We all want to believe that we have the willpower to consistently make good decisions and develop good habits. As it turns out though, research shows that willpower is a limited resource; the more we tap into it, the less we have in reserves. Because your willpower bucket tends to be at its height early in the day, this is also one of the reasons to get started on the right foot with a healthy, productive morning routine.

When it comes to pursuing goals, what often matters more than discipline and willpower is the environment and people we surround ourselves with on a regular basis.

I think it’s helpful to examine this concept of environment from two perspectives: micro and macro.

Micro Environment

Want to watch less TV? Take the batteries out of the remote and put it across the room.

Want to run more in the morning? Put your shoes next to your bed and go to sleep in your running clothes.

Want to eat less? Use smaller utensils and dishware.

The author of the research-based book Mindless Eating found that, “If you use a big spoon, you’ll eat more. If you serve yourself on a big plate, you’ll eat more. If you move the small bowl of chocolates on your desk six feet away from you, you’ll eat half as much.”

These small changes can significantly affect your micro environment and allow you to reserve willpower so that you can tap into it when you need it for bigger decisions.

Macro Environment

Controlling our macro environment is harder and can involve some tough choices, from where we choose to live to whom we choose to spend our time with. As Jim Rohn said, “We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with.”

The “whom we associate with” aspect can often be the most difficult for people. But the reality is, if you want to drink less and your close friends go to the bar four nights a week, it’s probably in your best interest to find new friends to hang out with the majority of the time.

Rather than deplete your willpower by joining them at the bar and hoping to not be enticed to drink, the easier path would be to join them one night a week and then fill your other nights with friends and activities that don’t involve alcohol.

Same thing if you want to be in a happy, loyal marriage. Hanging around others who are unfaithful in their relationship or spending time in environments where this behavior is condoned or encouraged is probably not the best choice for this objective.

The environmental effect even extends to people in our social networks. Studies have shown that people who want to lose weight have more success dropping pounds just by including thinner people in their inner circle.

This is also true for geographic environments. Each summer, my wife and I spend a week in Park City, Utah. We go on daily hikes, we eat better and spend far more time outdoors. These are all things that we enjoy and that make us feel better. Could we do these same things at home? Sure. However, the reality is that the environment of Park City is such that it’s a place where people are more active and enjoy the outdoors. It is a place people intentionally move to and choose to visit for those reasons. So, when everyone around us is exhibiting the same behavior, it’s easier to join in. What’s more is that doing so requires a lot less willpower.

In summary, to accomplish what you want most, it’s important to think carefully and intentionally on a macro level about how to associate with people and environments (including companies) that support your objectives. This may also mean removing yourself from those that do not.

On a micro level, think about how and where you can decrease the friction for things you want to do and accomplish and increase friction for those that aren’t in alignment with those goals.


Quote of The Week

“There’s just one way to radically change your behavior: radically change your environment.”


Dr. B.J. Fogg