What's "Upstream" From What You Want? What's Your Environment Like?
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I’m going to reference the Tim Ferriss podcast again. Admittedly, it’s pretty much the only podcast I listen to regularly… otherwise it’s just episodes here and there from other shows that I find interesting.
Not only was it interesting to hear more about habit formation (because I admittedly somehow haven’t read Atomic Habits yet… just added it to my library want list!), but I also appreciated hearing his philosophies on business and marketing, email list building, and his personal self checkins.
Today, I want to explore two of the ideas of habit formation that he brought up in the podcast and relate them to things nutrition- and health- related to potentially help us all be more successful with what we’re trying to do.
Here are the ideas:
What’s “upstream” from the things you want to accomplish?
Setup your environment to support your success.
Let’s start with Idea #1:
What’s “upstream” from what you want to accomplish?
Said another way, what’s the thing that you do or include in your routine (upstream action) that allows other actions to become easier (downstream action).
I imagine this idea is something we’re unconsciously aware of, but can really benefit from bringing it into the obvious light.
For example, let’s say your goal is to eat healthier and include more proteins, fruits and veggies in your day. You notice that when you get a workout in in the morning it makes you want to eat healthier or more mindfully that day because you’ve started out the day feeling good and being productive, like you don’t want to “waste” it. If that’s the case, then the workout should take priority, it’s the upstream action to eating healthier.
So, instead of focusing solely on food things, we pay attention to the workout and ride the momentum from there to eating well.
Obviously, that workout can also lead to increased energy, physical benefits of strength and fitness, better mood, better sleep, etc. So there’s more downstream benefits than “just” the food choices.
I imagine there are two ways to think about this principle for yourself.
One is to ask yourself: What habits set you up for a good day? Or, When I’m living a GREAT day, what happens?
If you can notice, as in the example above, that a workout leads to all these other great feelings and momentums, then awesome, do whatever you can to prioritize that thing!
The other way we can think about this is to identify our goals and backtrack from there to figure out what the critical upstream action is.
For example, if the goal is to prep lunches to bring to work this week, we can track that back to needing the food to make it and the time to do so, and track that back to knowing what those foods will be, to making a plan/list, needing a lunchbox, etc.
So, that can lead to us (in reverse/upstream order):
*Packing Monday’s food in our lunchbox to grab the next day, and sorting Tuesday-Friday’s foods into piles in the fridge to make for easy packing on subsequent days.
*Setting aside time to shop and prep on Sunday from 12-2:30. Block our schedule during that time.
*Creating our plan for what we’ll have for lunches and making a shopping list on Sunday at 11.
*Making sure we have clean Tupperware to use to pack it; run the dishwasher on Saturday.
Once we have this list, we might realize that we’ve NOT packed our lunches only because we didn’t have any clean Tupperware. Or something like that. Imagine if packing lunches for the week was “as simple as” running the dishwasher on Saturdays as the upstream action?!
This may be an oversimplification, but I imagine you can see how the upstream tasks can impact our downstream actions. It’s WORTH taking the time to look at the habits we want to accomplish and, if they’re not happening, to look upstream and see if we can set ourselves up for more success.
Setup your environment to support your success.
When you take a step back and think about it, this makes complete sense. The things you are confronted with daily impact your decisions and actions, so organizing your literal spaces to be AS CONDUCIVE TO SUCCESS as possible is huge.
One example they used in the podcast was around caffeine intake. If you’re trying to limit caffeine intake, it doesn’t make sense to have your automatic coffee maker brewing a fresh cup every hour. Turn that auto setting off and make it easier to stick with one cup of coffee per day.
Or, if you’re trying to go to the gym first thing in the morning, lay out your workout clothes the night before so it’s one less thing that’s holding you back from being successful with your workout. The clothes are already ready to go in your environment.
Or, you work from home and sit in front of the TV watching shows while trying to do work… and you realize that this leads to much slower work process and lower quality output, so you move yourself to a distraction-free workspace instead! The new environment is much more conducive to quality work. (There may be some personal experience speaking here…)
Basically, when there is less friction in our spaces, we have higher chances of success. Remove the things that are distracting or preventing you from accomplishing the things you want, like the auto coffee maker and TV. Equally, put things in place to make accomplishing the things you want as easy as possible, like laying out workout clothes in advance.
In conclusion, your environment impacts your actions and your success. Identifying your upstream actions that lead to the downstream successes you want is critical and can hone your focus. With both of these ideas, we can focus on, and be distracted by, fewer things, removing friction and promoting success.
If you’re open to it, I dare you to try to find ONE upstream thing and ONE environmental shift you can focus on this week and see what happens with your experiences.
I’d love to hear about your experiences, too! Or, if you’d like help figuring out what your upstream/environmental things are, I’d love to talk it out with you! Share in the comments or email me at email@example.com!
As always, thank you for reading!