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What does it take to work towards a goal?
Is it about being driven and motivated? Having a weekly plan that outlines what tasks you should follow? Or maybe there’s another piece of the puzzle.
You see, we like to think we have control over what we do. That if we set our minds to accomplishing a task, we can get where we want to go.
But the truth is, our minds are easily swayed by outside forces. Like it or not, we are products of our environment.
Let me illustrate by sharing a story with you about a store and Rubik’s Cubes.
The Rubik’s Cube Conundrum
If you ran a retail store, in what section would you place a book on solving Rubik’s Cubes?
A store owner ordered a batch of Rubik’s Cubes, which he placed into the games section of the store. These new toys proved to be a hit with customers.
Soon after, the owner figured that people who bought Rubik’s Cubes would be interested in reading about how to solve them, so orders were placed for Rubik’s Cube guidebooks. Naturally, these guides were placed in the books section.
Months later, sales were tallied on the book. They were doing so-so, but nowhere near the sales numbers of the Rubik’s Cube.
The store owner found the lack of book sales confusing, since he thought that a larger percentage of people who bought the Cube would want to buy the book as well. Eventually, an employee at the store made a suggestion. It might be a better idea if the guide was moved from the books section to the games section, where it could be placed right beside the Rubik’s Cube.
Initially, it seemed logical that the guidebooks should go into the books section. But from a business perspective, putting the Rubik’s Cubes and books beside one another made more sense.
The employee suggested that people would be more likely to purchase the guide if they saw it alongside the Rubik’s Cubes. After thinking about it, the owner agreed to try it out.
The effect was immediate.
Book sales instantly shot up, simply because the Rubik’s Cube guidebooks were placed in a more convenient location for customers to buy.
Your Environment Impacts You
Every day, we face tons of options. They bombard us, from when to get out of bed to what we should do next.
Some of these choices are tough. Others require patience and dedication. And then, there are the tempting choices that we try to resist.
They can creep up on us when we don’t realize it. By the time we do, it’s too late. But like any other cautionary tale, we end up falling prey to certain choices because of the environmental cues around us.
Environmental cues are the objects in our surroundings that trigger certain thoughts and desires, causing us to behave in certain ways.
Your decisions are largely influenced by what’s around you:
- Your work is too far away from your desk, causing you to procrastinate on getting started.
- The plates you use to eat dinner with have a wide area, so you tend to fill them up with more food than you need.
- You browse a website and see a suggested article or video, which you become curious about and click on.
So even if you set out to complete a task with the best of intentions, it’s no use if your environment dictates otherwise. It’s in our nature to get distracted easily.
We look around ourselves at other people, objects, and the way our environment is set up to determine how we should act. They serve as reference guides for us on how we should act and respond. The reason behind this behavior is that humans are naturally cognitive misers.
We value our mental processing resources, so we try to find easier ways to navigate around our world. We only have a limited amount of willpower to make decisions before it runs out. After that, our brains become tired and overwhelmed.
As a result, most of our daily lives are made up of the same habits. We practice certain actions over and over, such as brushing our teeth and locking the front door. To do something out of the ordinary or expend additional effort without an immediate benefit takes up a lot of our willpower. There’s only so much of it we can handle before our mental energy runs out.
So most of the time, we tend to choose the path of least resistance. That is, we like to look for shortcuts to save time and effort.
And if something we want to do is out of reach, we’ll probably just put it aside and do something that’s more convenient for the time being (especially if that task is challenging and requires a lot of effort).
Design Your Surroundings To Make Good Choices
We often think that achieving a task is just about getting out there and doing it. We believe that if there’s a will, we can find a way towards a goal.
But our environment dictates what we choose to do, as opposed to what we want to do. If you have choices around you that are distracting or lead to undesirable outcomes, then it becomes hard to make the right choices.
On the flip side, having an environment that only has desirable choices constricts you to do what’s important for yourself. So if you want to work on improving your habits, take a look around yourself and see how you can make it more convenient to do so.
You can use environmental cues to get towards an outcome faster and easier.
This can be applied in different aspects of life:
- To get work done, minimize distractions that take away from your focus.
- If you want to eat better, put healthier foods and water within close reach.
- When you try to persuade someone to perform a task, explain and set it up so that it’s convenient for the person to do so.
Wanting something done is not enough.
If you want a certain outcome, you need an environment that gets you closer towards it.
Changing Yourself Begins With Changing Your Environment
Making changes to your environment makes it easier to do what’s right without having to think about staying motivated. If you set up your surroundings so that making the best decisions comes easily, then you can set yourself up to practice better habits.
Often, we think that change comes from within. We believe that achieving a goal is about changing ourselves and what we think. But we discount the fact that optimizing our environment to make better choices can make a large impact on our actions.
The changes we make may seem small initially. For instance, it might not seem like much to move a book you want to read from the shelf to your desk. But when you make incremental improvements to your environment, it becomes much easier to do what’s right.
Having a better option within reach makes it become the default choice.