January 23, 2023

Design your environment to make habits stick

Similar to how an environment affects our purchase decisions, our personal environments in our homes, office etc also affect our ability to create or break habits.

To build good habits, we need to design our environment to contain obvious and visible cues that could trigger out habits. For instance, keeping a book on the work desk as a cue (similar to affordances) when building a reading habit.

Create a separate space for work, study, exercise, entertainment, and cooking. The mantra I find useful is “One space, one use.”
James Clear, Atomic Habits

At my place here in Bangalore, I placed my TV in the living room instead of my bedroom to prevent myself from watching TV all day. Which I did when the TV was in my bedroom briefly.

James Clear writes about a really interesting example of how environment design can affect our behaviours ...

In the early 1990s, the cleaning staff at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam installed a small sticker that looked like a fly near the center of each urinal. Apparently, when men stepped up to the urinals, they aimed for what they thought was a bug. The stickers improved their aim and significantly reduced “spillage” around the urinals. Further analysis determined that the stickers cut bathroom cleaning costs by 8 percent per year.

In fact, our environment can affect our productivity as well, explained by Cathedral Effect. It also has an effect on our creativity apparently.

Designing environments also helps in creating context that can be associated with particular habits. Eg writing on a separate desk, not using mobile in the bed etc. Wherever possible, creating separate space for work, study, exercise, entertainment etc can help provide cues to reinforce certain habits. James Clear calls this his mantra of "One space, one use."

Austin Kleon has a similar philosophy. He advocates for creating a bliss station to disconnect from distractions in order to allow creativity to flourish.


  • Atomic Habits (James Clear), Chapter 6: Motivation is Overrated, Environment Often Matters More
  • Keep Going (Austin Kleon), Chapter 2: Build a Bliss Station