To break an addiction, try changing your environment

Yesterday morning I read a great blog from one of the few people I read constantly, James Clear.  Using an extreme example of heroin addiction, he compared how Vietnam veterans more easily broke their heroin addiction than non Vietnam veterans.  When Vietnam veterans left Vietnam where “everyone was doing it” they seemingly had more willpower to quit (95% quit the addiction) than current heroin addicts who go into rehab and then usually go right back into the same environment after they’re clean (and only 10% quit the addiction).

His conclusion was simple, it’s easier to break an addiction when you change the whole environment that triggers the addiction.  My thought is that even if the environment wasn’t the only reason war veterans were able to kick the habit, its a strong enough percentage difference that it must have made a sizeable impact.

The truth is we all have addictions.  If you feel thats too strong of a word, then at least admit that we all have bad habits that we would like to change about ourselves.  It could be eating unhealthy, not working out, drinking too much, smoking, or even a small addiction of checking our phones too much.  Taking James’ conclusion, if we find ourselves not able to break these habits with small changes, its worth taking a step back and addressing a bigger environment change.  It may sound drastic but I believe it works.

Many years ago I remember my social “environment” changing where my close friends and I decided training for triathlons was a healthier and productive way to spend time together than late night partying (living near South Beach is too tempting!).  After 9 months of a changed social environment, I went from barely running 3 miles to completing a half ironman and being the healthiest I’d ever been.  Drastic, yes, but since then being committed to triathlons and endurance races has been the only way I’ve stayed consistently healthy over the years.  I’ve been away from endurance races for a few years and no matter what small changes I make to be healthier, they are never as good as when my environment changed to “triathlon mode”.

Bad habits are hard to break and it’s something we all struggle with on a daily basis.  This is why I enjoy reading James’ blog.  He continually provides great insights into how anyone can be more productive, break bad habits, and achieve the goals we want in life.