If you don’t control your environment, your environment will control you.

How To Take Back Control And Live Your Best Life

“If you don’t control your environment, someone else will.” — Grant Cardone

We live in a world where advertisements are constantly shoved in our faces.

Trillion dollar companies spend billions of dollars each year on research to learn how to control your mind so that you buy more of their products.

This isn’t meant to scare you; it’s meant to motivate you. If you don’t actively take steps to control your environment, your environment will control you.

Don’t you think it’s interesting that most people know which foods are healthy and which foods are not? We know that donuts are terrible for us, and yet, donuts are a thriving product. Hmm.

Let me reiterate that, people know what foods are healthy and they still choose to eat unhealthy foods. That screams that an environment is influencing you. There are too many cues to pull someone’s focus away from what they know is right and push them towards what is easy.

Isn’t it time to change this? Isn’t it time to take back control of your environment? Isn’t it time to take back control of your life?

Damn right it is.

This article is about becoming aware of the environment around you and taking steps, using a simple system, to reassert control over how you interact with your environment.

The system

Like I said it’s a simple system because it has to apply to any environment.

While simple in concept it is difficult in reality.

All you have to do:

  • Recognize the triggers/cues of bad behavior and remove them if possible
  • Experiment with adding new triggers to your environment to kickstart good behavior
  • Pay attention to what works and focus on that
  • Repeat this process over and over until you have full control of your environment where everything is set up to benefit you and not the other way around

Applying the system in the real world

Knowledge is useless unless applied, so I’m going to give you examples of how you can use the system in the real world to take action and take back control of your life.

The Food You Eat

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One of the hardest parts about eating healthy is the making healthy food as accessible as unhealthy food. Unhealthy food by default is far more accessible. Our nation caters to those people in a hurry that don’t have time to think through their eating options.

That can’t continue, my friends.

Nutrition is the number one determinant of weight and the number two determinant of overall health.

For someone to have any chance of becoming wise, healthy, and wealthy they need to take back control of their eating environment so that they have a chance in hell of eating healthy food.

Remove the bad cues

For me, this starts in the pantry. If I have any sort of terrible foods in my house those are the foods I am going to eat first, because they are far more accessible and give me little to no resistance when thinking about eating them. Do the same thing with the refrigerator. No sugary drinks to tempt me when I’m weak. No ice cream to call me to the freezer after dinner.

Make crap food harder to get.

Another cue is the false assumption that you’ll cook dinner the next night or assuming that you eat a healthy lunch the next day.

If you don’t already have these meals prepared it is going to be far too easy to cheat and push off healthy eating to the next day. Make healthy food accessible!

For me, this involves simple recipes and simple meals. I’m just that lazy. I keep it simple to keep it accessible.

Introduce new cues that promote healthy eating

To keep it simple I drink coffee for breakfast, drink a simple yet healthy shake for lunch, and I typically eat pre-cooked meat of some sort for dinner. I might throw in a side or two but for the most part, my dinner consists of usually just meat.

I blend the shake in the morning alongside my coffee, put it in a thermos and bring that thermos with me wherever I go.

Its presence is my cue to avoid eating out or snacking.

Find what works and focus on that

Because this super simple meal plan works for me, I focus on it. The only food you will find in my pantry or fridge are the ingredients I use to make these three foods.

I recommend that you find simple meals you can prepare ahead of time. This will give you a cue to eat healthily and deter you from eating out.

Regarding Exercise

“black kettle bell on the floor” by Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash

There is a literal meme in the United States regarding the month of January and gym memberships.

Every year Americans use the New Year’s resolution idea to try and change their behaviors.

What they don’t do, is change the environment they’ve already been living in to support this radical new shift in their lives. So, in the month of January, they put a ton of effort into going to the gym every day only to have their environment overtime dissuade them from continuing. They are doomed to fail from the start.

We are creatures of habit people! If the environment that you’ve been existing in while engaging in bad habits is not changed, you are never going to succeed in changing your habits. There are too many bad cues in that environment.

Recognize the bad cues and aggressively remove them.

My primary trigger for not exercising is unpreparedness.

If I take the time in the evening to set out exercise clothes, or go a step further and wear my exercise clothes to bed, I am far less likely to have a cue distract me into not exercising that morning.

If I forget to do this and wake up without any good cues to exercise I’m going to find every excuse under the sun not to.

Mornings are hectic for everyone and it’s difficult to force yourself to do something you’re not already trained to do. So you have to change the environment to support you.

Introduce new cues to promote good behavior

Here’s a fun story about how I changed my environment to cue me in to exercise.

A year ago I decided to start trying to use kettlebells as a way to simplify exercises. Tim Ferriss talked about kettlebells in his best-selling book “The 4- hour body,” and Joe Rogan talks about kettlebells all the time on his podcast.

