Take a look around you. What do you see? If you pay attention, there are a lot of things that comprise and design the space you’re in. Maybe you’re in the office at your desk, in a supermarket scrolling down the news feed on your phone, or at home in your dorm sitting in bed with the laptop on your lap.
Have you ever thought that each one of those things around you influences your daily life decisions?
That poster on the wall, the laptop on your desk, the TV in your bedroom, the clutter in your closet, or the cookies on the kitchen table. Your smartphone, your desktop image, those tiny little red notifications on your Facebook page, even what you carry daily in your backpack or handbag. Everything.
I call all those spaces mini-worlds. Your house is one. Your kitchen, your bedroom, smartphone, car, office, everything. Every space, virtual or real, big or small is a mini-world. Yes, even the backpack that’s on your shoulders whenever you go somewhere. Every day we divide our twenty-four hours between these mini-worlds. It all came to me after reading about choice architecture in a book called Nudge.
Why does this matter?
Because we have a default pathway for each mini-world. That is the path of least resistance, or the easy way. And we take this path almost each time we go through our mini-worlds. The bad thing is that we have default pathways that are leading us astray from what we would like to do, despite our best intentions and genuine desire to achieve our goals. And I bet you can’t disagree on this one.
How does this happen?
It happens simply because of our two brains. The automatic, emotional brain which takes shortcuts, and the reflective brain which is slow, logical and deliberate. We are not as smart as we would like to think. Most of the times we are irrational. That means that most of the decision making in our lives is irrational, based on the emotional brain. Why do you think you keep clicking on those red buttons of your facebook page when you should instead focus on your work?
When we’re fatigued, morose, stressed or pressured by too many stimulus impacting our senses, it’s hard to make rational decisions based on willpower alone. Willpower is like a muscle. When it’s done, it can’t help us make the right choice anymore. There’s simply not enough of it to govern all the decisions we’re called on to make day in and day out. That’s when we’re prone to fall prey to bad habits. You can’t help yourself but eat that cookie. Because it’s there. Every time.
Let’s not get into too many details. This is how our brains function, and this is how we get through our days. Nature hardwired us this way, and with a purpose. Our emotional, intuitive brain is critical to survival. But nowadays, since our world evolved a great deal and we don’t live in caves anymore, it gets us into lots of trouble. Our brain interprets daily stressful circumstances as survival situations and uses the wrong tool to take decisions.
So what can we do?
The good thing is that we get to choose or at least alter in some way most of our mini-worlds. We can change the default pathways. Outsmart our brains. It’s all a matter of making the right decision the easy one.
Waking up every day and turning on the TV just because it’s there? Move it, sell it, throw it away. Chatting on your smartphone every evening before falling asleep? Uninstall Messenger. Turn the phone off and put it away in another room. And buy a simple alarm clock. Yes, the one without the snooze function. Then put that book you keep trying to convince yourself to read where the phone used to stay during the night. Maybe you’ll start reading it eventually.
Don’t think for a second that you are alone in all this. Last week I moved my laptop from the desk in my bedroom, to the living room. It didn’t work. The laptop was too easy to move around. Then I moved the whole desk out of my bedroom. Now it works just fine.
Or take Facebook for example. I often found myself scrolling my life away. No, not for cat videos and not because of 9GAG either. I kept on reading long articles on how not to procrastinate or about why procrastination is bad. Smart excuse, right?
My solution? Unfollow. Everybody. Everything.
Yeah, I know. It sounds so drastic. But let’s think about it for a second. What happens after is that it’s not possible anymore to scroll endlessly through your cat meme filled feed. You need to give a few clicks now and then to switch pages or friends. And at some point you’ll get tired of it and even grab a book because it’s easier. You might try to follow back everyone, but that requires a great deal of clicks, and I can bet you’ll get tired of it.
The idea behind is to make a conscious effort every time when you consume content online. And because it’s conscious, at least when you need to give a few clicks around, you’ll have more chances to stop a bad behavior and start building better habits.
And yeah. I already unfollowed you. But don’t take it personal. It’s just to keep myself sane.
Do you find it hard to improve your life and form better habits? Change your mini-worlds. One by one. You want something in your life? Place it in your way. You want it out? Keep it out of your way. Make it easy for you to do the right thing.
Now stay away from that cookie!