Change Your Environment, Change Your Behavior

5th December 2023 | By Parker Pursell

In 1971, two congressmen, Robert Steele and Morgan Murphy, discovered a shocking fact while visiting U.S. soldiers in Vietnam: over 15% were addicted to heroin. This led to intense action in Washington, including a new office for drug abuse prevention.

Researcher Lee Robins found a surprising result: when these soldiers returned home, only a small fraction remained addicted. This challenged the belief that heroin addiction was permanent. The key was the change in environment. In Vietnam, triggers for heroin use were everywhere, but back home, those triggers were gone.

This situation contrasts with typical drug addicts who relapse after returning to their original environment post-rehab. The Vietnam case showed us that the environment plays a huge role in our habits and behaviors.

Recent studies further reveal that people with great self-control are not fundamentally different from others. They just structure their lives to minimize the need for willpower. This suggests that to change habits, changing the environment is more effective than relying on self-discipline alone.

For example, Patty Olwell, who quit smoking, only craved cigarettes again when she resumed horse riding, an activity she associated with smoking. This shows how habits can be triggered by environmental cues.

Similarly, exposing people to negative images or shaming them for their habits can inadvertently reinforce those habits. Habits tend to perpetuate themselves, creating a cycle of negative behavior.

Researchers have found that even brief exposure to cues can trigger cravings, proving that environment heavily influences our habits.

The takeaway is that while breaking a habit is possible, forgetting it is hard. To foster positive habits, it’s crucial to create an environment that supports them and minimizes exposure to negative triggers. For example, to avoid distractions, keep your phone in another room, or to stop overspending on electronics, avoid reading tech reviews.

The key message here is that self-control is a short-term solution. Long-term change requires shaping your environment to support the habits you want to cultivate. This is especially relevant for business professionals and investors, who understand the importance of environment in shaping outcomes. Just like in business, where the market environment affects decisions and success, your personal environment greatly influences your habits and behaviors.

Your money is no different. If you have negative behaviors, look at your environment and adapt.

If you have positive behaviors, observe the environment and apply to other aspects of negative behaviors.

Written by

Parker Pursell