For years my husband and I had a habit of putting the kids to bed, then getting right to work on our personal projects. We would work side by side for a couple hours, and then, exhausted, drag ourselves through our get-ready-for-bed routine. (Journal-writing, dental hygiene, skin care, and reading for me; dental hygiene and reading for him.) Because we were already tired and spent, it always took much longer than we had hoped, and we always got to bed much later than we planned.
The result: Eternal tiredness. Which was odd, because it seemed like every few weeks we recommitted to getting to bed at a “decent” hour.
We talked and talked about cutting back on our work. We wondered if it was really the best use of our time to work once the kids were in bed. Then my husband had an epiphany: We needed to change our schedule. The problem with not getting enough sleep was not what we were doing, it was when we were doing it.
So we changed the “get-ready-for-bed” routine around. Instead of waiting until we were done with our personal projects for the night to read and write in my journal, we did that just after the kids were asleep and the dishes were done. After that, it was time for personal projects. When we were done with those, it would take just a few minutes to floss and brush and wash my face. We could be to bed in record time.
And it worked. We started to get to bed earlier. Just a small change to our environment made a big difference in being able to achieve our sleep-time goal.
In fact, I’ve noticed that a small change in environmental factors can make it easier to achieve goals that have been stalled for a long time. Not buying the most tempting snacks can make it a lot easier to stop snacking. Putting my running shoes by the door instead of in the closet reminds me that I want to go running in the morning (and makes it easier to get out the door when I do wake up, since I don’t have to fumble around in the dark for them). Using smaller bowls and plates at mealtimes keeps me from serving myself super-sized portions.
And, it turns out, even if you aren’t the one to come up with the idea, small environmental changes can nudge you toward better choices. The New York Times reported this week that a mirror at the end of a grocery cart, letting you see yourself as you shop, can encourage better food choices. As can arrows pointing the way to the produce section, or a sign suggesting that half the cart be filled with fruits and veggies. (But not all of those things at once. That’s too much “nudging.”) Small changes in your environment can have a big impact on the choices you make.
Consider, then, the goal you can’t seem to achieve or the lifestyle change you feel powerless to make. Then consider what other factors might be in the way. And consider the possibility that you it’s not you who needs to change: It’s your environment.
image via istockphoto.com