Think of someone you admire for being very effective at what they do.
It could be someone who excels in a particular area that you’re interested in developing — i.e. a hard skill at work, fitness, mindset.
Or, quite simply, it could be someone who just overall seems to have their sh*t together while you feel like you’re struggling at the basics.
Besides the fact that you may be comparing yourself to someone who is not at the same place in their journey as you are (not the topic of this post, but also a hugely important distinction to make!), there are factors you do not always see.
One such factor, is the way people design their environments to set themselves up for success.
You probably underestimate this fact, as well as how much of a difference it makes in the end result that you see.
What does it mean to design your environment for success?
To design your environment for success quite simply means to take actions in your physical (or abstract) surroundings that make good choices easier and bad choices harder.
Doing so enables you to do more of what allows you to be successful, with less pressure on you to have an insane amount of will power or discipline.
Examples of how to design your environment for success.
I’ve picked some examples in 8 different (but all important) areas of life to help show you what designing your environment looks like in practice.
My hope is to demonstrate that it often doesn’t take much. Simple but deliberate environment tweaks can make a world of a difference in the power and strength of your decision making ability.
Let’s take a look.
Sleep is crucial component of success — no matter how you define it. We really can’t accomplish much if we are too sleep deprived for too long.
There are a lot of factors that can contribute to a poor nights sleep — one big one being spending too much time looking at a screen before bed.
An example of designing your environment for better sleep would be to not place a TV in the bedroom.
If you want to take it a step further, using a standard alarm clock enables you to leave your phone to charge outside the bedroom before winding down for sleep.
Removing these distractions from your bedroom makes it harder to waste time scrolling or binge watching television at the expense of sleep. And by making these bad choices harder, it makes good choice easier (in this case — following a consistent sleep schedule by winding down in ways that are more conducive to a better night’s sleep).
Trying to eat healthier? Don’t buy junk food and don’t keep it at home. Simple as that.
By removing the temptation of bad choices, you make it easier on yourself to eat more nutritious options.
You may still experience the temptation to go out and buy whatever you’re craving (or get it delivered to your home) — however by not keeping it close by, you add enough friction to make the bad choice harder and give the good choice a better chance of coming out on top.
If you work out at home, having a designated space that motivates you to exercise can be a great way to help you reach your fitness goals.
Trying to be more consistent with going for a run or hitting the gym? Place your shoes near the door and lay out your clothes in advance so that you remove some of the thinking/decision making before hand. This is just a temporary re-design of your environment, but I know for me it has been the difference between finding the discipling or missing a workout.
When it comes to a habit or a behavior that you know is good for you but that you can easily find excuses to talk yourself out of, the less decisions you force yourself to make, the better. This is the essence of designing your environment.
4. Focus & Productivity
As much as we may not wish to accept it at times, it’s tough to produce our best work when focusing on too many things at once.
I get it. I often find myself getting sucked into checking my phone every few minutes. When we jump around from one thing to the next, we don’t get much done.
The solution? If you’re really serious about focusing, create a distraction free zone.
It sounds like a no brainer, but the will power to stick to this can be tough. This is where environment design comes in.
An example of designing your environment for success would be to create a home office setup (or a section of your home if you live in a small space like me) where your phone is not allowed and internet browsing is limited.
Lock yourself in a room with no distractions but the task at hand, and stay in there until you get what you need to get done. If you have a hard time sticking to these restrictions, have a loved one help keep you accountable.
5. Mental Wellness
This example might not be as simple as some of the others, because it starts with a deeper sense of self awareness that you need to develop over time. In particular, you need to become in tune with what practices help you reground yourself and stop the negative spiral in order to design your environment for success.
For example, in my work space, I keep my yoga mat rolled out on the floor rather than putting it away. This visual cue helps remind me during a hectic work day that a few minutes of stretching or paying attention to my breathing can help calm me down when I start to feel anxious or overwhelmed.
It could be placing tea bags in a bowl on the kitchen counter, always keeping your journal on hand, or setting helpful reminders throughout the day that remind you to slow down and pay attention to what you’re feeling.
Get to know yourself and what works for you. Then find ways (whether visual cues or something else) to make these mental health habits accessible to you whenever you might need them.
There are multiple ways to learn, of course. But for this example, I’m going to use reading without getting distracted as my source of learning.
To design your environment for success, you could designate a specific location as your reading zone. Similar to our focus/productivity example, design the space to limit distractions.
For me, this looked like investing in a Kindle. It allows me to leave my phone far out of reach, and I don’t get distracted at the prospect of browsing the web on another tab, as I might do if I were on a computer.
I sit by a window in my apartment, and I’ve come to associate this place with reading. Now when I wake up in the mornings and sit there, getting into a reading zone comes more automatically.
These few, simple choices have really helped me focus on what books have to teach me. Remove the distractions, and the bad choices become harder while the good choices seem a bit more effortless.
“Environment” is a broad term. When it comes to relationships, designing your environment for success comes down to the people you choose to surround yourself with.
If you’re trying to build new skills or making positive, lasting life changes, it helps to create an environment where the people around you push you to be better and help carry you there.
The wrong environment can have the opposite effect. Set yourself up for success by choosing your relationships wisely.
8. Responsible Spending
If you’re trying to avoid reckless or unnecessary spending, design your “environment” for success by making saving more automatic and removing the option to spend more.
If you automatically deposit money from every paycheck into a separate savings account and leave yourself with less money in the “spending pile”, you can trick yourself into thinking you have less money to spend.
When really, all you’ve done is design your online banking environment in a way that makes good decisions easier and adds some friction to bad decisions.
How to implement in your own life
Step 1: Define “Success”
Before you can design your environment for success, you must first define what success means for you.
Step 2: Brainstorm — what would add friction to some of your bad decisions you want to correct?
I’ve outlined plenty of examples above. Do any of them sound like something that you could try? Think through your own environments — physical and otherwise (living space but also nontangibles such as relationships).
Can you brainstorm a list of possible improvements? Start by writing or thinking about what happens just before you make a bad choice. What enables it? What makes it easier to give in or justify?
Step 3: Play around with it!
You won’t know what works for you until you try! I might say that leaving your shoes by the door is more likely to get you out the door for your run. But that might not work for you.
If you’re really committed to making changes, put in the work to try different things and figure out what works for you and your goals.
Wrapping things up
Designing your environment to make good decisions easier and bad decisions harder is a simpler process than it might sound like.
But like anything self-growth related, you have to commit to something in order to see a change. Even if it seems too easy or too simple. Even if you’re not convinced it will truly have an impact.
None of this is to say that there will be no discipline required. That is still a skill that will need to be built. But by focusing on designing your environment, you make it an easier skill to build than it would otherwise be.
You give yourself a chance to fall in love with how acting in a disciplined manner makes you feel.
So the next time you catch yourself comparing your will power, discipline, and mental resilience to someone else, ask yourself if you are making things harder on yourself than you need to. Chances are, a super simple environment re-design is all you need to become much more effective!