In the early 1970s, the United States had a problem. A big problem.
Of the troops that deployed to Vietnam, only one percent were considered heavy drug users. During the war, that number skyrocketed to 50 percent. 20 percent became addicted. And it happened quickly. Of all users, almost a quarter started within the first week. 60 percent of users started within three months.
As the war ended, White House officials were scrambling. There was a worry that—as the drug-addicted troops returned—crime would increase, rehab centers would be flooded, and unemployment numbers would soar.
Researchers were called in to investigate and report their findings in hopes of coming up with solutions. What they found was astonishing. Within 12 months of returning, only one percent of troops were still using narcotics—the same amount as before the men left for war.
The problem had solved itself. How is that possible?
At home, most of the troops were not in an environment that promoted drug use. Narcotics weren’t readily available. The people around them were not using. Also, while the stress levels of each varied with normal life, the stress of war brings different challenges and temptations.
Everything changed when they arrived in Vietnam. Troops arrived in a completely different world. Narcotics were everywhere. And many people were using. Fear and stress were high. Their environment changed and their behavior changed with it.
When the troops returned to their normal environment, it didn’t take long to readjust back to their prewar life. They stopped using a powerfully addictive drug with no formal intervention—simply a change of environment.
What seemed like a people problem was really an issue of setting.
Design your money environment
Companies spend millions of dollars and dedicate entire departments to hacking human tendencies that get us to spend more money.
Amazon created an empire on one concept: removing friction from the buying environment. Las Vegas dedicates every detail to getting you to stay longer and lose more money. Social media is maybe the most powerful of all consumer (and status-chasing) designs.
Be aware of the power of your surroundings and their influence over how you behave. Take time to understand what you value and how money helps support those values. Then arrange your environment accordingly. Design thoughtfully and in a way that best defends you from the negative forces fighting for your wallet and attention.
Maybe you’ve realized that when your paycheck hits your checking account it gets spent. You’ve tried budgeting and saving what’s left over. But it’s just not working. Instead, you could send 10 percent of your paycheck to a separate investment account before it comes to your checking account. Boom. You just created a roadblock for your temptation. You tweaked your environment for success. Even better, you removed the ongoing thinking and emotion from the process.
At the end of the Vietnam war, the United States government thought they had a people problem. It didn’t take long to realize they had a place problem. It had nothing to do with the individuals. It was the epitome of wrong place, wrong time.
Alter the environment, fix the problem.
It’s a constant battle we’re facing with more tempting environments than ever before. Relying on willpower or motivation alone is a great way to lose the battle. Spend a little more time considering your environment. Is it helping or hindering?
If you ever feel stuck, remember you may just need to change things up.
Here’s to making money matter!