What if getting healthy had very little to do with obsessing over what you eat or worrying about how much you exercise? What if you could make weight loss and health automatic? In fact, research shows that is the best way to lose weight and get healthy. You can design a life where health and weight loss are an automatic side effect of your environment. Changing your behavior is much easier if you set up cues all around you. The less you have to think about it, the easier it is to do. If all you have in the house are raw nuts or crudités for snacks, that’s all you will eat. If I was tired or stressed and I had a bag of my favorite chocolate chip cookies in the cupboard, I would eat the whole bag (even though I know better). But if I have to drive ten miles to get it, I won’t! It’s really as simple as making the defaults in your environment work for you rather than against you. That can be a challenging task when there is a processed-food and junk-food carnival at every corner, but today I’m going to show you how you can set yourself up for success. In 2009, longevity expert and bestselling author of Blue Zones Dan Buettner came to a small town in Minnesota with the purpose of changing the structural design of people’s lives to automatically create healthier behaviors. He did this by weaving opportunities to become healthier into the fabric of the community—into schools, workplaces, homes, restaurants, grocery stores, and neighborhoods. He brought together town and community leaders and other experts to rethink the whole problem of health.
It was a community-based solution, all about creating simple changes in the environment that led to big changes in health. Experts on mindless eating (or the study of how unconscious eating habits make us fat and sick) got people to replace their standard-size plates at home with smaller 10-inch ones. Buettner got people to move the junk food up to hard-to-reach shelves in their homes (or to get rid of it entirely) and place fruit and nuts within easy reach. He convinced grocery stores to label and feature foods that helped promote health and longevity. He encouraged businesses to replace donuts, candy, and soda with healthier snacks. Restaurants added healthy options to their menus. Transportation experts designed a sidewalk loop around a lake in the middle of town and encouraged “walking school buses” by getting grandparents to walk their grandchildren to school. Dan and his team of experts encouraged people to form moais, the Japanese word for groups of people who support one another for life and walk or exercise together in person instead of “connecting” on social media. Dan didn’t tell people to exercise more or tell them what to eat. He simply changed their immediate environment. In other words, he restructured the town in such a way as to make it easy for people to do the right thing.
As a result, the town saw a 28 percent reduction in health care costs. Kids were no longer allowed to eat in classrooms or in the hallways at school; overall, they saw a 10 percent decrease in body weight. Dramatic changes happened just by altering the infrastructure. It was a groundbreaking experiment that proved the powerful transformational effect of designing your environment for success. The key to changing habits is to understand how change really occurs. And for the most part, it occurs by design, not by accident or by wishful thinking. It occurs by transforming the unconscious choices we make every day, shifting them so that the automatic, easy, default choices become healthy choices, not deadly ones. Stanford professor and social scientist BJ Fogg specializes in creating systems to change human behavior. He calls this behavior design. Fogg explains that in order to change behavior, you need three things: the motivation to change, the ability to change, and the trigger to change. If you want to eat a protein-filled breakfast for energy, then you have the motivation. Now you need the ability and a trigger.
For ability, you need to have the ingredients for the breakfast in your cupboard or fridge ready to go and easy to prepare. You might want to measure out the dry ingredients (nuts, seeds, or protein powder) and even put them in the blender the night before. Think low-friction behavior change, so easy you don’t even notice it. Next, you need a trigger. Maybe you put the recipe for a protein shake on your fridge, with a big headline: “EAT THIS FOR BREAKFAST.” Maybe you get rid of all the other breakfast options in your house, or put them out of sight so that your hunger becomes the trigger. The point is, you need a catalyst for your new, chosen behavior. You need a built-in nudge that gets you moving in the right direction.
Here’s another example: If you are motivated to do chin-ups but never remember and don’t have a place to do them, they won’t happen. To build in the necessary ability and trigger, you might first purchase a chin-up bar and then install it in your bathroom or bedroom doorway so you see it every time you walk by. With this automatic ability-and-trigger set right in front of you, you will naturally fit in more chin-ups. The key to success is to intentionally design your environment to make it easy to do the right thing and create health. Our world is a hostile health environment (we live in world of Big Gulps and Big Macs at every turn), so we need to create our own “health bubble.” Where is your environment set up to help you stay on track and where does it trip you up? What can you do to make your actions automatic around food, exercise, and stress reduction? You can design your life for automatic success. ( By Dr. Mark Hyman from Drhyman.com )