How to Craft Your Environment to Support Habit Change… (w/ You Vs Debt Sample Lesson!)


Note: This is a post from Adam Baker, founder of Man Vs. Debt.

Today is an exciting day for me. We’re almost ready to launch our next You Vs Debt class – and to celebrate I’ve decided to share a few sample daily lessons and resources this week with you!

The first week of the six-week You Vs Debt class is all about “Motivation & Mindset.”

As we talked about in my last post, this is an extremely important topic that many financial experts simply shy away from. We dig into the numbers of personal finance starting in Week 2, but not before we lay a foundation of excitement, passion, and commitment.

The key metaphor that guides us through this first week is that of The Rider, The Elephant, and The Path – a great construct laid out in the book Switch by Chip and Dan Heath.

Essentially they describe our emotional mind to be like a huge elephant – slow, deliberate, and powerful. Our logical mind is the rider on top tasked with constantly guiding the elephant through the jungle towards a desired destination.

How do most of us try to get this elephant through the jungle?

We force it. We grab the reigns and try to ram this beast straight through the shortest path possible!

We fight, we struggle… we tire, we sore, and finally… we exhaust.

“WILLPOWER!” We scream at the top of our lungs… but it’s no use. We simply can’t keep up the stamina to constantly overpower the elephant.

Is it any wonder most of us burn out when attempting to change a tough habit?

Willpower alone is not enough…

Instead of constantly exhausting ourselves trying to micromanage our journey, Chip and Dan Health suggest we:

  1. Direct the rider – First, we need to give our logical minds clarity above all else. We need to know specifically what we are doing and where we are going. This helps us overcome the fear of uncertainty (a huge source of resistance in our logical brains) – and gives us the guidance to make small course corrections when needed.
  2. Motivate the elephant – This is where so many of us fail. You shouldn’t be motivating the rider (what most of us try first) – you need to motivate the huge, powerful beast you’re riding! By switching your motivation to feed your emotional mind – you’ll ensure that the elephant wants to come along for the ride. You’ll no longer be caught in a constant power struggle – and won’t burn out nearly as quickly.

This subtle shift to motivate my emotional mind over my logical mind has completely changed the way I approach change in my life.

But the last part of Chip and Dan’s jungle metaphor may be the most important.

They remind us that you can also Shape The Path that the rider and the elephant take through the jungle. This means crafting a positive, supporting environment and removing any negative potholes, obstacles and predators in your way.

Shaping the path makes the journey easier on both parts of our minds. Our emotional mind can push forward without many hurdles – and our logical mind can make small adjustments if we begin to wander off the path at any point.

You Vs. Debt Sneak Peek…

And this is where we find ourselves on Day 4 of the You Vs. Debt class framework. Having just covered how to motivate our emotional minds and direct our logical minds, we’re ready to craft our environment to help support the journey.

Take a sneak peek at a sample lesson and challenge from Day 4:


Additional Resources:

Do This Challenge Today…

This sample lesson (and post) is useless if you don’t take action.

I want you to download this supplemental worksheet and fill it out.

Start by filling out your three levels of positive influences. Next, list the negative people and environments that are dragging you down.

After you are done share the following in the comments (if you are willing):

  1. Share the #1 entity in your life that is dragging you down.
  2. Share your #1 most empowering influence.

Sharing your answers in the comments below will help inspire others to take up the challenge!

Ready for more action steps to change your financial life? Get several awesome resources to “kickstart your money,” join the Man Vs. Debt community list by clicking here!

· Unautomate Your Finances ebook
· You Vs Debt Sample Lesson
· What to Sell Where Flow Chart
· Debt Payoff Tracker
· 10 Tips for an Effective Craigslist Ad

Your financial life CAN change. And crafting your environment (or “shaping the path”) is an essential step in ensuring that this change will be long-term and sustainable.

I hope you enjoyed the sample lesson!




12 thoughts on “How to Craft Your Environment to Support Habit Change… (w/ You Vs Debt Sample Lesson!)”

  1. Interesting analogy. I haven’t read Switch yet, but I’ve heard such good things that I think I’ll have to add it to my “to-read” list soon.

    It’s definitely something that’s applicable for me right now as I’m getting ready to make the leap back to self-employment. The first time I tried to be self-employed a few years ago, I jumped in head first and – not surprisingly – failed. This time, I’m taking a very deliberate approach by planning ahead and carefully constructing the right environment for success.

