Have you ever started making progress toward a goal or change in your behavior only go find yourself back where you started? When that happened, who’d you blame? This discouraging scenario is played out over and over again in home after home and year after year.
The problem for many people isn’t that they don’t have a desire or don’t take initiative. The problem is that after they get started something happens to interrupt the progress they made and they get off track and revert back to the behaviors that caused the problem in the first place.
To prevent this from happening it’s essential to create a supportive environment so that you can stick with the changes that you started. The previous post focused on phase two in the behavior change process. So if you haven’t, check out that post first. Again, you make a new behavior stick by creating a supportive environment...this is the most critical ingredient.
The ultimate desire we have is that the positive behaviors we’re adopting stick for the long haul. Right? It’s frustrating and defeating when we revert back to doing things that are not in our best interest. Have you ever lost weight and regained it? You know the feeling.
Most of us have achieved ‘success’ at short-term change. However, in order to achieve sustainable change, creating an environment that supports your changes is just plain smart.
Creating sustainable change only happens with intention. Ignoring the influence of your environment will guarantee frustration and failure. And, it’s really habitual cues and triggers in your environment that either support or defeat your long-term behavior change goals.
To repeat…in order for the changes you’re working on to last, create an environment that supports your efforts. To do so, you’re best served by working on both your internal and external environments.
INTERNAL ENVIRONMENT [IE] - Simply stated, your IE is what goes on inside your head. It’s the thoughts you think and what you believe to be true about yourself, people, and life.
Here are five ways to set your IE up for success.
First, focus on a future that inspires you. If you don’t have a vision, create one. Outline a picture of what you’d like life to be like three years from now. What does that look like? How is your health? What’s the vibe of your key relationships? How are you spending your time and are you doing those things you love?
- At this point, it’s not essential that you have it all figured – that you know how you’re going to get there. It is vital that you have a vision of what it will look like. That is where you want to focus. And remember, your focus determines (guides) your behavior.
- On a daily basis, keep that vision at the forefront. When you get stuck in the day-to-day, focus on your brighter future. Connect how the things you’re doing today are leading you toward that vision and be renewed in that hope.
Second, establish the habit of positive expectation. Intentionally feed your mind with positive information on a daily basis. Zig Ziglar said, “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.” His clever words are worth applying.
- Read the vision that you created of what you’d like life to be three years from now when you get up in the morning and before you go to bed at night.
- Before hitting the sack, write down three ‘wins’ that happened to you today and what three ‘wins’ you’re expecting tomorrow.
Third, cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Gratitude is the strongest of human emotions. It’s virtually impossible to be despondent or depressed when you’re sincerely focused on those things for which you are grateful. Again, since your focus determines your behavior, when you focus on what you’re grateful for, your behavior reflects and attracts more of the same.
- I worked with a woman who was going through a tough stretch and, almost as an act of desperation, she sat down and just started writing out a list of everything she WAS grateful for in her life. Her list ended up filling more than two pages. Those things then became her focus and her life changed. Try it.
- In addition to writing down your three ‘wins’ for the day, also take moment every night and write down three things for which you are thankful.
- As you go through your day, be conscious of those things you’re thankful for as they occur.
- When you’re going through a tough stretch, you may need to focus on the small things, but be assured that what you focus on expands.
Fourth, possess the precious present. Sounds simple, but it’s not, is it? How often do you catch your thoughts completely removed from where you are at and what you’re doing and whom you’re with? Often our thoughts are caught up in worrying about something in the future; instead of enjoying and appreciating the moments were in right now. Wherever you are, be all there…it’s the best place to be.
- A tell tale sign that you’re not fully present is when you find yourself easily upset or irritated by those you’re with, whether at work or at home. Many times its because you’re thinking about something else you’d rather be doing than what you’re doing at that moment. When that happens, refocus on just enjoying what you’re doing and whom you’re with at that instant.
- Also, as much as possible do one thing at a time. This is a mental mindset. You have to allow yourself to get there mentally before you will transfer this skill to your external environment.
- Have outstanding projects that never get done? If so, that inhibits your ability to live in the present, because those things are always in the back of your mind tugging on your psyche. Try putting them on your calendar. Transfer them from your mind to your planner. You now have assurance that those things will get done so you don’t have to think about them.
Fifth, find the fun. You’re going through life anyway, right? Why not enjoy it? There are going to be tough and challenging times, granted. Which is why it takes intention to put enjoyment and fun into the activity and events of daily life.
- Fun isn’t based on what happens to you. It’s how you choose to respond to whatever situation you’re in.
- Fun isn’t based on what the task is that you’re doing. It’s the way you perform the task, no matter what it is. Most tasks you’re going to do anyway, so develop the habit of putting fun into the task, whether it’s washing dishes, walking the bean field, working at your job, playing with the kids, or writing a blog post.
