Do you feel that your life needs to improve? Do you have the feeling that it is important to polish some habits in your routine? …
Well, I don’t want to disappoint you, but this is definitely not an article with “10 things that help change your life” or “5 tips that make your life better.”
I think our lives are too complex, therefore starting to improve them requires something more defined. But, it is also true that we do not have time to try different strategies in each area of our routine or try to take action with big changes.
Therefore, I do not promise you a magical and sudden change after reading this article, but perhaps when you reach the end point, you will have a concrete strategy that becomes the starting point to start improving your life step by step.
“We are that chimerical museum of fickle shapes, that pile of broken mirrors.” -Jorge Luis Borges
I have a friend who is a bit chaotic.
His house, his closet, his desk and his routine in general are constantly in disarray, but he is a very good person.
I recently needed to go to an out-of-town engagement, and of course, he didn’t hesitate to lend me his car.
You can imagine that the car was also a mess: it was a bit dirty, there were empty water bottles, wrappers, forgotten clothes and even a package in the trunk that you forgot to take to the mail.
The point of this little anecdote is that something curious happened:
When I returned the car I realized that friends who had traveled with me left trash under the seats.
And you will think then what dirty friends! But, you will be surprised to know that the behavior was not their fault, it was actually the fault of the chaotic atmosphere in the car.
Let me explain better: the car is not dirty as a result of leaving garbage, but the other way around: people leave garbage because the car is already dirty (one more garbage does not make a difference)
I’ll give you an example: when you finish cleaning your kitchen, it is much more likely that the next few days you will continue cleaning even the tiniest stain to keep it sparkling, right?
But, if the kitchen is already messy, it is much more likely that you do not mind leaving that dirty cup lying around, what difference does it make!
So what does this all mean? And what does this have to do with improving your life? …
Well, read on to find out …
The broken windows theory
Since the 1980s, cities around the world have used this theory to fight crime and improve policing.
This theory has practically been the bible of criminology. The authors propose that crime in cities begins with disorder1 :
First, a property is abandoned, weeds grow, and a window breaks. Vandals break more windows.
Garbage accumulates. Families move.
Teenagers gather in front of the corner store to drink. The merchant asks them to move; and they refuse. Fights break out.
This means that those areas of the city with the most broken windows, abandoned buildings, graffiti, trash and clutter tend to have the highest crime rates.
If we can stop these petty crimes, crime will decrease.
From my point of view this means that crime begins to appear in the form of small, almost imperceptible details, tiny disorders that accumulate to form a ball of chaos large enough to affect people’s lives.
A good strategy to prevent vandalism, the authors say, is to fix problems when they are still small to prevent them from escalating, for example: repairing windows, picking up trash, cleaning the streets.
As former Los Angeles and New York Police Chief William J. Bratton put it: “If you take care of the little things, then you can avoid a lot of the big ones.”
Powerful research was recently done with a new and much more accurate perspective on this theory of broken windows. , the results show a 35% decrease in violence with firearms in those areas of the city where the “abandoned lands” were remodeled .
All of the above can also apply in your life:
Unhealthy behaviors and habits begin to appear in the form of small, almost imperceptible decisions, tiny actions that accumulate until they affect your life in a notorious way.
Conversely, focusing on making tiny changes in your environment motivates you to take small healthy actions that build up to have a great positive impact on your life.
We often think that to start making our lives better, we need to take drastic action, or go to great lengths to force ourselves to do the right thing.
But, we forget the importance of the environment in our actions.
When you transform your environment for the better, good decisions are practically inevitable.
Your behavior is influenced by your environment
Please look around.
Your whole environment is set up to determine how you should act.
Objects, signs and even people serve as reference guides on how we should act and respond.
Environmental cues are the objects in our environment that trigger certain thoughts and desires, causing us to behave in certain ways.
- You have a lot of tabs open in your computer’s browser, which makes you procrastinate to start your work.
- When the dishes you use to eat are dirty, you tend to order unhealthy food at home
- If your sportswear is in the back of the closet, it is much less likely to go for a walk (as you had proposed)
- When you look at Instagram notifications, it makes it more likely that you start the spiral of comparisons and self-criticism
If you want to take control of your life, you must first take control of the space around you.
The environment influences your small decisions and, if you take care of your small decisions, the accumulated result is quite noticeable.
All of the above means that the environment is the biggest trigger for our habits
Your mission is to find all those things in your personal environment that enable your old habits and then redesign it to be compatible with new and better habits.
In the theory of broken windows to prevent crime, it is basically achieved because two strategies are influencing:
First, avoid a neglected environment (because it promotes vandalism) and second, design a space that encourages good behavior.
That is my proposal for you:
Make very small changes in your environment (almost imperceptible) that do not require a great effort on your part, but that influence your decisions to improve your habits.
The question is how and where do I start? …
How and where do I start to improve my life?
There really is no one way to put the principle of “changing your environment to start improving the little things” into practice.
First, it is important to identify in which area of your life these broken windows appear, that is, what area of your life needs improvement? Where do we start our remodel?
At this point it is normal to think: all! I need to change everything!
But if you think about it again and stop to analyze it, we all have certain “conflict zones”, we all have areas with more broken windows than others.