    My answers to your worksheet questions are:

    1. As far as the entity that’s dragging me down most, I’d say it’s my day job, which sucks my time and energy away from the projects I really care about. But since I know that’s temporary, it’s also me that’s dragging me down by second guessing my abilities and the likelihood that I’ll succeed. Not good, but it’s something I’m working on!

    2. The most empowering influence on me right now is the other bloggers I’ve had the privilege of working with. That, and my future children, who are going to be able to spend more time with a happier mom because I’m taking control of my employment and my finances.

    Thanks for the great food for thought this morning!!!

  2. STRESS about my family dragging me down. I don’t know how to remove it, but I bet I can get better at dealing with it. (Our daughter was recently diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, and we’re in the seventh circle of paperwork hades trying to get her special education program set up at school.) I am using that as an excuse lately for bad financial choices. You know, busy/crazy day, so let’s run through a drive-through between appointments. We’re out of soda at home, but I “deserve” a Diet Pepsi, so I’m going to pay $2 at the convenience store for one AND get some chips while I’m at it.

    The most empowering influence on me right now is almost the same thing, strangely. I NEED to get our finances in control, because we NEED to be able to pay for some therapies we think will really help my daughter, and we NEED to arrange it so that one of her two parents can be mostly stay/work-at-home. To that end, I’ve been reading the blogs of some other parents who are in similar situations, and talking to people locally at occupational therapy and other places, and I find that to be very inspiring. These are real people – often in my own town – who can make a single-income family work even with these extra costs.

  3. My environment being our home and stuff is dragging my husband and I down. One of the things we’ve been working on is minimizing the stuff. I really think this change would help us in a huge way!

  4. Right now the number one thing dragging me down is my inability to exercise on a regular basis. My rider is on board, but the elephant and path need work.

    My empowering influence is my son being born on Sunday the 11th. Now that he is here I feel like my family is complete, and I am ready to focus on the things that need done in my life, financially and physically.

  5. @ Alex – Congratulations on the birth of your son!
    Now, not to be a downer, bu the thing dragging me down is my dealing with and worrying about son. He’s a young adult and his life is spiraling out of control. I don’t know how to help him. Just this week he was in a car accident (it was his fault),he lost his license, his car has been impounded, he doesn’t have the money to get it out, and he lost his job because he can’t get to work. Since he was drunk driving, I’m not giving him the money to get his car out and I feel absolutely horrible but I think tough love is the only way to really help him.

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  8. I agree that the logical mind needs clarity. I’d go as far to say that once clarity is achieved, the subconscious mind can become convinced of your goals and conspire with you to achieve them.

    The number one thing dragging me down is UN-certainty sometimes affecting the ability to take action.
    For example, I recently lost a well paying job a few days ago. I’m overcoming the urge to immediately get another job, while instead pushing my eCommerce shop and freelancing business forward. What’s encouraging is that the closer I get toward being resolute on branching out on my own, the more things and clients seem to be falling into place.

    The most empowering influnces are all the minamilism, voluntary simplicity and digital nomad bloggers (including you), seeing others have overcome similiar challenges and are making it happen.

  9. First of all, accept my deep appreciation for posting this superb piece of writing. The psychological analogy has brought new levels of consciousness. The emotional mind truly represents the untamed and rebellious elephant, whereas the logical mind appears to be feeble and helpless in comparison. I can imagine debt as the deep, enchanting forest, which constantly beckons the naive animal. It reminds me of Dave Ramsey’s snowball method, which claims paying your smallest debt first, can keep you motivated and pumped up with quick wins. It’s the emotional satisfaction of paying off the smaller debt, which encourages you to pay off the rest of the debt pretty fast as well.

    I just simply love the theory of ‘Switch’ by Chip and Dan Heath. In fact, you second lesson to man vs. debt literally slaps me into shape, as I am forced to ransack my logical mind once again. Am I truly doing something that I care about??? I used to be a voracious reader and a huge freaking fan of Tennyson and now I ended up as a finance writer, which has nothing to do with literature, I guess. However, your writing compelled me to change my preconceived notions. Literature and Philosophy have its essence melt in everywhere. Who knows after reading this article I might be able to bring my emotional and logical self into perfect harmony.

    Nina Bicknell

  10. Hey Baker,

    I loved that book. I really adhere to the notion that we have very little willpower, and that it should be invested on creating habits. And the rider / elephant / path analogy is very powerful.

    Great video, by the way 🙂

    Thanks for sharing,


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