Ryan’s notes

Environment shapes us

I moved to San Francisco when I was 20. I hadn’t yet graduated college, I couldn’t drink, and I couldn’t rent a car, but I signed a lease for an apartment and promptly got to filling it with the necessary wares including an innocuous 8-piece dinnerware and silverware set from Ikea.

I soon got into the habit of using every single fork, knife, spoon, bowl, and plate before I washed any. This was partly because I didn't have a dishwasher, and partly because I was taking the easiest path. I’d stretch things out for a week or more, stabbing meatballs with a knife, shoveling chili off a plate, tossing salads with two spoons. And then, at the end of the line, I’d get really upset with myself: “God dammit Ryan, this kitchen is a mess! Who ARE you?!” And I would clean, for over an hour, every utensil and dish I had sullied the previous week. The cycle would repeat itself, and with each iteration, I would hate myself a little more.

In the depths of this new self-loathing, I had an idea: what if I had fewer things to dirty, less room for error? And so I packed up seven of the eight plates, bowls, forks, spoons, and knives into a box and hid them in a closet.

Well, you can guess what happened: I dirtied every fork, spoon, knife, plate, and bowl I could find, which was exactly one. And every day or two I’d clean it up, and I punished myself just a little bit less.

So, now, whenever I can, I look for ways to change my environment to promote behaviors that better serve me.

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