Originally published by Stephen Guise on his personal website.
At the end of the year, most people reflect on what they’ve done. Most humans won’t even get 100 years to live, so it makes sense to think about each one that we live.
I believe it’s healthy to continually want to get better at life. You can do that and still be content. But those who panic about their lives (and want to transform overnight) will most likely set a New Year’s Resolution. Those have a failure rate of about 92%, so let’s explore a superior alternative.
A goal-resistant environment kills goals. Humans prefer the easy way, and that’s often because that’s all we have energy for. When your environment is against you, you will spend most or all of your energy fighting against it rather than pursuing greatness.
A great life begins with a great environment. Environment is even more important than effort; do whatever you can to make it conducive to your desired lifestyle. I have some great personal examples of this because I’ve moved several times in the last three years and have quickly seen how each environment has affected me. I’ll give each area a theme just for fun.
Jacksonville Beach was a nice place to live. My apartment was spacious. Ample sunshine year round and the beach nearby encouraged outdoor activities, which not only presented opportunities for exercise, but also vitamin D (via sunshine). I also had gym nearby to exercise and play indoor basketball.
Florida also has no state income tax, which saved me a lot of money as an entrepreneur.
As for downsides, Jacksonville is a spread out city, and I found it lacking in social and dating opportunities compared to what I’ve experienced in other cities.
It was inconvenient to access a wide selection of organic produce there, but not where I moved next!
I moved to Portland and sold my car. In the center of Portland, it was possible to live without a car, which dramatically simplified my life. I could easily walk to places of interest, which wasn’t realistic in Jacksonville. One of the places I could walk to was the light rail, which went straight into the airport. This made it extremely convenient to fly places.
One noticeable benefit of Portland life was a much better dating scene; I found more opportunities to date women in Portland.
Another big reason I moved to Portland was the excellent and healthy food. I moved near a “pod” of about 50 food trucks, which served delicious, cheap, and often healthy food. I could walk to my favorite grocery store, Whole Foods. My extremely small micro studio apartment (150 sq ft), however, had no kitchen, so cooking my own food was not an option. Since I work from home, I simply couldn’t handle living in such a small space.
The other downsides were the cloudy and rainy winter weather (where’s my vitamin D?!) and very high income tax. So I moved further North to a state with no income tax, and into a bigger apartment.
In Seattle, I’ve got two close friends who live in the same apartment building as I do. This alone has been a huge improvement for my emotional health and enjoyment of life. I got extremely lonely in Jacksonville and Portland.
Like Portland, I still have no car and I can walk to awesome grocery stores and restaurants. Also like Portland, I can take the light rail to the airport for convenient traveling to anywhere in the world.
The downsides here have been terrible winters (cold, wet, cloudy), cold people (“Seattle freeze”), and the worst dating scene (for me). I found Portland people to be friendlier, less extreme, and just more compatible with me. I’ve gotten so frustrated dating here and not connecting with anyone that I’ve taken a break from it.
Seattle feels like an alien planet to me at times. I don’t fit in with the culture here.
The dark horse factor that means more to me than I could have imagined? Seattle seems to hate indoor basketball. Where I live in Seattle, there is no indoor basketball court nearby, and that’s been very difficult for me. I play basketball for aerobic exercise and to release stress, and it’s been tough to go without it.
But I’m soon moving to an apartment across the street with an indoor basketball court inside the apartment building. This will change my life, and I’m not kidding. I’ll probably play every day and love it so much. With this move, I’ll have two close friends nearby, indoor basketball court in my building, one block from Whole Foods, easy access to the airport and a major cruise port, a bigger kitchen, no car, and no state income tax. I can thrive in this environment.
This next year, I’m not going to try to overhaul my behavior overnight, I’m going to change my environment, because my environment will change me with no effort on my part. Then I can fine-tune my routine with a strategy like Mini Habits.
Environment is your base. It shapes your lifestyle before you get a chance to do it yourself. Therefore, when possible, environment change should be a foundational first step of any change attempt.
In these three places I’ve lived in the last three years, you can see the variety of lifestyles, blessings, and issues I’ve gone through just because I lived in different places. In Jacksonville, it was easy to be active all year, but tough to socialize. In Portland, it was easy to eat healthy food and date interesting women, but expensive (state income tax) and miserable in winter. In Seattle, it’s been amazing to hang out with good friends regularly and eat healthy food, but the culture (including its apparent disregard for basketball) makes me feel like I don’t belong there, so I’m going to move to a place that has basketball.
No environment is perfect. If anyone would have found the perfect place to live, it would be me. I’ve searched for hundreds of hours, digging deep into possible living arrangements, areas, cultures, amenities, and so on. No place had it all (or if it did, it was outrageously expensive).
It was difficult at first to accept that I couldn’t find the right spot. After all, I had the freedom and finances to live just about anywhere I wanted. The fantasy of the perfect environment was shattered, and yet, I learned that it still does matter. Going through this has allowed me to accept many of the imperfections about my current living situation, and appreciating the benefits.
Sometimes, you have no choice but to fight against your environment. Seattle is the right place for me right now. That means if I want to date, unfortunately, I’m going to have to do it here (I don’t do long distance). Seattle has something like 1.3 males for every female, which is a terrible ratio for single men. The “Seattle freeze” is real in my experience. I don’t fit well with the culture here. These factors make it a difficult place for me to date, but I plan on jumping back in sometime soon. I just need to find another Seattle alien like me.
These situations are critical to realize. If you can’t change your environment, but something is important to you, you mustn’t give up. Realize that you’ve got a battle ahead and strategize to overcome it. Recognizing that your environment is against you in some way helps you to overcome it.
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.”
~ Sun Tzu
A poor environment is an enemy to your pursuits. Recognize it. Prepare for it. Then, you will have a better chance to defeat it.
The last critical lesson: life’s pursuits are not equal. Despite Seattle having more downsides in number compared to my previous locations, I’ve realized that its current benefits have been more important to me than the other ones combined.
In the future, I could see wanting to find a wife (if Seattle continues to be a dating wasteland), having a car again (I wouldn’t want to drive here. Traffic is the worst.), and moving somewhere sunny year round (I’ve got Florida blood). But right now, this environment seems to be the most conducive to my biggest priorities.
As you go into the new year, consider your environment first. I’m not even saying that you have to move to a new place. Changing your environment can also mean changing the inside of your home, the things you own, or the people you spend time with. For example:
There are a lot of small, one-time decisions about our environment that can have a powerful, lasting impact. For example, if you ate on small plate with big utensils, you’d psychologically feel compelled to eat less food than with big plates and small utensils (studies show this). The typical person would try to adjust themselves to eat less, but it’s probably smarter to change the environment so that you automatically eat less.
Once you’ve made your environment to be friendly to your desires, then you can look at shaping your behavior. If you try to transform your life in a poor environment, it’s like sprinting up an icy hill. You might make progress, but you’re most likely to fall, get bruised, and maybe even go backwards.
In the upcoming year, think about ways you can shape your environment to better suit your desired lifestyle. You’ll be pleasantly surprised a year from now.