EXTERNAL ENVIRONMENT [EE]: Your EE is your physical environment. It’s everything you can see, feel, hear, taste, and touch. The key question is, “What in your EE can you orchestrate so that it works in your favor?” Are there things you can change in your external world to put you in the best position to win?
For the purpose of this post, we’ll briefly look at three areas: health, productivity, and relationships. There are a few examples provided to get you thinking and to start taking action.
Health: What changes to your environment can you make so that it is more conducive for you to make healthy choices?
- Are there food products in your kitchen that need to leave and never return? If so, take time to go through your cabinets and refrigerator and start tossing. Do worry; whatever you eat that you don’t need either goes to waist or waste.
- Have you adapted to using smaller mugs and dinner plates, which automatically limits your portion sizes so you are less likely to overeat? Put the big plates and cups in the upper cabinet and the smaller plates and cups within easy reach.
- Do you leave the food on the counter instead of setting in on the table where it’s within arms distance? Keeping it on the counter makes it less convenient so you are less like to have second…or thirds.
- Do you have proper clothing and footwear that you enjoy wearing when you exercise? If not, it’s time to go shopping.
- If you exercise in the morning, do you set out your workout clothes the night before so they are ready and waiting for you when you get up?
- Do you pack your lunch and take it to work instead of hitting the closest convenient food place? Doing so limits your choices and makes it more likely you’ll be eating a planned meal, which is usually healthier.
- Have you scheduled your workout time on your calendar or do you have friend you workout with to increase accountability? Put it on your calendar and phone a friend, if not.
Productivity: What environmental habits or hang-ups have developed that may be limiting your efficiency and effectiveness?
- Do you have a countdown timer that keeps you focused for 45-90 minutes while you work uninterrupted, if you’re doing office work? You can use your wristwatch or one of the online programs as your guide. Watch your productivity soar.
- Do you only open up the browser tabs that you need for the work you’re doing to prevent unwanted surfing? Less choice equals more productivity.
- Is your desk or office space clear of clutter and conducive for concentrating? Take time to clear, straighten, pickup, file, and toss.
- Is your inbox a storage depository or kept to zero? Sort through, respond, relocate, or delete on regular basis.
- Is there clothing that is creating clutter and creates feelings of confusion and chaos? Go through your closets and donate whatever you haven’t worn in one year and invest in closet systems that make you feel great when you look at your room.
- Do you need to put your alarm clock on the other side of the room so you have to get out of bed to turn it off? The extra sleep you do get by pounding on the alarm clock has proven to be poor quality sleep anyway.
- Do you have one place where you toss or hang your keys so you know exactly where to look when you need them again? Find a convenient spot and get in the habit of putting your keys there every time you come into the house.
Relationships: Have you examined how your environment is limiting or preventing your ability to form deeper relationships with those who matter most to you?
- Is the TV on during dinner hour? If so, just know that instead of being entertainment or education, it’s a distraction that limits conversation and connection.
- Do you have dinner around the table regularly throughout the week? It’s proven to be one of the best ways to build a family bond.
- Do you have a TV in your bedroom? Not only does it inhibit sound sleep, it’s an intimacy killer. Remove it or leave it off.
- Do you check your phone while you’re talking to someone in person? Not only is it rude, you’re sending the message that the person you’re speaking to isn’t important, no matter if it’s your child or your mother. Leave it in your pocket.
- When you get home from work, is your smart phone still begging for your attention? Every time you respond to its pinging you’re telling those who yearn for your attention that they’re not as important as work. Turn it off.
- Do you allow the kids to jump in the car and pop in their ear buds or turn on their iPod immediately? Time in the car with your kids is an excellent time to engage in conversation, unless they’re otherwise distracted.
- Have you scheduled time on your calendar for those people who you want to build relationships with, such as a regular date night with your spouse? Make sure to turn your phone off and enjoy the time just being together.
Obviously, focusing on all of the IE and EE changes that are listed (and there are many more) seems daunting. It’s also not recommended. Instead, of doing all of them do all, just pick those you’re willing to begin with and start there. Pick one or two that you feel would make a significant change but also that you see yourself committing to and accomplishing.
Once you’ve achieved a level of accomplishment you feel satisfied with, pick another and another. Now, you’re on your way to transforming both your IE and EE to the level that is helping you live your best life...FULLY ALIVE!
Since this is a three-step process that is cyclical, it’d be a good idea to print out this series and put it in a binder where you can easily and regularly reference and review the content to help keep you on track.
You CAN make changes that you can stick with and that will stick with you! Don't let past failures keep you from trying again because the only real failure is to quit.
Send me a note if this series was helpful and let me know the changes you're working on.