Create an Environment that Promotes Success

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When you walk into a bathroom does your urge to urinate increase? When you enter a restaurant and are surrounded by intoxicating odors, do you not start feeling hungrier? In the library, do you feel the need to whisper? When your room or office is too warm, do you start feeling tired? Of course!

Our brain has been conditioned to respond to these environments and types of stimuli originating from years of prior experiences as well as physiological needs! (Think Pavlov’s Dog). When you are on a diet, you don’t torture yourself by having a cabinet full of Snickers. When you are trying to limit your drinking, it’s not a good idea to have a fridge full of beer.  And of course, having a computer by your bed isn’t helpful if your addicted to Facebook and need to get some shut-eye!

Over time our repetitive behavior can be associated with sensory input… whether it’s a the sound of your phone, the smell of coffee, or the sight of a beer.  This also includes your environment: I feel motivated to exercise when in the gym (and surrounded by other exercisers), I feel focused and ready to be productive in a clean office, and I want to eat some delicious food when in the kitchen!

Everyday I see people failing to apply this simple concept in many areas of their life:  limit your ability to fail by setting up your environment for success.

Are you trying to start a new habit or end a harmful one? Do you want to make big changes with less resistance? Do you want to minimize the need for self-control and increase your chances of success?

Controlling your environment is the first place to begin! Read on!

Sensory Input Be Good, Sensory Input Be Bad

Sure, we like to think we are free-thinking, self-motivated, and full of self-control but are we truly or can we be manipulated? We are HUMAN, and we are susceptible to the amazing powers of our human senses AND how our brain has been conditioned to process and respond to them in the past.

The sensory information we absorb from our environment can easily distract us and limit our ability to be productive. When I smell food I want some, when I see my guitar I want to play it, when I feel my bed I want to sleep in it, when I hear the TV I want to see what’s on. These are clear signs that I’ve allowed my mind to easily get easily distracted by sensory stimulation – and controlling my environment has never been more important!

Vision is our most powerful sense (it has been estimated that 50% of our brain is devoted to vision and visual processing) and this is the primary area that I give attention.  I usually don’t realize I want a Klondike Bar until I see one, I don’t need to go play Frisbee until I see the little red saucer in the closet, and I definitely don’t have the desire to go eat at Taco Bell until I see a juicy 33% beef Double Decker on TV.

Just spend 5 minutes with kids and you’ll fully understand! These little guys are perfect examples of being stimulus driven!

I Can’t FOCUS!

Perhaps you don’t need to change a behavior, perhaps you need to change your state of mind.  If you are very easily distracted by your senses, how can you go about supporting and encouraging your own success?  Well, here is what works for me…

To start, I ensure that other projects and distractions are out of view, my desk is clean, I’m in a well-lit room, and I turn off the internet if it proves to be a problem.

Other things I consider?

  • Hearing: I turn off or mute other technologies that can distract me, the TV isn’t on, and if I listen to music it doesn’t have lyrics.
  • Feeling: I’m comfortable and can stay in this position for a long duration.
  • Taste: Not a big one for me, but there are studies that show if you are orally fixated (snacking or drinking something), you can focus and retain more.
  • Smell: Also not a big one, but smell has the tightest connection to memory and when learning, having a pleasant odor nearby can help recall the memory later.
  • Biological Needs: I make sure I am not overly fatigued, hungry, and always have a bottle of water within reach.

By controlling my ideal environment, I encourage my desired behavior and increase my chances of success.  Some people are able to have laser-like focus without needing to block out senses, but if you have the attention span of a goldfish then try some of these out!

If I wanted to work on a creative project, my environment may be completely different!  How would you create your ideal environment?

Simple Right?

This concept is so simple but it makes sense.  When we try to make a change we usually face resistance because the brain has learned to operate efficiently in its currently balanced state and changing something forces it to adapt.  Controlling our environment helps minimize this resistance!  Here are a few more common situations:

“I’m so tired because I was up late on facebook/youtube/twitter”Don’t use self-control to stop the behavior, take the easier route (still using some self-control) to turn off the freakin’ internet or remove the computer from your room!

“I’m trying to lose weight, but I just have a hard time eating healthy!” – Don’t have anything in your cabinets or fridge that you don’t think is beneficial to your weight loss and health!  Create a shopping list (when not hungry), and only get the items on this list.  And go shopping on a full stomach 😉

“I’m always late for work because I repeatedly sleep in!” – There are many other types of methods for this one, but how about setting multiple alarms that aren’t by your bed.  Have a smart phone?  Download an App that forces you to solve a math problem (for Android) before you can turn your alarm off!

“Every time I need to get something done, someone calls me!” – Drr. Turn off your phone smarty.

“I want to start exercising in the morning but I lose the urge when I wake up!” – Start by getting your workout clothes ready for the morning so they are staring you in the face when you wake up – don’t have your work clothes within sight.  Also, find a workout partner if you can, there is nothing better than not wanting to let someone else down and holding you accountable!

Get’r Done!

The beauty of it all is once you’ve engrained a new habit or behavior, minding your environment is not as necessary (but still encouraged)!  Setting up an environment for success doesn’t mean it guarantees success, but it DOES minimize the excuses we are able to create for NOT doing what we desire to do.

Doesn’t it make sense then, that if we want to encourage new behaviors or stop undesired ones, that we should pay attention to our environments?! You bet it does.


When you want to change a behavior or habit, what do you do?  How do you set yourself up for success?

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Greg has written 69 articles on Student of Me.

Greg is the creator and primary writer for Student of Me. He probably spends way too much time on the computer writing, researching, programming, and working on his photography. He loves escaping from screen-time to travel, ride his motorcycle, experience the outdoors and spend time with loved ones. You can contact him at greg (at)!

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2 thoughts on “Create an Environment that Promotes Success”

  1. Maria says:

    Really enjoyed the post, was really interesting!

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