Create Better Habits by Changing Your Environment

If there’s one thing we know in the Paleo community, it’s that we aren’t that different from our ancestors. We’ve inherited a lot from them, but we have very different struggles. For them, health came as a result of survival – movement, sleep, and sunshine weren’t part of their lifestyle, they were the lifestyle. 

We are ancient people in a modern world. Nowadays, survival isn’t much of a challenge. The modern world is all about convenience and efficiency, and it doesn’t take much work to stay alive. But you aren’t interested in just living, you are interested in thriving! And for many of us that grew up and have lived the Standard American Lifestyle, it can be really difficult to switch to a life of movement, health, and personal growth. It takes effort to break free of our long built habits.

We’ve all been trying the willpower thing, with more and less success, long enough to know that it’s rarely enough to build better habits and make lasting change. We usually have to change something else to trigger better habits and to prevent us from backsliding into old ones.

For example: When you first went Paleo, you didn’t just leave the donuts in the cupboard and the chips in the pantry, relying on willpower alone to keep you away: you cleaned house. If and when you were tempted by your sugar dragon, you would have had to go WAY out of your way to feed it. You changed your environment. The next time you went to the grocery store, you went with a brand new list. Now, you probably only use the cereal aisle as a shortcut from the produce to the meat department. You still have to use some willpower now and then to stay on track, but you don’t depend on willpower alone.

The same principle can be applied to any area where we want to make a change so that we can live a healthier and more vibrant life. When faced with a willpower problem, instead of trying to force your way through to change, take a look at your environment and the external factors that are keeping you in the same place.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What makes it easy to keep doing your old habit?
  2. What would make that habit harder to continue?
  3. How can you make your new habit easier?
  4. How can you keep your new goal in the front of your mind?
  5. How can you incorporate your new habit into other areas of your life?

After a quick peruse of the internet, I found six common habits that people try to change, and I brainstormed ways to change your environment so that you can make change happen:

1. Move More

Make It Easier

  • Have your gym clothes at the ready.
  • Keep at home fitness equipment easily accessible.
  • Wear movement friendly clothes (no more skinny jeans) and walking friendly shoes more often, or all the time!
  • Get an over the door pull-up bar, set it in a doorway in your house, and hang or pull every time you walk under it.
  • Get lower sitting surfaces and pads to make floor sitting and squatting easier.

Make it Harder to NOT Move

  • Get rid of the chairs in one room of your house and make that your living room.
  • Move your plates, bowls, and cups, to cupboards below the counter, and you’ll find yourself bending over or squatting down much more frequently.
  • Get rid of the bench in the foyer so you have to either balance on one foot have to sit on the floor to put on your shoes.
  • Get rid of all the furniture in your house a la Katy Bowman.

2. Eat Better

Make Eating Paleo Easier

  • Have lots of tasty, healthy food available at all times. Find your Paleo favorites and keep them in your house as much as you can.
  • Go grocery shopping more frequently so your supplies never run low.
  • Find those one or two things that make everything taste a little better when you start craving junk food. I’m a big fan of avocado mayo like Primal Kitchen Mayo.

Make Non-Paleo Eating Harder

  • Change your driving route so you don’t pass the fast food place.
  • Have a contingency plan for when you need food fastMine is a quick run to the grocery store for a rotisserie chicken, savoy cabbage, any other “sandwich” toppings I want. Those serve as makeshift “sandwiches.”

3. Learn New Things

Make It Easier

  • If your learning is web-based, bookmark the page or make it your homepage.
  • If your skill of choice requires materials and tools, like learning an instrument or a craft, keep your tools accessible and out in the open. Bonus if you do it in your chair-free room!
  • Keep your books or reading devices with you at all times.

Make Not-Learning Harder

  • Don’t reserve the activity for just one day a week, let it be something you can also do when the mood strikes. Practice daily.
  • Put your materials in the way of something else. For example, put them on the couch, so when you go to watch TV, you get sidetracked into your new activity.
  • Move all your distraction apps (games, social media, etc) to a folder in the figurative back corner of your phone. Or, better yet, delete them.

4. Connect With Friends and Family

Make Connection Easier

  • Have activities planned like a game or activity so that people have something to do instead of looking at their phone.
  • Invite someone into your every day routine. Meet a friend for a walk or run errands together.

Make Disconnection Harder

  • If there is something that someone else could help you with, ask them, even if you could do it better or faster without them.

5. Get Organized

Make it Easier

  • Get rid of stuff you don’t need. Extra clothes, extra dishes, even extra apps.
  • Consolidate what you actually use. The less stuff you have, the easier it is to stay organized!

Make Disorganization Harder

  • Let your stuff’s “place” be out in the open.
  • Make a commitment to always put your stuff back in its place!

6. Spend Less Time on Facebook

Make it Easier

  • Unfollow as many people as you can. You don’t have to unfriend anyone! I recognize the importance of Facebook for it’s ability to keep you connected. But if there is someone whose posts always make you upset, or you spend too much time looking at their pictures, click on the little arrow in the upper right of their next post and Unfollow.

Make Facebooking Harder

  • Uninstall the Facebook app. If you are in Groups or have a Page you manage, Facebook offers standalone apps for Pages, Groups, Messenger, and more so you can stay connected, without getting lost in your Newsfeed.

What are the habits you need to change? What habits do you struggle with? Let us know in the comments, and we’ll help you brainstorm some solutions!


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Anna Dooley

Anna Dooley

Anna learned about Paleo in the summer of 2011. After gaining and losing the “freshman 15” multiple times through college, it was after graduation that she realized something was wrong with her beliefs about health. The Paleo community set her on the path to real health, introducing her to new and better ideas about functional […]