Shaping The Path: How To Rearrange Your Environment To Make Healthy Decisions

Last week we talked about goal setting, how you can set goals that carry some weight, and why it matters.

In that post we shared a formula you can use to set value-based goals, which resonate more with what you believe in, and ultimately help you come out on top.

If you missed that post make sure you give it a read before diving into today’s post.

Today we’re going over the two parts of your brain that your likely familiar with; a rational side and an emotional side. Or as authors Chip and Dan Heath share in their book, Switch


A Rational Rider and an Emotional Elephant.

We’ll go over how both significantly influence your goals and how you can restructure your surroundings to get both sides of your brain working together for you, rather than against one another.

By the end of the post you should have a much clearer idea as to how you can reorganize your physical environment to help you make healthier decisions.


Your Rational Rider

Everyone has a “Rational Rider” side of their brain.

It’s the side chiming in your ear not to have sugar or waking you up at 5am to get to your butt the gym.


We all know the rational side...

  • It helps you make smart decisions and always thinks things through.

  • It helps you pause and say things to yourself like, “are we sure we want to do this?”

  • Or things like, “Hey didn’t you say you wanted to stop drinking for a while?”


For the most part our Rational Rider operates really well… that is until it doesn’t.

The problem with our Rational Rider is that while it might help to keep us on track by steering us away from poor choices and towards better ones, it also happens to sit atop an Emotional Elephant.

Your Emotional Elephant

Like your Rational Rider, you probably have a really good idea as to what your other side of the brain is…

Your emotional elephant.

It’s the side that on a Friday night says…

“Ah the hell with it!” And you later find yourself surrounded by and empty pizza box and a pint of ice cream.

It’s the side of your brain that you tells you, “oh just have a piece” and you cave on a diet or the side the says, “hit snooze a few more times” and you sleep in instead of waking up to make it to the gym on time.

The Path

The rider is smart and like’s to strategize, plan, and prepare. The elephant is big and cumbersome.

While it allows the rider to control it most of the time, the elephant knows deep down that whenever it wants to head a different direction than the rider prefers, it can - and does - at will.

When this happens the rider has no choice. The elephant is simply too big and too strong to control and the rider is now helpless.

So the question is, how to you get the two to work together?

You need to shape the path that both the elephant and the rider go down.

In other words, you need to reorganize your physical environment to make behavior change easier for you, your rational rider, and your emotional elephant.

Doing so will help you achieve your goals.

The fewer distractions you have on your path, the easier it is for the rider and elephant to work together, And the Easier it is to continue heading the direction you want head.

Harmony between the rider and the elephant is crucial to your success.

Changing The Set

Scenario one:

You want to lose weight.

You come home stressed from work and notice a box full of your favorite cookies on top of the fridge.

You notice them, but ignore them, knowing that you really don’t want to eat them (even though eating the whole bag sounds like a great idea right now.)

You continue with your evening, make dinner, clean up, and find yourself still frustrated from the day. You’re now also bored with what the rest of your evening looks like.

You rummage through the kitchen some more trying to find some healthy alternatives that look appealing to you. After finding nothing, you close the door and go sit on the couch to watch T.V.

20 minutes later you’re still hungry and go back into the kitchen. You replay the same scene again only this time you cave and grab the bag of cookies on top of the fridge.


An hour later you find yourself still in front of the T.V. sucked into a movie, you’ve had one sleeve too many of cookies, and your hopes of waking up early to get to the gym the following morning are starting to fade.

Your weight loss efforts take a step in the wrong direction.

Scenario two:

You want to lose weight.

You come home stressed from work and look up on top of the fridge to where you’d typically see a box of cookies but instead see nothing.

It snaps you out of auto-pilot for a split second to recognize that there’s also now a bowl of fruit sitting on the counter.

You notice the bowl, but ignore it and continue with your evening.

You make dinner, clean up, and find yourself still frustrated from the day and now also bored with what the rest of your evening looks like.

You remember that you picked up a book you wanted to dive into and also notice that bowl of fruit still sitting on the countertop.

Thinking about your weight loss goal you don’t even bother opening the refrigerator, grab a piece of fruit, and sit down on the coach for some QT with yourself.

20 minutes later you find yourself feeling sleepy, look at the clock, and realize that if started to get ready for bed right now you could probably wake up early enough to make it to the gym tomorrow morning.


An hour later you’re asleep and wake up the next morning motivated by your healthy decisions the night before.

You’ve just stepped closer toward achieving your weight loss goal.

This is how you shape the path.


In both scenarios there are 2 distinct differences the determined whether you made poor or healthy decisions.

In scenario one the rider was cornered.

The elephant - feeling stressed - noticed the bag of cookies from the instant you walked into the kitchen and at that point knew it was only a matter of time before it caved in.

Stressed + Cookies - Healthy Alternative = Poor Choice

In scenario two the elephant looked to where the cookies normally would be but noticed nothing.

Looking around in confusion both the rider and elephant notice the bowl of fruit and are reminded of your “weight loss” goal.

To go one step further, in scenario one the rider and elephant find themselves bored at night after dinner with nothing to do.

So the elephant takes control, plops down in front of the T.V. A sleeve of cookies later leads to a later evening and a missed workout the following morning.

In scenario two the rider and elephant remember the book you bought earlier that day that you were looking forward to starting.

Rather than plopping down in front of the T.V. you grab the book, grab a piece of fruit, and sit down to start reading.


Your decisions lead to an earlier bedtime which leads to you waking up on time for the gym the following morning.

Everybody wins.

Where to Start

Looking back at our previous posts, you have a lot of valuable information at hand to help you restructure your physical environment and help you make healthier decisions.

Use the goal you created last week and see how you can “Shape The Path” to make it easier for your Rational Rider and Emotional Elephant to work together.

Simple adjustments such as…

  • Driving home a different way

  • Walking into your house through the back door

  • And, putting your bags down in a different place

All create enough impact to cause your rider and elephant to snap out of auto-pilot for a split second. That split second is where you can now respond to a situation rather than react.

Combined with some rearranging...

  • In your kitchen

  • At your desk

  • And in your car

And your day-to-day routine winds up with a completely new look and feel; one that caters to your goals and the healthy decisions you’d prefer to make.

Red Light, Green Light

For many people the kitchen tends to be the primary place for sabotage and success.

An simple way you can Shape The Path in your kitchen is to identify green, yellow, and red light tigger-foods in your house.

Green light foods promote healthy choices

  • Salads

  • Lean meats

  • Colorful fruits and vegetables, etc.

Yellow light foods can lead to green light foods OR can lead to red light foods

  • Peanut butter in the cabinet might lead to a snack with veggies, but might also lead to ice cream.

  • Dip in the fridge might lead to veggies, but it also might lead to chips.


Red light foods promote unhealthy decisions

  • Ice cream

  • Cookies

  • Sweets, etc.

Make it simple for yourself.

Throw away the red light foods and rearrange your fridge and cabinets so that green light foods are all eye level.

If you feel bad about throwing away red light foods just remind yourself that it’s food that contains little to no nutritional value, therefore anyone would be better off not eating them.

Make sure you check back next week when we discuss your “Circle of Control.”


In that post we’ll explore how letting go of factors outside your circle can lead to greater success and ultimately help you become the strongest version of yourself.


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