Arm’s Reach and Your Life’s Direction

Arm's Reach and Your Life's Direction

If somebody puts Mint Creme Oreos on our kitchen counter, I will eat them. Why? Because they’re there. I will also put on weight and my blood sugar will get jacked out of proportion. Rarely will I win the battle to say “no.” After all, they’re small, taste so good, and they’re there.

Jonathan Cawte calls this the Law of Food Proximity. Briefly, “If you can see it, smell it, or reach it, you will eat it.”

In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear—chapter 6 “Motivation Is Overrated; Environment Often Matters More”—tells the story of Anne Thorndike, a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who wanted to change the eating habits of staff and visitors to the hospital. She and her colleagues did this by designing a six-month experiment in “choice architecture” in the hospital cafeteria. By simply adding bottled water to the refrigerators next to the cashiers, which had previously contained only soft drinks, and positioning additional bottles of water in spots all over the cafeteria, they saw a soda sales decline of 11.4 percent and an increase in bottled water sales of 25.8 percent. This is the power of proximity. More water + less soda = healthier staff and guests.

We tend to make choices based on physics—location—rather than ideals. It’s easier. Advertisers know this and design grocery store layouts strategically to leverage this basic human tendency. Why do you think the Kit-Kat bars are staring at you while you wait in the checkout line?

What and who you have close at hand will largely determine the life you live. Jim Rohn has said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” The choices in food, friends, function, and fun at your arm’s length are worth knowing and designing intentionally.

Here are some practical suggestions to design your environment for the outcomes you want:

  • Keep healthy foods in reach and in sight. Put junk food, if you have it, in a place where you must stand on tiptoes or a chair to reach it. Your brain will often translate that little bit of effort into, “Too much work. Just eat a piece of fruit.”
  • Keep exercise equipment out and close at hand. I telecommute and keep dumbbells in my home office two feet from my desk. They’re there, so I lift every day.
  • Put an app on your smartphone to limit time on social media. Constant nibbles on Facebook and Instagram are about as healthy as constant nibbles on the Oreos.
  • If you’re a musician, keep your instrument out of the case where you can grab it quickly. Even a little practice, done daily, adds up. I always keep a guitar out and on a stand.
  • Choose your social environments, and therefore your friends, wisely. A lot of our friends have become so simply because of proximity. Same workplace, same watering holes, same church and civic groups.

Suggested Resources:

Outliers: The Story of Success (Malcolm Gladwell)

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (David Allen)

The Magic of Thinking Big (David J. Schwartz)

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Habits + Time = Exponential Growth

atomic habits 190108

“Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.”—James Clear

I’m currently reading an excellent recent book by James Clear, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. In this book, Clear argues that goals–while important for setting a direction—are not the things we need to focus on primarily to improve our lives. Rather, we should focus on processes to help us become the kinds of people who regularly meet their targets. The primary tools in the process tool chest are our habits. As the title suggests, the habits are small things that over time shape a life for accomplishment or waste.

Clear gives an example: “The goal is not to learn an instrument; the goal is to become a musician.” The same for becoming runners and readers, not simply finishing marathons or books. The more important target is making these habits a regular, automatic part of your life. You just do the stuff regularly without thinking and stressing about it.

The idea that “compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world” has been attributed to Albert Einstein. Einstein surely understood exponents if not banking. What Clear teaches us is that the steady progress of all habits, good and bad, do not reveal their force immediately but over time. The “10,000 hour rule” for mastery of a skill comes to mind.

Habits + Time = Self-Improvement10   Habits are extremely powerful!

I will share more from this excellent book in the days ahead. It has changed my goal-centered approach to my own growth to one that values the habits I cultivate. The habits can be small, but if repeated over a good chunk of time will yield remarkable results. The task is to begin small and repeat faithfully to build the automatic instinct to continue into your lifestyle.

Here are a few practical ways to begin:

  • Commit to exercise ten minutes a day rather than a massive goal of five hours a week at the gym. That goal can come later.
  • Get up fifteen minutes earlier to read rather than one hour earlier. Anybody can do fifteen minutes earlier and the benefit of feeding your mind will encourage you to lengthen those early morning self-care times.
  • Have one half slice of pizza less than you normally would. Or one cigarette less. Or one drink less.

Suggested Resources:

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones (James Clear)

One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way (Robert Maurer)

Image Credit: Christian Fahey