Curiously enough (or not), habits are powerfully triggered in contexts and environments.
It’s like the environment is the “get ready” message for specific collections of behaviors, and then the specific triggers in the environment do their job to call up ‘this’ as opposed to ‘that’ behavior.
And this works just as “unconsciously” as any other form of triggering. Just walking into a room can begin a chain of behavior that either helps or hinders our intentions… and that should be a hint to the wise.
“A piece of behavior” that you want to work with may actually start somewhere other than say… your desk (for a work habit). You may need to think a few paces “outside the box” when looking to change a routine or behavior.
This knowledge can help when we are looking to create change, as there will be particular environments we need to pay attention (and perhaps modify or change) when we want to create a smooth change in behavior.
This is why times of transition (moving to a new house or office; redecorating; going to college, going on holiday, etc.) have been demonstrated to be excellent times to create behavioral changes.
We are forced to leave the robot’s auto-pilot and go back into conscious and intentional behavior. New behaviors can be “snuck in” in the general cost of remaining aware to deal with the continuous stream of novel situations requiring us to make decisions.
You don’t have to move to a new house to make changes though. Some people have noticed how they feel better and more willing to work when they’ve tided up a bit. Curious, no? Perhaps the weight of habits tied with too much stuff you aren’t using creates a drag.
It can be an incredibly useful exercise to have a look at the changes you want to make (perhaps using some of the lists we made in earlier episodes?) and sort them by the locations and contexts where you use them, and see how they fit together within the context itself.
Have you optimized the locations for what you want to do? Removed distractions – visual and otherwise? Are you using the same arrangements of space and the environment as you were one year ago? Five years ago? Ten years ago?
Even rooms and environments need to be made fit to purpose (NB: not “fit for purpose”)
Again, sometimes you only need to make small adjustments to create a big impact. I am sitting two feet away from where I sat a week ago, having rearranged our workstations for better workflow in projects, which has made it much easier to access everything I need.
It feels like work is smoother, which makes it much more pleasant and enjoyable. I just seem to enjoy it more this way.
And there was no visualizing myself on any kind of screen at all, no heroic changes in internal dialogue, no deep and meaningful conversations with my unconscious – just getting the environment lined up better with intent and functional needs.
It’s much easier to slide changes in with making the environment more appropriate and fit to purpose. I’ve changed the size of the office clock (bigger) and its location, to prompt more time awareness into our workflows and it’s had a very interesting effect.
The first few days were ANNOYING (“Get that bloody clock out of my f&3%ing face” the robot grumped) but now, it’s actually comforting rather than confronting.
We always know where we are in a process, and one of our team doesn’t seem to get lost quite so often on the internet, and we’re getting our work done and we are out the door at a decent hour…
We’re going to concentrate today on the environment or space. In the next episode we’ll deal with doing things within the environment.
Two things for now:
Have a look at the list of changes you want make in relation to an important project you are working on or a longer-term goal. Sort the various behaviors into the environments or locations where you use them.
Look for patterns in the behaviors like sequences and order within each environment. See what kind of shifts, adjustments or changes you might make in the environments to support your goals, or to smooth or ease the changes.
Secondly, AFTER you have done the exercise above, consider a hypothetical question, “If I could start from scratch, how would I organize my environment and the workflows that go within them to optimize the quality of my outputs?”
You might make some sketches, or write out the changes, or go into full “changing-rooms” mode, or add something to your project list.
I leave this to you and your imagination…