#1: You Don’t Have to Hit Rock Bottom to Start
#2: Appearances Mean Very Little
The Similarities Between Health and Wealth – Part II
#3: The Role of the Environment
The most influential finding in social science is the role that the environment plays in our decisions. Yes, people have understood this for centuries – when put into certain situations people act differently than when in another. But what people didn’t understand, and most still don’t understand today, was the extent in which the environment has an effect.
It’s now clear that the environment trumps all other factors – like preferences, or how we view ourselves, or how we would like to act. So much so that it can be argued that we aren’t really even in control of our decisions in the first place. Our environment is.
However, it’s not to say we are hopeless or at no fault of our wrongdoing. Although our decisions are in large part dictated by our environment, that doesn’t mean we can’t and aren’t responsible for controlling something much more important – THE environment in which we make them.
It’s easy to not look much deeper than our specific decisions, and then weigh them on their merits alone to determine whether or not they were good or bad. But specific decisions don’t matter near as much as how we made those decisions and what environment they were made in.
“I exercised today. Good decision!” No, not necessarily. How did you get yourself to exercise? Did you come home from work, sit on the couch, stare at a tub of ice cream, and then finally talked yourself into going to the gym? Good decision to go to the gym today? Sure. Good environment? Hell no. Which means you will make that “good decision” (exercise) for another week before you say, “Screw it – I’m staying on the couch.”
The question of Good v. Bad Decision should not be based on whether or not we exercised. It should be based on how well we altered our environment so that we exercised by default. Did we pack our clothes, take them to work with us, go straight to the gym and choose productive exercises based on a plan and progression that we can continue for years to come? Good environment… which just so happens leads to good decisions.
“I saved money today! Good decision!” Well, how did you save money? Was it you just so happened mustered enough strength to only spend $100 at Target when you usually spend $200? Good decision? Sure. Good environment? Of course not. You didn’t have a plan. Your philosophy t isn’t any more sound than Bill O’Reilly’s. Good decision today. Terrible decisions(x100) later.
When we focus less on our decisions and more on the environment in which we make those decisions, we magically start making better decisions (it’s not magic). There’s no getting around it. The forces of our environment are so strong that we can’t expect to rely on something as overrated as, say, willpower…
#4: Willpower – The Beloved (and Overrated) First Child
Delaying gratification is the cornerstone of success. There has never been anything done of importance and meaning that, at its most basic element, wasn’t the direct result of delaying gratification. So the next natural questions are, “How do we delay gratification?” and “How come some people do it better than others?”
That’s when WILLPOWER came in to save the day. Willpower was what allowed someone to delay gratification. And delaying gratification allowed someone to put in work now for a reward later. And putting in work now for the sake of a reward later is what differentiated the successful from the unsuccessful. So WILLPOWER, not delaying gratification, was the cornerstone of success…or so we thought.
Today, the research on willpower is as simple as this: Try not to use it. Yes, it’s wonderful and needs to be ready at all times, but it should only be used on rare occasions. In other words, if you’re using willpower to get through your day-day-activities, you’re doing something terribly wrong.
What we now know is that the most successful people, who we at one time thought just exhibited greater willpower than any others, often times don’t use willpower at all. They don’t make the best decisions. They make the least amount of decisions.
We need to be able to do all the things that we used to thank willpower for – self-control, delayed gratification, planning for the future – and do it all without willpower. If we have to use willpower, we know something is wrong with our environment. And the remedy is a change to our environment, not more willpower.
An obese man doesn’t eat a bag of Doritos after work because he lacks willpower. Instead, the obese man ate the whole bag because he had Doritos. Likewise, a fit man doesn’t eat the same bag because he has willpower. Instead, he doesn’t eat them because he lacks Doritos. Let me recap and blow your mind: The fit man didn’t eat Doritos because he didn’t buy Doritos. If you want to be fit, which by definition means you don’t come home from work and eat a bag of Doritos, then you don’t buy Doritos.