How to Build a Batcave for Habit Change

batman batcave

We all know there’s more to getting healthy than just education.

We need to stop saying to ourselves, “I need to try harder this time,” and, “why can’t I do what I know I need to do?”

There is far more to this process than just trying harder. We need to stop beating ourselves up because we don’t “have enough willpower.”

What need to literally outsmart ourselves.  

In order to do that, we need to build our own environment and set it up for success:

  • Bruce Wayne has his Batcave to help him develop the right tools to fight crime.
  • Superman has his Fortress of Solitude.
  • Tony Stark has his lab and J.A.R.V.I.S. to perfect his Iron Man Suit.

Here’s how you can build your own Superhero HQ, stop focusing on “trying harder,” and use your environment to give yourself a leg up.

How our brains work

pinky and the brain

We (super)humans are creatures of habit.

Our brains look for the path of least resistance when doing any activity.  The more we complete an activity on a regular basis, the less and less brainpower is required.

For example, think about when you learned to drive a car, which was probably at first, overwhelming and terrifying for most:

  • Check mirrors
  • Hands at 10 and 2
  • Turn on blinker
  • Step on the right pedal
  • Keep head on a swivel and watch out for other cars

Nowadays, you probably don’t think twice about driving.  It’s just something you do.

The same goes for a lot of other activities that you complete without realizing it: brushing your teeth, checking Facebook every five minutes, picking up your phone every time it buzzes, and so on.

When you complete an activity multiple times, your brain can forge new and faster pathways that require less brainpower.

In order for us to build better habits, we need to minimize the amount of brainpower required for us to complete that good habit.

And we need to MAXIMIZE the amount of brainpower and steps required to complete bad habits.

This is where we shape our environment to aid us in our quest for a healthier lifestyle.

your environment, your decisions

fortress of solitude

There are probably two places you spend most of your time:

  • Your home
  • Your office/cubicle/lab/spaceship

The objects in these environments craft your behavior far more than you realize.  Your brain is constantly taking stock of what’s around you and what you do when you see those things:

  • If you see a vending machine, your brain might think, “I get snacks here.”
  • If you see candy on a desk, your brain might say “I get a sugar rush here.”
  • When you see your comfy couch and giant TV, your brain might say “I get hours of entertainment here.”

If these are decisions you’ve made dozens and dozens of times, your brain has to do minimal work to make those connections.

Now, compare these mindless activities with a new habit you want to build, or getting rid of a bad habit:

  • If you want to go for a run when you get home from work you need to come home (after you’ve used up all of your willpower at work), walk past that comfy couch, Grand Theft Auto V, AND your refrigerator (FOOD! HAPPY!).  Then you have to walk into your bedroom, take off your work clothes, put on your workout clothes, lace up your shoes, and then walk past all of those amazing distractions all over again.
  • If you want to cook a healthy meal you need to drive past Burger King, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Jack-n-the-Box, Pizza Hut, Arby’s, and Chik-Fil-A just to get to the grocery store. Then you must walk past the cookie aisle, grab vegetables and chicken, come home (while avoiding the in-home traps above) and set aside time to actually cook!
  • If you want to stop checking Facebook, Twitter, ESPN, Gmail and other sites 25 times a day you need to try and force your brain to say “I will focus on the task at hand.”  This is essentially the equivalent of trying to type a report on a laptop while sitting in the middle of Times Square.

The audit of NF HQ

iron man

Today, I challenge you to perform an audit of your headquarters, and identify ways that you can do two things:

  • Decrease the number of steps between you and building a good habit.
  • Increase the number of steps between you and a bad habit.

Let me share with you three few stories about how I’ve adjusted my headquarters in the past month:

  • I wanted to start playing more guitar.
  • I wanted to watch less TV.
  • How I stopped eating junk food at home.

I started playing guitar back in college (when you go to college in Nashville, it’s a pre-requisite).  Since moving BACK to Nashville 10 months ago, I’ve probably played a total of an hour of guitar…because I told myself I “didn’t have time.” Lies, Kamb! LIES!

A few weeks back, I made the decision that I needed to start playing more guitar.

So I took one single step: 

So I put my guitar in the middle of my living room floor:

Guitar in middle of Floor

Rather than hiding it in the corner, it was something I had to walk past every time I went through my living room.