So, I created a new cue in my life by buying a kettlebell and putting it on the floor over my bedroom, in the path between my bed and the bathroom.

In hindsight, I realize this is a tad sadistic as I would stub my toe on the damn thing morning after morning. But, I knew myself and that visual cue of that kettlebell would push me to use it, despite the throbbing toe.

Realize what works and focus on that

Once I realize that it worked, I kept it. I also now instinctively know to step around the thing when I’m going to the bathroom in the morning. But on the way back from the bathroom it’s right in my line of sight so I squat down and do some kettlebell swings.

Think about your environment. Think about what cues are triggering bad behavior regarding exercise. What can you do to change them? What can you add to cue desired behavior?

Your Cell Phone, and the built-in distractions.

“person holding phone” by Jamie Street on Unsplash

We carry around supercomputers in our pockets. These supercomputers are connected to the largest web of information that has ever existed in human history. We have access to the world’s storage of information at our fingertips, but that also means that the mega-corporations that house that information have direct access to us.

And these companies use our phones to control the shit out of us. Fortunately for us, the government forces phones to have built-in systems for navigating this psychological mine field.

Find the cues that trigger bad behavior

With your phone that’s pretty easy. It’s the notifications.

Notifications create a dopamine spike in our brains that we cannot avoid. An easy fix to this is turn off the notifications.

You can do this easily on most devices by putting the phone in do-not-disturb mode while you’re working, but for a lot of people, that isn’t quite enough.

For the social media apps like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, it might be beneficial to take things a step further and go directly into your settings and manually turn-off notifications for these apps.

Experiment with new cues and see which triggered good behavior.

A couple years ago I reorganized the applications on my phone into a color-coordinated system.

Why did I do this?

I did this because there are a limited number of colors that app developers use. Blue seems to be particularly popular.

This meant that I can have all of my apps on one screen organized into different color-coordinated folders. This also meant that all of the apps that are designed to get clicked on (most of these apps are blue) could be put into the same folder creating a much more difficult workflow to get to them.

So, repeat offenders like Facebook and Twitter are now buried deep within The blue folder on my phone.

Pinterest (and soon to be Netflix) is deep with in the red folder on my phone, and Instagram is the last offender hanging out on the first page of my purple folder. Instagram you’re a tricky bastard.

Realize what works and focus on it

This strategy of organizing applications by colors has been so successful that I haven’t found any need to change it in the last few years.

Oddly enough, I haven’t found anyone else that has implement this strategy yet. Maybe that will change after this article is posted?

What strategies do you use to help keep your phone from distracting you?

Your Network

Image by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Beyond your immediate physical environment, you have a psychological environment that you have built over time that is shared with the friends that you most closely associate with.

Is that environment helping you grow as a person? Is it an environment that nurtures intellectual conversation? Or, is it an echo chamber of whining, complaining, and gossiping?

“You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” — Jim Rohn

The quote above is one of the most cliché self-improvement quotes in existence. As with most clichés, it is a cliché because of how true it is. I’m not really a fan of regurgitating common knowledge information, but this one hits home for me.

In fact, the quote is likely an underestimation. You’re probably the average of the 50 people you spend the most time around.

The friendships and relationships that you keep are the things that are going to either motivate you to grow and improve as a person, or are going to put you in a feedback loop of stagnation.

Cut out the cues that cause bad habits

When you put five friends together that want to maintain the status quo of how things have always been, those are the five friends that are never going to improve the quality of their life.

If you’re in a group of friends that have stagnated, you really need to think long and hard about what is best for you. You need to ask yourself several questions.

Are these friends of yours open to changing their ways? Or are they going to throw negativity and judgment at you if they knew you held deep-seated desire to improve yourself and pull yourself out of the situation that you’re in?

If they’re going to be judgmental, you need to build new friendships. This doesn’t mean you need to immediately cut these long-term friends out of your life, but it does mean that the majority of your time allocated to networking needs to be spent communicating with people that are going to inspire you to do better.

Find cues that work and focus on them

What you will find is, over time as you improve yourself and set that example, those friends of yours will start to realize what you’re up to, and because you are one of the five people they associate with, their average will start to go up, and they will start trying to improve themselves alongside you.

That is the beauty of the law of averages. If you make yourself the upper limit of that range, and you’re looking to add higher caliber people into your life, the lower caliber relationships are going to start getting pulled up alongside you.

This is why you shouldn’t cut them out of your lives right away before giving them a chance to step up.

Other Areas of Life

I could go on and on with examples of how you can apply the system to your life, but I can only fit so many words into one post and still have you lovely folks read all of it.

I’ve already written articles that allude to taking control of your environment in several different areas including personal finance, romantic relationships, work, and productivity, etc.

You can find a list of those articles right here:

Seriously consider taking control of all of your environment

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Try the system in one area of your life for one month. Observe how it changes you and then decide for yourself if the system is worth implementing in other areas of your life.