Environment Hacking

I’m a big believer in changing your environment to influence your own behavior. I wrote in Self Control that I block social media, news, and other distracting sites on my work computers (I now do it on all computers and devices I use). This means I don’t need to expend any willpower avoiding those sites—it’s simply impossible to get to them.

I also use Due and my own app, Habits, to give me reminders to do things I want to do, but forget.

These apps are using what the Fogg Behavior model calls a Prompt. In this model, we add prompts to our environment for things we want to do more and remove them for things we want to avoid.

My blocking of social media is using the environment to impair my Ability, which is another variable you can affect by changing your environment.

Fogg covers this in-depth in his book Tiny Habits.

One of BJ Fogg’s insights is that you already have habits that are completely automatic, so he suggests using those as prompts for a new habit you are trying to build. You repeat to yourself, “After I do [some automatic habit], I will do [some tiny version of a new habit]”. For example, “after I brush my teeth, I will floss one tooth”. In this case, the environment is your existing habit.

This works great, but I have some habits that I can’t easily tie to existing one (or at least I haven’t been successful at it yet). For these kinds of habits, I have been thinking of “habit totems” I can put into the environment to prompt me.

One example is that when I run, my arms tend to cross-over in front of my body instead of staying out at the sides. If I notice it, I fix it, but I can’t get it to be top of mind while running. So, I cut out a small arrow out of electrical tape and put it on my watch band.

This has helped a lot. I see this part of my watchband a lot during my run, and it leaves enough of an imprint to help me keep my arms out.

The difference is the habit totem is location-based, rather than time-based (like an alarm) or behavior-based, like another habit.