No matter what you do you are influenced by your environment, whether it helps your thrive or tears you down is the question. When I say environment I do not mean your ecosystem, like “Oh, I live in a temperate climate”. What I mean is, by definition, the surroundings and conditions in which you live. Now an example of this in a comment by Dr. John Berardi of Precision Nutrition, in reference to nutrition, “If its in the house you are going to eat it.” this refers to both junk food and healthy food. You will eat what is convenient to you, so if you have a fruit you like on the coffee table most likely that will get eaten, while if you have a bowl of jelly beans most likely that will get eaten.
If you have to constantly fight your environment to accomplish your goals, it is going to be very tough, and an uphill battle to reach the apex of the mountain you are climbing.
But if your environment feeds your motivations then reaching your goals will be that much easier.
It’s like free climbing with no experience vs taking the ski trolley. You are more likely to make it to the top when your surroundings assist your ascent.
So the question is….Is the relationship that you have with your environment symbiotic or parasitic?
What does a Parasitic Environment look like?
A parasitic environment is an environment that slowly eats away your motivation, your progress, your willpower, your life!
If your goal is to lose weight but you find yourself stopping at your favorite fast food place frequently on your way to or from work, if you are trying to get more sleep but you find yourself watching TV, or if you want to be more productive during the day but you consistently find yourself, doing the thumb lambada with your phone, scrolling through facebook/Instagram then you are in a parasitic relationship with your environment.
These situations are examples of your environment sucking the life out of your progress. Sure you can tell yourself, I’m not stopping at fast food joint today, I’m not going to watch TV, or I swear on my mother’s grave I will not look at facebook during arbitrary set of time. How has that worked out for you????? I know you have already tried this and things may have started off well but sooner or later, you got that chalupa, binge watched Luke Cage, or found yourself laughing at those Biden memes. It’s because the environment ate all of your willpower and then began eating your progress. This is normal and you are not alone, don’t fret about it, this is normal. There are many studies that show willpower is a finite resource and the more conscience decisions that you make in the day the more you use it up. Yes willpower can be exercised like a muscle, but there is an easier way to get started and get closer to your goals, I got your back.
Having a symbiotic relationship with your environment
A symbiotic relationship is when two things work together, with both parties benefiting. So, when you are in a symbiotic relationship with your environment it is helping you obtain your goals and thrive as an individual. What does the environment get, you ask, well…it gets to see you grow as an individual, Mr. Environment isn’t very picky.
Creating and cultivating a symbiotic relationship with your environment takes several steps incorporating mindfulness, thinking, and effort.
- First you become AWARE that you are in a parasitic relationship (noticing that you frequently stop at fast food joint)
- Second you THINK about how this relationship came about, why you continue this relationship, what steps you can take to remove the parasitic aspect of it. (it is not as simple as the fast food joint, TV, or Facebook/Instagram)
- Third you put the EFFORT in to change and maintain your environmental relationship until it becomes naturally symbiotic. (you decide with conscience decision when to go to fast food joint, watch Netflix, or browse “the book of faces”)
Becoming aware of a parasitic environment requires you to be mindful of your surroundings. Paying attention when you do things that don’t go along with your plan, when you do things you do not really want to do, or when you do things somewhat unconsciously.
A strong strategy to become aware of these situations is through journaling. Create an awareness journal.
- Get a small note pad that you can carry easily (can also use phone or app like evernote)
- Decide an interval of time in which you will document your decisions (no more than hour, anything longer you will most likely miss something)
- Set your watch or phone alarm to go off on those intervals (manipulating your environment to help you)
- At said time pull out pad and take 5 minutes to write down any actions that occurred that go against your goals, and briefly note why you think you did said action. If you have made good decision note those too, celebrate you successes!!!
- Do this for at least week, preferably 2 weeks
An example using fast food joint scenario: “7:00 AM-stopped at Dunkin Donuts-because I pass it every day, looks good, easy to stop at, kind of hungry. 6:30 AM running late, had some coffee”
Now that you are aware of the situation think about what is the actual parasitic aspect of the environment, is it the fast food joint, the TV, and the phone….maybe? But you probably can’t get rid of fast food joint, throwing away your TV is a bit unreasonable, and you need your phone, so what do you do??? Take account for things that you can change in the environment when thinking about your environment, though you can’t get rid of the fast food joint, maybe you can avoid driving by it, you not going to throw your tv away but can you set a timer on it or move it to a different room, or not going to get rid of your phone but maybe you can keep it in a different room, cut off notifications or download an app that locks you out of certain apps after a period of time?
You see here that it isn’t necessary the object that is parasitic but the context and its incorporation in the environment. In the case of the food joint, the route taking to work was parasitic, when looking at the route maybe you notice you pass 20 fast food places before the one you generally stop at, that’s 20 mental decisions to not stop before you actually do, willpower gone! Even if it is the only fast food joint on your route, if you stop there and you really do not want to then make the decision to just avoid so you do not have to think about saying no. After you choose the new route, make sure it isn’t too far out of the way. Since it is a new route you will have to actively think of taking this route.
This same concept applies to the TV, its not the TV it that’s parasitic, it may be the “TV in the room”. It’s not your phone that is parasitic it is the ease of picking it up and jumping on facebook/Instagram.
The key points are to think about what is parasitic the object, action, or some other environmental factor. After figuring that out you then think about ways to adjust your environment to make it more difficult to accomplish the unwanted action.
It takes some effort to make your environment work with you, solely because there is change and change inherently comes with effort. Now that you have become aware of the relationship and thought about how to improve it, now you must put the effort in to implementing you decisions an making a change.
Understand that when you first start this new habit and relationship you have with your environment it won’t be easy, but if you stick to it, it will become automatic and/or status quo.
To sum it up
- You are in a relationship with your environment, whether you like it or not.
- The relationship is either parasitic, and draining you of your willpower and motivation, or it is symbiotic, and working with you to accomplish your goals.
- To create a symbiotic relationship use this three step strategy:
- First use journaling to become AWARE of parasitic aspects of the environment.
- Second THINK about what aspects of the environment that you can change to begin the transformation to a symbiotic relation.
- Thirdly, put in the EFFORT and implement the changes that you decided that you needed to make. At first it will be tough but becomes easier overtime.
Take control of your life and work with your environment, don’t let it work you!