Behavior Change Myths–Part 3, Ignoring the Environment

I’ve been slacking on this project, but it certainly seems relevant now with the New Year. As a reminder, my thoughts are based on this presentation.

The third myth in behavior change is the idea that we can change behavior inside of the conditions which created the behavior in the first place. To put that in other words, that’s expecting to stop drinking while still going to bars every night. You won’t make it.

Effective behavior change is assisted by shifting and changing your environment.

The Bible sums up this idea well with the parable Jesus told about the clean house. To summarize, the evil spirit is kicked out of a house, the spirit wanders around for awhile, the spirit decides to return to the house, the spirit finds it cleaned, and the spirit moves in with seven other spirits leaving the state of the man in worse condition than previously.

Pretty simple.

That parable of course has significant application to what we do with our lives after we break free from habit or addiction, but it also has much to say about the environment we find ourselves in. If we would change our behavior, we must recognize that our surroundings influence our behavior and then take appropriate steps to modify our surroundings to compensate for the behavior we would change. I would also note that the fact that the spirit was kicked out did not mean the behavior changed. There was still plenty of work to do, which was not done, and that enabled the spirit to come back in stronger.

Anyone who has failed at changing behavior can testify that trying again is harder.

For me and one of my addictions (junk food), changing my environment means I don’t allow junk food in the house. More than that, however, I also try to go shopping when I’m feeling unstressed because I know that stressful shopping leads to having junk food in the grocery cart. I’ve also found that I succeed when I encourage those around me to help me. In effect, I’m changing my environment in ways that encourage the behaviors I want to first remove and second establish.

To be fair, I think this can be the hardest part of behavior change for many people because it is public. It is visible. It sometimes involves removing yourself from friends and family, from places of comfort. In some ways, these changes invite stress into your life, which of course could feed the desire for those very comforts you are trying to avoid.

And such is the nature of behavior change.

While environment can certainly inhibit behavior change, it can also promote. In my junk food example above, the change of not allowing junk food in the house promotes the change. Perhaps the classic example of promoting behavior change through environment is the method of putting things in your way. I know of some who put their running shoes right by their bed so that they trip over them in the morning. Some use the prayer rock (a rock put under the pillow) to remind them to say prayers. Me? I have “places.” I put things in places that I know I’ll encounter them. I put my scriptures on the back of the couch along with my socks in the morning knowing that I will eventually sit down to put on my shoes and see my scriptures next to my socks. I put things in my lunch bag because I always look there at least three times a day (once to pack my lunch, once to eat, and once to clean it out).

On another note, I find that Courtney and I actively choose to tone down our music choices, which help us make decisions we find more inline with the gospel. It also helps the mood of our home be calmer.

So what is it about your environment that affects you and your behavior? What are you trying to change that is being stopped by your environment? How could you change your environment to help you in behavior change?


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One Response to Behavior Change Myths–Part 3, Ignoring the Environment

  1. Pingback: Behavior Change Myths–Part 4, Only Trying to Stop Old Behaviors « the prodigal

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