By: Dr. Beth Templin
I’ve already shared with you the positive impact setting out a water bottle in my bathroom nightly has made on my ability to achieve my goal of drinking enough water every day. Now, I’m going to share with you why I also take the time to set out my workout clothes, shoes and headphones each night in my bathroom.
When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do after getting out of bed is go to the bathroom, which is the normal routine for most people. When I walk into my bathroom and see my exercise clothes all laid out, it is much easier for me to use the restroom, get dressed in my workout gear to go down stairs and walk on my treadmill in the morning.
My environment is telling me exactly what I should do next. It is setting me up for success. Everything has already been placed out for me, so I can continue with my morning plan of exercising. I can just go through my morning on auto pilot.
If I had to go back into my dark bedroom each morning and find my workout clothes, or had to hunt down my headphones in one of the 5 different places I may have left them the evening before, I would be less likely to actually get dressed and go workout in the morning.
We don’t like to make decisions. Making decisions is hard. We avoid making decisions. Making decisions requires energy and weighing the pluses and minuses of the decision.
Think about the last time you and a friend had to decide where to go for dinner or where to order take out from. How long did it take to decide? How many times did you go back and forth weighing all the different options for that one decision?
It’s much easier to just go with the flow and to rely on cues from the environment to tell us what to do, then to have to make a decision. When the cues in the environment are obvious, it makes the behavior more likely to actually happen. Once I am in my workout clothes, chances are very high I will move forward with the next logical step of actually going to walk on my treadmill. I wouldn’t change into my exercise gear, just to sit at the table and have breakfast.
So many of the actions we take on a daily basis are triggered by cues from our environment. I am triggered to drink more water every morning when I place my water bottle there the night before. Similarly, I know that when I see my workout gear laid out in my bathroom, I am supposed to change into them and get in my morning walk.
If I didn’t have my clothing set out, it may be easier for me to skip that part of my morning. The clothing and other gear acts as a visual reminder to actually do what I planned to do the night before. It’s easier to make good decisions when everything around you is pointing towards making that decision.
Having the environment set up also helps us overcome the extra energy needed to initiate a task, especially one we may not be looking forward to. I never regret walking on my treadmill in the morning, but it used to be a hit and miss activity for me because it seemed like so much extra work to try and fit it into my already busy morning.
You can use this same strategy for other activities in your life. If you want to use your weights for strength training, leave them out where they are visible, instead of storing them under your bed or on the floor of your closet. The more often you see the equipment and the easier it is for you to access, the more likely you will be to actually do your strength training routine.
If you’re goal is to work on increasing your activity and walk more steps each day, set out your pedometer where you will see it each morning, so that you can track your steps. Even better, set up a progress chart where you can track your daily steps to help hold you accountable. Once you see those numbers start to go up, you will begin to feel proud of your progress. If on the other hand, you skip a few days, it will be easier to notice and then you can just get back on track.
If you want to take your vitamins every morning, then set them by your coffee maker or where you eat breakfast. Don’t store them in your medicine cabinet, especially if it is not part of your morning routine to go into your medicine cabinet. This simple change of where they are stored, will make you more successful, because you will have that visual reminder to take them every day.
Some of this may seem oversimplified, but it works. We have so much going on in our heads and we get distracted easily. Even if we have the intent of doing an something, we easily can lose our motivation or forget and then it doesn’t get accomplished.
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Dr. Beth helps adults 55+ understand the changes of aging and how to live a healthy active lifestyle, so they don’t start to miss out on the good things in life.