How to Design a Better Environment

There are many ways to design an environment that promotes success.

Here are three strategies:

First, automate good decisions. Whenever possible, design an environment that makes good decisions for you. For example, buying smaller plates can help you lose weight by deciding portion size for you. A study from Brian Wansink at Cornell University found that people eat 22 percent less food by switching from 12-inch dinner plates to 10-inch plates. Similarly, using software to block social media sites can help overcome procrastination by putting your willpower on autopilot.

Second, get in the flow. A few years ago, PetSmart changed their checkout process. After swiping their credit card, customers were shown a screen that asked if they wanted to donate to “help save homeless animals.” Through this single strategy, PetSmart Charities raised $40 million in a year.

You can apply a similar strategy by designing an environment where good habits “get in the flow” of your normal behaviors. For example, if you want to practice a musical instrument, you could place it in the middle of your living room. Similarly, you are more likely to go to the gym if it is literally on the way home from work than if the gym is only five minutes away, but in the opposite direction of your commute. Whenever possible, design your habits so they fit in the flow of your current patterns.

Third, subtract the negative influences. Ancient farmers didn’t have the opportunity to remove the barriers that held them back, but you do. For example, Japanese television manufacturers rearranged their workspaces to save time by eliminating unnecessary turning, bending, and swiveling. You can also reduce the negative influences in your environment. For example, you can make it easier to avoid unhealthy foods by storing them in less visible places. (Foods that are placed at eye level tend to be purchased and eaten more frequently