Humans are extremely reactive to our environment. Our emotional memories hold a lot of power over us. These memories are formed by experiences, often without our awareness.

A simple example is when you touch something hot. You accidentally touch a stove. Ow, this stove hurts my hand! And then you learn not to touch a hot stove.

This process gets more complicated when your experiences become habitualized.

For example, after a long day, you come home and lie down on the couch. It gives you a moment of relief. The next day, you do it again. By the end of the week, your body has associated *couch* with *stress relief*.

Nothing is inherently wrong with this association. The problem, however, comes when we begin to lose self-awareness of our triggered behaviors. Because our emotions (and a slew of other brain biases) rule our behaviors, we often act without conscious thought.

After a while, your body will seek *couch* when it feels stress – even if it’s not the best option for you in the long run (or, in many cases, the short term).

Our bodies respond to something in our environment based on emotional memories. Each time we repeat the behavior, it becomes more ingrained in our brain. Eventually, the behavior establishes itself as a comfortable, predictable action-consequence routine.

And if there’s anything we humans love, it’s predictability. (So much so that we will choose worse options for ourselves merely because we know what it’s like.)

How Designing Your Environment for Success Affects Your Goals and Motivation

The common misconception about motivation is that willpower and wanting something is enough to achieve results. For some people, in some situations, it is.

But for most people, in most situations, it’s not. This failure of willpower is because of all the emotional-response-behavior-triggered-routine-evolutionary-emotional-response stuff I described above. (Did I just say emotional response twice? I think I did)

You can read my longer article on motivation, inspired by Dr. Benjamin Hardy’s book Willpower Doesn’t Work, but the important thing to know is that motivation requires three elements:

1. How much value you put into your goal
2. How much you believe the behaviors will help you achieve your goal
3. How much you believe in yourself to follow through with your behaviors steps to self-motivation

You need all three to be motivated. And then, when you have all three, you need to design your environment for success.

Designing your environment for success is where you should put your willpower and motivation.

If you have a positive experience, or a less strenuous experience, you’ll be more likely to do something again. No matter how many thoughts we have, our emotional responses are triggered by our environment.

The harder things are to do, the more willpower that will be required to do them. Ultimately, this will drain you of your motivation and energy.

There are three things you should think about to become more self-aware about your environment.

As you consider how to design your environment for success, you should consider:

What triggers you:

Whether it’s an object, person, or sound, you’ve got triggers coming out the wazoo. (You may think you’re smarter than Pavlov’s dogs, but you’re not.) The worst part is that technology engineers and greedy advertisers take advantage of our triggers.

Every time your phone lights up? That’s a trigger. Hear the crunching sound of a potato chip bag? Trigger. Even seeing something – like your beautiful beckoning couch in the middle of the room – is a trigger.

Consider your daily routine. What triggers you into action? Try to stop and pause throughout your actions. What made you switch tasks?

We’re often so oblivious to our triggers. The more self-aware you can be of your triggers, the more you can learn how to best design your environment for success.

What you do without thinking:

Building off of triggers, we often behave in ritualized ways that we don’t even realize. (I’ve already checked my email twice while writing this blog post, yet I can’t remember thinking, Now I want to interrupt my flow to check my inbox.)

If you could have an out-of-body experience, what would you notice? What actions do you regularly take that you don’t decide to do? Try tracking your actions throughout a typical day.

You can also set a timer to go off every thirty minutes; when you hear the alarm, record what you’re doing. Did you intend to start this action?

Sometimes focusing on actions can help you realize your triggers. Then, you can become self-aware of when you act without deliberate thought.

When you have to make decisions

Just like it’s essential to identify when you act without thought, it’s also crucial to know when your actions require a lot of thought. Namely, in the form of decision-making. These moments of choice will say a lot about you and your environment.

First, your decisions give evidence for what you do by habit versus by choice. If you do something without decisions, it’s probably embedded into your routine (good or bad). Conversely, if you contemplate what you want to do, your answers will reveal a bit about your current motivation. (Keeping in mind that motivation is not solely willpower.)

Daily decisions also show you where your brainpower is going. You see, our brains weren’t designed to make thousands of choices a day. That’s why they’ve created shortcuts and other biases to help us process all the information that comes our way.

Unfortunately, our modern world has increased the amount of information we interact with every day. As a result, the number of choices we must make skyrocketed.

In today’s world, we have exhausted ourselves before breakfast.

It’s crucial to understand where your environment forces you to make decisions. These are the moments you’ll want to design for.

To read more about the steps you can take to improve your environment, read 6 Steps to Design Your Environment.

Author's Bio: 

Kara McDuffee is the creator and author of My Question Life, a blog dedicated to help you build self-awareness, be more vulnerable, and discover yourself. Learn how to reclaim your life and find purpose in her online guide Discover Yourself.