For example, it is likely that you consider it urgent to sleep better, perhaps it is about your diet, strengthening your concentration at work or learning to better manage stress.
So as a first step, identify your conflict zone.
It’s not that difficult, here are some simple steps you can take to get started.
1.- Divide your life into 4 areas:
Since we have the theory of broken windows as an analogy, then why not divide your life into 4 main areas.
It will be easier if you draw a square window, with four divisions.
Each division represents an area of your life:
- Health: your general state of health, diet, exercise.
- Productivity and finances: your money situation, your job.
- Personal relationships: relationships with friends, family, significant others, etc.
- Personal development: Improve your self-esteem, confidence …
2.- What part of the window is more broken?
In each quadrant of that window, write a number to rate how well or poorly you consider that area in your life.
Rate each area on a scale from 0 to 5 …
(5 is the highest rating and it means that that area in your life is excellent and, vice versa)
Maybe every area has less than 5, or maybe there are only two areas in particular that have the lowest rating, which means there are harmful habits there.
Nothing happens. This is not the time to analyze why and it is not valid to blame or victimize yourself.
For now, just find the lowest number: what area of your life needs a remodel most urgently?
For example, mine is definitely my productivity.
I need to learn to manage stress, I usually have a hard time taking breaks from work and have a habit of pushing myself to do more than necessary. When the day ends and I did not manage to complete everything I set out to do, I feel a slight frustration, I also skip my free time, which makes everything worse.
For this reason, I believe that this area of my life is the most conflictive area, what is yours?
3.- In the most broken part: what little change could you make now in your environment?
At this point, you only have to define a maximum of 2 small things that you could change in your environment to improve that number (only in that area with the lowest rating).
The rule of thumb is to keep that which encourages good habits close and convenient. And vice versa, keeping that which promotes bad habits in your life distant or more inaccessible.
I have two ways to achieve it:
– Build barriers, fences or remove reminders to discourage bad habits
Of course, the fences we are talking about are not barbed barriers; they are simply the limits you create in your life.
In this way, having harmful habits or behaviors that affect your life will not be the default decision, but you will be creating a certain distance to regain control and decide better.
Here are some examples:
- Hide (or give away) unhealthy food from your fridge and refrigerator
- Not bringing money to work so as not to buy anything in the cafeteria
- Hide the TV remote control, to avoid lying on the couch
- Leave your mobile charger very far from the place where you sleep
- Log out of all distraction pages
- Turn off all mobile notifications
- Hide credit cards at home
- Turn off your mobile on Friday, to avoid that unnecessary party out
- If it hurts your self-esteem, unsubscribe on Instagram
If you can think of absolutely nothing to remove the reminders in your environment, then you can do the following:
- Analyze your routine and identify unhealthy behaviors or habits
- Identify what reminds you or what drives you to fall into this behavior? What is the clue? It can be an object, a place, a time of day, a person, etc.
- How could you remove that reminder or distance it from your environment?
This article has this strategy explained in detail.
The next part is also very easy …
– Design your space to influence the behavior you want
Environmental cues are the objects in our environment that trigger certain thoughts and desires, causing us to behave in certain ways.
If we manage to change even very little this environment, healthy activities will not only be intentional but more predetermined.
Having a better option available makes it the default option.
Take a look at these ideas:
- Have fruit in sight and already washed to take to the office
- Keeping the kitchen clean to make cooking easier
- Put my sportswear in the hall so I have to see it in the morning
- Carry my sneakers in my bag to walk home after work
- Have a book near the bed, to read instead of being on the mobile
- Making bed in the morning to make it more attractive to go to sleep
- Set alarms to pause while you work
- Stick a note in your wallet that remembers your financial goals
- Schedule a reminder to pay monthly bills
- Set a song as an alarm that puts you in a good mood
- Have a chair to write concentrated and another chair to be on Facebook
If you can think of absolutely nothing to modify in your environment, then you can do the following:
- What healthy habits are needed in your routine? What would a person who has that area of his life do in order?
- How could you make adopting that habit so much easier? What would have to be present around you for healthy behavior to be obvious? What would help you make the right decision?
This can help you brainstorm and choose what works best for your life.
Why does the broken windows strategy work to improve your life?
The changes we make may seem insignificant at first, but these tiny improvements add up over time to great results.
The broken windows theory works to improve your life …
Here are more advantages of the “broken windows” strategy to start improving your life:
- You do not feel overwhelmed by everything you need to improve in your daily routine
- Helps you identify and focus first on an area of your life that you need to remodel
- It’s easier to keep a small change over time, rather than doing it all at once
- Small changes in your environment accumulate until achieving great sustainable results
- Doing the right thing is much easier and you don’t have to rely only on your willpower
- When you have a healthy habit, the healthy streak is more likely to spread to more areas
- Little by little you can make more incremental changes in your environment to have better habits
We all have broken windows in our life, so the important thing is to take action to start remodeling little by little.
Now I would love to read you in the comments below.
Tell me: what part of your routine will you start to remodel? How will you manage to remove the clues? What little changes in your environment will you be making? …
Help more people have the healthy life they deserve, share!