugar-free and keto), then you got a cookie “buy one pack get one free” coupon, then somebody in the office, sitting next to you, was munching on some cookies… and now you are sitting in front of some screen, binge-watching the show you watched many times before, binge-eating cookies you decided to buy “on the spur of the moment”.
Chris showed us, how he tracked all his behaviors, using available technology or self-made tools — what he watched, what he listened to, who he talked to, what he posted, where he spent his time, even light and noise levels didn’t go unnoticed by Chris and his tools. And then Chris made a connection, linking what was going on in his environment and the behaviors that usually followed. Chris found patterns. He made true cues and triggers of his following habits obvious to his conscious mind.
And that’s the first step to changing our habits. Any habits. Undesirable ones into the ones we want.
Now you might say, “But this seems to be completely out of my control? I can’t say to my co-worker to start eating broccoli to make myself eat better, can I?”
That — I agree with.
Can you follow and interact with people, who eat lots of broccoli on your social media instead? Comment and share? And then you’ll get more broccoli videos in your Facebook feed. And then, maybe stop walking by bakeries so often, staring at cookies to know what to buy, once the diet is over? How about walking by some farmers’ market instead?
Each time I walked by Union Square farmers market on my way to a gym, I’d start thinking about a new veggie I could try to cook that afternoon, the veggie that I’d pick up on my way back.
“People often choose products not because of what those products are, but because of WHERE they are.”
Guess, where I never spend any time while shopping for groceries anymore? Bakery isle!
Because it’s always been my weakness! (Once the habit is formed, like the habit of over-eating cookies, the brain never completely forgets it — but it’s my choice to stop walking in a bakery isle)
These days I hang out in produce isles, looking at veggie deals, googling peculiar vegetables and recipes with them, I hang out in fish and meat isles, supplements, interesting superfood snacks — you get the idea.
“Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior.
Behavior is a function of the Person in their Environment, or B = f (P,E).
In 1952, the economist Hawkins Stern described a phenomenon he called Suggestion Impulse Buying, which “is triggered when a shopper sees a product for the first time and visualizes a need for it.” In other words, customers will occasionally buy products not because they want them but because of how they are presented to them.”
“Originally, the refrigerators located next to the cash registers in the cafeteria were filled with only soda. The researchers added water as an option to each one. Additionally, they placed baskets of bottled water next to the food stations throughout the room. Soda was still in the primary refrigerators, but water was now available at all drink locations.
Over the next three months, the number of soda sales at the hospital dropped by 11.4 percent. Meanwhile, sales of bottled water increased by 25.8 percent. They made similar adjustments — and saw similar results — with the food in the cafeteria. Nobody had said a word to anyone eating there.”
And then Chris flipped it.
Chris changed his environment — places where he ate, people he hung out with, music he listened to, lights in his place, noise levels while he ate, how he talked to people and what he was posting/sharing on social media.
Chris started at some 300 pounds mark, as you can imagine not particularly healthy, with quite a lot of unhealthy behaviors to change to get better in life, in health, at work, with relationships — it’s all connected in our life.
When I took this selfie with Chris after his talk (during which he was sipping water to stay hydrated and help him with jet lag — speaking about change of habits) on September 14th in Moscow at the biohacking conference, he looked quite awesome, somewhere in his late 30s (Chris passed 50s mark not so long ago). Chris is quite famous in certain circles — traveling the world, speaking, teaching, doing a lot of important work, helping us to humanize technology and bring more mindfulness in our hyper-connected world.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
So, your assignment for the week ahead, starting today, is to notice things and make the unconscious conscious.
You don’t need to change anything yet.
Find a way to track what you do, when and where you do it. What you watch, what you listen, what you see, what you think about, what you post, who you interact with on social media and in life, in your emails, what you talk about, where you eat, what you see on your way home, sights, advertising, smells, sounds you expose yourself to…
“…a small change in what you see can lead to a big shift in what you do.”
I know it sounds like a lot. So start with the most obvious, start with something manageable, something, that Chris started with — track what you consume on purpose (music, videos, what you read, look at, pay attention to, listen to), your social media circles and consumption of social media, people you follow, what you put out in the online and offline world, what you post.
Maybe use a simple notebook, paper or a digital one, divided into categories, where you simply note those things. Maybe make screenshots of your behavior — whatever seems easier to you.
And also, note, when the behaviors you want to change, note when they happen, when and where. Don’t try to change anything, don’t judge — just notice, bring it into your conscious awareness.
And then together we’ll learn, how to make your better habits obvious and easy — just like I do it. Just like Chris did it. Better than willpower.
“You don’t have to be the victim of your environment. You can also be the architect of it.”
“when you step outside your normal environment, you leave your behavioral biases behind. You aren’t battling old environmental cues, which allows new habits to form without interruption.”
- Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear
- Don’t Unplug: How Technology Saved My Life and Can Save Yours Too by Chris Dancy
- Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler, Cass R. Sunstein
- FOOD SCHOOL Smarter Stronger Leaner podcast: with Chris Dancy
- Make the unconscious conscious.
- Ask questions, when you have them
- Please share to help others learn and feel great!
- Sign-up for my 10-day Email Health Course or Schedule your free express session with me for your own personalized plan of habit-building actions!