When we put ourselves in situations that align with our values and goals, it makes positive behaviors more effortless.
Maybe you can give me some advice.
- I have cookies in my pantry at home.
- I have to drive 30 minutes to get to the closest gym.
- I went to the bar last Friday night and had 6 beers.
- I have a credit card.
- I have cable TV.
- I have a candy dish on my office desk.
- I have a core group of friends who drink alcohol, stay up late, and eat fast food.
- Oh, you should also know that I supposedly value my health, body and fitness.
Based on reading the aforementioned situations, what type of person would you expect me to be?
- Would you expect me to be eating healthy food each day?
- Would you expect me to be fit?
- Would you expect me to be in debt?
- Would you expect me to get adequate sleep?
Now, here’s where your advice comes in.
I’m currently overweight, have high blood pressure and feel like crap each day.
What would you tell me to do?
Do I need a new diet? Should I count carbs? Hey, I hear that turning my toes inwards on the leg press will make my quads ripped. What do you think? Is that what I really need?
The power of situations
Situations can involve all kinds of things.
- Our physical environment: with what do we surround ourselves?
- Our social environment: who are our friends? our peer group? the people with whom we spend the most time?
- Our “values environment”: what do people around us care about? what do they value and prioritize?
- Our “resource environment”: do we have access to things that can help us? do we have resources, like maxed-out credit cards or fast food on speed dial, that aren’t really doing us any favors?
- Our schedule and “habit environment”: how do we spend our days and nights? what’s comfortable to us?
- Our home environment: what’s available to us? is it helpful or a hindrance?
Emotional vs logical brain
Most folks are well aware of having a logical left brain and an emotional right brain. Both have important jobs to do. The problem happens when you put the emotional brain in charge of things that the logical brain should really be handling. (Or vice versa.)
Our emotional brain wants to max out the credit card, even though our logical brain knows we should save for retirement.
My solution? Don’t get a credit card.
Our emotional brain wants to eat the entire bag of cookies, even though our logical brain knows we should eat one cookie to avoid diabetes.
My solution? Don’t buy the bag of cookies.
Seeing a trend? The situation we put ourselves in can be life altering, especially since eventually the emotional brain wears down the logical brain.
Some new evidence from brain science in fact suggests that “willpower” and the power of the logical brain is a finite resource. We seem to deplete “willpower” over the course of a day, which probably explains why you can feel like Spock at 9 am and Chris Farley at 9 pm.
I know my tendencies. I can’t rely on willpower to grind through difficult situations. That might get me through a tough circumstance every once in awhile – but daily? No way.
When I put myself in situations with junk food, negative people, and alcohol, it leads to one thing: Operation Failure.
Thus, we need to think ahead with our logical brain, to anticipate the antics of our emotional brain, and put structures and situations in place to help ourselves succeed.
The power of environment
Consider the power of our environment in these daily situations.
If I kept cookies in my pantry at home, I’d probably eat cookies every day. Instead, I keep veggies, beans, fruits, whole grains, and nuts/seeds on hand.
If I had to drive 30 minutes to the gym, I probably wouldn’t go to the gym very much. Instead, I make sure to set up residence across the street from a gym.
If I went to the bar on Friday night and had 6 beers, I’d probably use cheesy pick up lines and get in bar fights. Instead, you’ll find me in a situation that doesn’t revolve around bars and booze.
If I had a credit card, I’d probably buy stuff I didn’t really have the money for and be in debt. Instead, I pay cash and don’t keep a credit card.
If I had cable TV, I’d probably be mesmerized and stay up late watching sitcoms. Instead, I stick to books and DVDs, and I don’t have cable TV.
If I had a candy dish on my office desk, I’d probably be eating candy all day. Instead, I don’t have a candy dish.
If I had a core group of friends that drank alcohol, stayed up late, and ate fast food, I’d probably be doing the same things as them. Instead, I have friends that exercise, eat healthy, and challenge me to be a better person.
New clients, new situations
When we get a new client at PN who puts themselves in situations that don’t align with their values (or at least what they claim to value), we’re quite sure they’ll fail. And that’s all right. But they should probably make sure to accept that outcome and not anticipate anything different.
Can someone have healthy daily habits if they put themselves in failure prone situations? Sure. But I can’t see it lasting for a long time. What we do is based on how we construct our lives.
Put yourself in a smart situation
I’ll own it, I’m human. People might claim that I’m “Mr. Superhero” when it comes to eating, exercise and staying fit. But you know what? I’m only one decision away from the negative option. If I put myself in the same situation as most North Americans – I would live, look and be like most North Americans.
My tank doesn’t run on willpower. It runs on smart situations. I don’t consciously make the choice to be healthy every minute of every day. I just go along with my environment. My environment better support my choices or I’ll probably fail.
Many North Americans set themselves up to fail. They live the life of an overweight, disease prone person. Why should they expect anything different?
What situations are you putting yourself in?
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