Our behavior, our habits, and even our circumstances are largely the result of our environments. The spaces we live and work in, the clothes we wear, the information we consume and the people we associate with are all part of the nine environments that make up your life. The impact of environment on behavior is so powerful I dedicated an entire chapter to it in An Audience of One.
Deliberately designing your environment can increase your productivity, change your habits for the better, and drastically improve the quality of your life. But upgrading your environment doesn’t mean you have to buy a fancy car, sport designer threads, or move into a fancy apartment. Often it’s a matter of changing small seemingly insignificant things.
The Energy in Your Enviroments
Every object in your physical environment has emotions and memories associated with. Those emotions and memories create energy. That energy makes you feel good, or it makes you feel bad. Hence the reason Marie Kondo’s filter in her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is ”Does this spark joy?” In my recent book,, I shared the story of getting rid of all the books I didn’t love. When I looked at the top shelf, all the books were published by Penguin. A week later my editor at Penguin contacted me about writing a book. Changing small things in your environment leads to significant changes in your circumstances.
Familiar Environments Breed familiar Thoughts and Behavior
Humans are creatures of habit. We typically take the same route to work, go to the same coffee shop, and shop at the same grocery store. But if we take just one turn in a different direction, our circumstances and our story can take a turn in a different direction as well.
In the last couple of weeks, I published my second book, my business partner and I (on good terms) decided it was time for us to part ways, my sister got engaged, and a new roommate moved in. It was a new chapter in my life, so I decided to upgrade my environment by changing some seemingly insignificant things.
- Sometime last year I purchased white bed sheets and duvet covers because I wanted the room to be like a hotel room. A woman who things didn’t work out with slept on those sheets. The white sheets also kept making me feel like my room wasn’t clean. When I first moved into the apartment, the black sheets made me feel zen and calm. So I ordered a new black duvet cover, put on the black pillowcases I had before, and suddenly I felt better. A subtle change led to a significant energetic shift.
- My parents gave me the lamps in my room when I first moved into my apartment. The one on my nightstand broke when it fell over. I had written two books under the light of the one on my desk. So I replaced them both with new ones.
The simple act of making more deliberate choices about physicalspace can in and of itself be an upgrade.
- For the last few years, my “uniform” of choice has been a black t-shirt and jeans. I wrote two books and recorded 100’s of podcasts in that uniform, and it isn’t exactly my best look. So, I decided on a new uniform, a white oxford from Everlane with dark jeans.
- The simplest and most cost-effective way to upgrade your wardrobe is with new socks and underwear. Remember, every object has energy associated with, even your socks and underwear.
You can upgrade any environment by changing one small thing:
- You could replace your silverware or your dishes.
- You could change the type of pens you write with or the color of your notebooks (something I usually do after a chapter of my life ends).
- You change the screensaver or background image on your laptop. We undervalue incremental changes because they don’t seem dramatic. But as Jim Bunch once said on the Unmistakable Creative: every environment is connected.
The little things we repeatedly do and the little things we change can lead to significant changes in our lives.
Minimalism Eases Maintenance
A few years ago when I was living at home, my mother and I got into an argument over the closet in my bedroom. It wasn’t organized to her liking. So I went downstairs, got a garbage page, and threw away 90 percent of what was there. She wasn’t amused and thought I was a smart ass. But I also realized how much easier it is to keep your place clean when you’re a minimalist.
A High-Quality Low Quantity Philosophy
We live in a culture of conspicuous consumption, and as a result, we accumulate a lot of stuff: schwag at conferences, chargers, cables, clothes we haven’t worn in years, and more. If you haven’t put something on in the last six months, it’s worth considering whether you’ll ever actually wear it again. If you haven’t used something in 6 months, maybe you should get rid of it.
When it comes to most of my physical possessions, I abide by a philosophy of high-quality, low quantity.
- Instead of 6 pairs of somewhat cheap crappy jeans, I own two pairs of designer jeans. You spend the same amount and end up with a much better product.
- I bought the ten-year hoodie and hadn’t needed another once since
- I’ve limited myself to a total of 5 dress shirts. The only problem this presents is that if I went on six dates with the same girl, she would have seen my whole wardrobe. I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.
You have less stuff, it lasts longer, the quality is higher, and you leave less of an environmental footprint on the planet. It’s a form of conscious capitalism that allows you to make space for what matters.
Physical Possessions take Up Mental Space
Often we don’t realize just how much mental energy our physical possessions take up until we get rid of them. One story after another echoes this sentiment in the documentary Minimalism. Getting rid of material possessions reduces the number of things that compete for your attention, and as a result, you get much better managing your attention. If the state of your environment is scattered and chaotic, the state of your attention will be as well. It’s the rare person who thinks clearly in the midst of clutter and chaos.
Deliberate Lightweight Digital Consumption
Tweets, status updates, email checks, Instagram scrolls, and clickbait are the digital equivalent of eating donuts and smoking cigarettes for breakfast. They feel good at the moment, but they usually feel us leaving empty and drained afterward. Given how much time we spend in it, our digital environment has as much of an impact as our physical one. But most of us don’t take that approach to it.
When I first learned about this concept from Jim Bunch, he said something that sums all of this up perfectly.
“If you get fanatical about designing your environments, the environment will do the work for you. It will pull you into the next best version of yourself.”