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A Guide to Sticking With Good Habits and Strengthening your Self Control


Most people will believe that trying something new, breaking old habits, or forming new ones are all linked to your drive and self-control. However, the more you think about it, the more you will realise that your surroundings are having the biggest impact on your habits – specifically relating to your food and drink choices.



Self-Controlvs.Your Surroundings

Recently, a 6-month-long experiment was carried out at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston by a physician, Anne Thorndike.

The experiment was carried out in the canteen in the hospital and the main focus of the study was to show that people could make healthier food and drink choices simply by being placed in slightly different surroundings.

The goal of the experiment was to arrange food and beverages in the canteen in such a way that people would subconsciously reach for the healthy choice of food or drink due to convenience. By arranging the food and drinks in a particular way, Thorndike’s idea of “choice architecture” aimed to prove that displays of items can greatly affect our choices.

How“Choice Architecture” Influences Us

The specialists began by altering the way the beverages were displayed in the canteen. Initially, there were three fridges, which were all filled with sugary drinks. The scientists then ensured that bottles of water were added to every one of those fridges and also placed baskets of water bottles elsewhere across the room.

What was the result? The following interesting things happened over the following 3 months:

  1. The number of sugary drinks sold dropped by 11.4%

  2. The number of water bottles sold rose by 25.8%

Similar changes were made in the canteen with the food choices. None of the people who ate or drank in the canteen were told about the changes, the researchers simply made the small adjustments and observed what happened.

We have always been told that your self-control and motivation are the only things that will help you develop new habits, but experiments like this prove that this is wrong. By simply making changes to your surroundings – i.e. your environment at home or at work, your behaviour can be easily influenced without you even thinking about it.

Exercising your Self-Control

Some people like to think of their self-control as a muscle. Just like any other muscle in the body, the more you use it, the more tired it will become if you overwork it.

Anyone who has gone through a stressful time at work e.g. working towards an important deadline will understand the struggle of willpower and self-control. By putting in so many hours at the office, you are using all of your energy concentrating, so when you get home you only want to eat easy, convenient (and usually unhealthy!) foods, put on your PJs, and fall into bed.

By bringing “choice architecture” and self-discipline together, we can gradually change our daily habits for the better.

Making Good Decisions Every Day

When you’re exhausted and are experiencing a lackof self-control, you are more likely to be influenced by your surroundings. Maybe you won’t have the energy to cook up a healthy meal (even if you have the food in your fridge) because you know it’s easier to use your favourite app to order a greasy takeaway.

Interestingly, it is the same idea that is used strategically in supermarkets. Products that are placed at eye level or are more easily accessible are the products that sell. Products placed on lower shelves are less likely to sell as high a quantity.

It all relates the philosophical idea of “out of sight, out of mind”. By applying the findings of Thorndike’s study discussed earlier in this article, you can help your self-control. All you need to do is make a few small changes to the way you store food at home, and your brain will help guide you towards the healthier food options simply because they are more visible or more conveniently placed.

To Change Your Habits, Change Your Surroundings

The idea behind “choice architecture” or in other words “arranging your food and rinks differently” is to encourage you to go onto auto pilot mode. Instead of making the conscious decisions to pick a healthy food choice, the idea of changing the way your food is displayed means that you don’t have to think about it. Therefore, you have exercised no self-control which means that it is freed up for whatever other choices you may have to make during the day.

What have we learned? Changingyour surroundings works.

Although rearranging furniture so that your unhealthy food can’t be reached as easilymay seem unimportant, it is a major factor in allowing yourself to automatically develop good habits.

When healthy choices are everywhere you look, it’s much easier for you to make better decisions.

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