This one single act has led to me playing my guitar for probably 30 minutes a day. I still suck, but I suck less than I did three weeks ago!  I’ve since returned my guitar to a less ridiculous location, but my brain has rewired itself to think “I NEED TO PLAY THIS THING” every time I walk past it.

On top of that, I decided I was spending too much time watching TV.

I did a quick audit of my TV watching and realized I was recording reruns of too many shows I had already seen: Arrested Development, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Seinfeld, etc.  Whenever I turned my TV on, there was always something new in my DVR to watch.

So I cancelled all recordings of any reruns and cut out a few shows too.  I chopped the shows I watched in half.  Plus, the Kris Jenner Show got cancelled, so that one worked itself out.

Kidding. I’m still devastated.

For the first two weeks after this change, I’d grab my lunch and plop down in front of my TV…and realize that there was nothing new recorded.  So I went with option B: read a book (currently reading The Year Without Pants).

Now, I don’t even bother turning on my TV anymore except on the few nights a week when I know I have a single show to watch.

Here’s another example of how I use my environment to my advantage: I don’t keep junk food in my house.

I have friends that come visit and stay with me all the time. This past weekend, I had four people staying with me and 10 people in town total.  Every time they come to visit, they make fun of me for only having healthy food in my apartment.  “Damnit Kamb, what the hell am I supposed to eat!?” they say.

It’s not because I only eat healthy foods ever.  On the contrary, I know that if I have any junk food in my apartment I will not be able to keep myself from eating all of it.  If you bought me one of these, I would sit on my couch all day until it was all gone.

Because I spend most of my time at the NF HQ, I don’t keep junk food here!  On weekends I’ll eat pizza and wings and drink beer like the rest of America, but for the other 90% of my existence I only surround myself with healthy options.

This past weekend, I hosted a 30th birthday party for my friend Joe.  As a joke, we blew up 210 balloons, hung streamers, got Ninja Turtle plates, party hats, a Star Wars banner, and a pinata filled with candy.

This morning, I noticed that every time I walked past the leftover pile of candy, I would eat some. 

After the third time stopping to eat a Starburst or some Nerds (appropriate, I know), I realized I was going to eat the entire candy pile…so I dumped all of it in the trash before I could think twice about it!

This is an instance where I don’t mind being the only one.

Here are some other of my favorite examples from a few of my friends:

  • Derek Halpern lost 25 pounds by putting his scale in front of his Refrigerator.  Every time he went to the fridge to get a soda, he saw the scale, remembered he was trying to lose weight, and chose to drink water instead.
  • James Clear started flossing by buying floss picks and put them in the middle of his bathroom counter, telling himself he only had to floss 1 tooth.
  • Tyler Stanton stopped watching TV by putting his TV in his closet. If he wanted to watch a show, he had to carry the tv out of the closet, plug it in, set up the cable box, etc.  95% of the time, he’d say “Screw it, I’ll do anything else.”

The audit of YOUR HQ

lego lab

Here are a few examples of how you can audit your own headquarters to make better decisions, use less brainpower, and kick more ass:

  • Watch too much TV? Cancel your cable.  It’ll save you roughly $130k over your lifetime.  Buy an Apple TV or a Roku Player and spend the 99 cents on the few shows you want to watch.  It’s tougher to watch crap shows when you can’t flip to those channels!
  • Spend too much time messing around on your computer?  Use these productivity tips, install “self-control” on your mac, and actually BLOCK yourself from the sites you continually open every five minutes.
  • Want to run every morning? Sleep in your running clothes! Put your alarm clock across the room, with your shoes right next to it.  Make the alarm as ANNOYING as possible.
  • Want to exercise after work?  Pack your gym bag the night before and leave it by your front door so you never forget it going to work.  Don’t give yourself the option to come home before going to work out.
  • Play too many video games? Unplug your system.  Add ONE step between you and 14 hours of GTA V, Skyrim, or League of Legends.  Yes, video games rule, but it’s important to not forget the real life video game we’re all playing together.
  • Tired of stuffing your face with junk food?  Get it out of your house. Throw it all away.  It’s a lot tougher to binge on crappy food when it’s 9 PM and your only options are healthy things.

A bit of advice: Don’t make too many changes at once. At most, focus on trying to build one new habit and changing one bad habit.  It’s often easier to replace a bad habit with a good habit than it is to simply get rid of an old one.

Try the Hard Hat Challenge if you’re somebody who loves seeing progress.

How are you going to build your HQ?

evil HQ

I’d love to hear from you.

