Willpower Won’t Work: Hack Your Habit

Change your space to change your life.

The beautiful thing about your body is that it can change itself at any time. It’s capable of tremendous improvement. You’ve likely heard of the SAID principle, Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand. We often get stuck thinking of this in the context of training. We impose demands for strength, power, and the like, and we generate those adaptations.

But if that’s all we focus on, we’re selling ourselves short. The SAID principle is always at work one way or another. Why not put it to work for yourself? Through a bit of intentional lifestyle design, we can create a movement-friendly environment that optimizes our mobility without us having to think about it.

Creatures of Habit

To make consistent, sustainable progress we need consistent, sustainable action. Seems like a no-brainer, but common sense isn’t so common. Too often the self-improvement camps derail themselves and spiral off in one of two directions: endlessly punitive, or wishful thinking.

The problem with the former is that eventually something is going to snap. Willpower only takes us so far, and life is too short to wage war on ourselves. The problem with the latter is that it’s all in your head. If we want to affect a change in ourselves, we need to get clear on a couple things:

  • Why we want to change
  • How we want to change

Maybe you want to improve mobility to hit a new PR in the weight room. Or perhaps you want to finally get rid of nagging aches and pains. Your “why” is unique to you, and with a bit of digging it’s likely pretty clear. The “how” may be a bit trickier.

Movement educator F. Matthias Alexander said “People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits, and their habits decide their futures.” So we may have a grand vision of where we’d like to end up and still fail miserably. If our habits, both conscious and unconscious, don’t line up with the change we want to make, we’re screwed.

So how do we shift habits?

Would you ditch some of your furniture in the name of better health? [Photo credit: Chandler Stevens]

The Origin of Behavior

I remember when I first heard about this thing called Lewin’s equation. It rocked the way I think about behavior, and it perfectly explained why I had spun my wheels for so many years. In a nutshell, Lewin’s equation is a formula to explain behavior, proposed by psychologist Kurt Lewin in 1936. It looks like this:

B = f (P, E)

You don’t need any mathematical acumen to sort this bad boy out. The B stands for behavior, the P for person, and the E for environment. Put them together and we see that behavior is a function of a person within an environment.

You don’t live in a vacuum. Your behavior is shaped by your environment. Here’s an example: I was talking with a student recently, and she mentioned that it was a lot easier to fit floor sitting time in once she got rid of her couch. Go figure.

Now this may be an “extreme” example, but within a couple of weeks she found more comfort and mobility in her hips and ankles than she’d had in years. One environmental shift led to a change in behavior throughout the day, which in turn led to a specific adaptation she desperately wanted.

Put It Into Practice

You don’t need to toss the couch out, but you can create a habitat for yourself that encourages more movement to naturally occur throughout the day. It just takes a creative eye and intentional design. I’ve shared a couple of my home tweaks before, but they’re only the tip of the iceberg.

To find more opportunities in your own life, you have to start with awareness. Biomechanist Katy Bowman has highlighted the importance of knowing when and how you’re outsourcing your movement. Once you’re aware of it, you can take steps to change it. Some immediate examples that come to mind (in no particular order):

  • Hand grind your morning coffee
  • Get rid of your furniture
  • Store things you use every day low to the floor or high overhead
  • Turn your living room into an obstacle course
  • Saw the legs off of a table to lower it
  • Keep rings mounted, or a bar installed somewhere you walk beneath

These examples may or not may be applicable to your particular situation. But with a bit of thinking you’ll find new ways to shift your own environment. And when you do, your behavior will naturally change too. And when that happens, the sky’s the limit. Change your space, change your life.

Now take a break and go move:

The Power of 5-Minute Movement Snacks