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The Behavior Equation
To change our behavior, we have to change our nature or our environment. One is easier than the other.
Human Nature is a specific software program optimized for a specific purpose: survival in a small tribe, a long time ago. The modern world is nothing like environment we were made for.
Breaking down human behavior into an equation with 3 variables may seem over-simplistic, but there’s power in distilling complex concepts into simple frameworks.
Author Tim Urban breaks it down like this: Human Behavior * Environment = Behavior. Simple but powerful.
To change our behavior, we can either adjust our environment or change our nature. Unfortunately, changing our nature is very difficult. Generally, we’re programmed for survival and finding the path of least resistance, which doesn’t lend itself to behavior that helps us become a bit better each day. However, we can change our environment to overcome our nature.
If we choose to leave snacks on the countertop or beer in the front of the fridge, we’re more likely to indulge in things we should avoid. If we fill our countertops with fruit and don’t put any beer in the fridge, we’re more likely to avoid the indulgences and engage in healthy behavior.
Despite its effectiveness, changing our environment to overcome our nature can feel like swimming upstream. It doesn’t feel great to constantly manipulate our surroundings to behave the way we want to, but over time, our behavior can begin to shape our nature.
All of a sudden, our equation for behavior becomes a feedback loop. If we succumb to the temptations and desires of our raw human nature, we’ll behave in ways we don’t want to reinforce our nature ever further. Changing our environment is the catalyst that can turn this negative feedback loop into a positive one.
Changing our environment changes our behavior to match what we want it to be. The more we behave in a way that helps us become a bit better each day, the more we change our nature, and things that were once difficult become easy.
After months of setting an alarm and laying out our gym clothes, suddenly, we wake up early, excited to go to the gym, instead of dreading the alarm and dragging ourselves out of the house.
We’re all hoping to change or improve our behavior in one way or another. We can try to overcome millions of years of evolutionary programming on our own, or we can change our environment to change our behavior immediately and slowly improve our nature over time.
What have you typically relied on when you want to change your behavior?
How can you change your environment to encourage better behavior?
What behaviors (good or bad) have contributed to your nature?
One of the best books I’ve read in a long time. It explains why the world is so crazy and how to fix the problems we’ve created for ourselves in recent years.
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Thanks for reading! I’ll see you next Sunday.