How do you plan SPECIFICALLY to change your headquarters today:

What’s one new habit or activity you’re trying to build, and how are you making it easier to complete that task?

What’s one bad habit you’re trying to get rid of, and how are you making it harder to complete that task?

Leave a comment being as SPECIFIC as possible.  And remember – small changes trump drastic ones.

Good luck.



photo: Batman batcave, Pinky and the Brain, Superman Solitude, Ironman, Lab Lego, Evil HQ Lego,

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    242 thoughts on “How to Build a Batcave for Habit Change

    1. I’ve honestly skimmed this article several times til I decided to get down to actually reading it, and applying it to my life. Until this week, my brother had been crashing with me..and a lot of my stuff got pushed out onto other tables/flat surfaces, and onto the there was simply no room for it. And I could feel that whole time like I was constantly cluttered, not just in my own home but in how I lived in general, even while trying to attain fitness goals.

      Starting early this week, I began to re-organize, yesterday I finished this article, devoted about 2-3hrs of my day (had a miniature dance party during this time) to re-organizing and getting my batcave on lock down. I converted his old closet to my fitness/activity closet (first major positive change I’ve made) making EVERYTHING (equipment, clothes, the few supplements I take) more readily accessible. I completely overhauled the kitchen making things more streamlined, opening up counter space, and making it easier to cook (I LOVE cooking..but a cluttered kitchen makes me take shortcuts). As far as the removal of bad things, in preparation for a 6-week sobriety run (time to get rid of those empty calories and see what happens) I have removed all alcohol from my home and have put reminders up around me about my sobriety goal.

      This article has really done a great job to inspire these positive changes..I guess we’ll just have to wait for CNF to see if it pays out as much as I hope it does.

    2. I wanted to go walk with my mom and my dog three times a week, so I got dressed to go and told myself that I didn’t have to go if I really didn’t want to. By getting ready to go, I tricked my brain into wanting to go.

    3. This article is great! I appreciate the kick in making my place reflect my goals. I walk and take public transportation to work, so I really only need my car for an occasional weeknight and on the weekends. Most of my errandy places are within a few mile radius. I really want to ride my bike for the stuff close by instead of driving. So, I store my bike in front of the apartment door leading to the driveway and started stashing the car keys in my bureau drawer instead of on a hook next the door. I might still drive sometimes but at least I have to acknowledge the choice.

    4. Iced tea generally works pretty well for me. But I’d get in the habit of not adding Any sugar or sweetener. By adding sugar/etc you’re going to keep yourself addicted to sweetness. After a while of drinking non-sugary drinks you’ll get used to it and not crave it so much. You’re always going to crave a soda if you’re drinking a sweet alternative.

    5. Make a giant salad and keep it in the fridge. Buy a head of lettuce, rip the whole thing up, and add enough veggies to match it. Sometimes I add cous-cous. It will last 3 days in the fridge. It means I have salad ready for every single meal, and also snacks to boot, because it’s right there, and ready. It’s easier to eat than to make popcorn!

    6. Best upgrade to my HQ: Getting a Bekant desk from IKEA. Still holds all 3 monitors fine, although I might eventually want to add a treadmill in for lengthy coding sessions.

      Video games: I got bored of them. Can’t compare to real adventuring.

    7. Love this post. Its so hands on. My first task will be to sleep in my gym clothes. Maybe not all but most of it. 🙂 to see if it helps me get to the gym at 05:30, 3 days a week??

    8. We do sparkling water and put in fruit to flavor (my favorite is a slice of lime and a sprig of fresh mint it’s like a healthy mojito).

    9. This is great and so true, I’ve been doing this slowly over the past few years and it WORKS. My husband and I moved recently and it was time to make some of these changes in our environment to support new habits. No TV in the living room (we have never had cable, so that’s not an issue, but we have Netflix, YouTube, HBO Now, which is plenty, and would often have the TV playing “in the background” while we did other things). No TV in living room means we talk more, hang out more, play with the dog more, go on more walks, work on the house, etc. Anything but sitting around with the TV on. We have also been on the minimalist journey and it has improved every aspect of life, at home and at work! Less STUFF = less gadgets and accessories, less crap to clean and fuss with and organize, you don’t have to declutter and organize when your stuff is minimized. So many people are a slave to their stuff without even knowing it. Less stuff = more time, more freedom, more nature, more movement!

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