Often in our lives and careers we worry too much about external factors. We regret a moment of bad luck or wait hopefully for a big break. We envy those who appear more successful or talented than us. We ignore the things we control and obsess over things we don’t.
Organizational psychologist and bestselling author Dr. Benjamin Hardy claims this is a mistake—and he has the research to prove it in his latest book, Personality Isn’t Permanent, which is out today.
Most of us understand we can influence our outcomes by controlling our own actions, but we underestimate the extent to which we can control our environment as well. Our environment—the people we surround ourselves with, the conditions we operate under, even our physical surroundings—is hugely impactful on us, and we can alter these aspects to make meaningful, lasting changes to our lives and careers.
You can change your life by changing your environment. Here are three key ways to get results.
Create your own cues
A challenge we all face at times is staying focused on our goals and motivated to overcome adversity. Hardy offers an easy way you can structure your environment to help you focus. He recommends placing items that remind you of what matters most in your daily surroundings to periodically remind you what is at stake.
“Your environment should be full of strategic reminders of who you want to be, helping you become your future self,” Hardy says.
The objects you use as reminders should be specific to you. Tim Ferriss keeps a copy of The Magic of Thinking Big on his bookshelf because it was a formative text in his career that triggers him to think bigger. Ryan Holiday carries a coin that says Memento Mori, or, “remember death,” to keep him focused on his mortality and his priorities.
Whether you keep an object that reminds you of what you’re chasing on your desk, or even just a post-it note that includes a motivational mantra, surrounding yourself with these types of triggers helps you stay in the right mindset. Personally, I like to keep a list of my core values front and center to remind me of what matters most.
We all get sidetracked at times—strategic remembering provides the trigger you need to refocus.
Get rid of detractors
It can be natural to think people who are self-aware, focused and disciplined never feel the impulse to stray toward bad habits or have their efforts derailed. Indeed, the opposite is true: even the most dedicated high-performers can struggle to avoid distractions and indulgences.
Hardy advocates for a practice called strategic ignorance, where we limit the need for willpower by avoiding situations where we will be pulled away from our priorities and compelled toward counterproductive behavior.
“Selective ignorance is not the avoidance of learning,” Hardy says. “It’s simply the intelligence of knowing that with certain things and people, the juice will never be worth the squeeze. It’s knowing what to avoid.”
To create an environment that helps you stay focused on your most important priorities, it’s important to create distance from people who drain your energy and avoid activities, or even objects, that keep you off track.
If you have a friend or family member who is always complaining about their problems, never offers to help others, and leaves you feeling drained after every interaction, it’s worth limiting the time you spend with that person.
If you have a bad habit of indulging on junk food, perhaps don’t keep those foods in your house and replace them with healthy snacks instead.
If you work from home and often find yourself distracted by the television, intentionally avoid working in the same room as it, or even unplug it temporarily so you don’t reflexively turn it on.
Oftentimes the most successful, disciplined people don’t have more willpower than you—they have just constructed their environment to avoid people and things that keep them off track. You can change your environment as well, and change yourself in the process.
Be intentional with time
Just as a poorly managed environment can derail us from pursuing our priorities, an ineffectively managed schedule can do the same thing. We can set ourselves up for success by building a schedule that helps us reach our priorities, rather than allowing others to constantly take our time.
I use time-blocking in my daily calendar to designate specific times for meetings, intensely-focused work, exercise, breaks and family time. We have even built this strategy into our company, Acceleration Partners, by encouraging employees to incorporate GSD, or get-stuff-done, time into their calendars. When employees do this, their colleagues automatically know not to schedule meetings or expect responses during those times.
Doing this will not just give you more time to be productive—Hardy says altering our environment will affect our personality as well.
“You must learn to make your environment match your desired outcomes. When you do, your personality will organically follow suit,” Hardy says.
Being intentional about your time and environment won’t just make you more productive in the short-term—it will make you a more disciplined, productive person in the long-run as well. Making lasting change in our lives requires us to pay close attention to our environment and proactively change it to suit our priorities. Then, you can simply watch the results come in.
Robert is the founder and CEO of Acceleration Partners. Join 100,000+ global leaders who follow his inspirational weekly newsletter Friday Forward or invite him to speak. Robert is also a Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling author. His new book, Friday Forward: Inspiration and Motivation to End Your Week Stronger Than It Started, releases September 1, 2020.