Environment Design: Can You Design Your Environment to Help You Win?

Have you ever thought about what makes Superman super? 

Aside from the unwavering moral compass and big heart, Metropolis’s stalwart protector also happens to possess a formidable set of physical abilities (thanks, Captain Obvious). He can circle the ends of the earth in a fraction of a minute, store solar energy in his eyes, and radiate it in flaming optic blasts, and on top of that, there’s talk buzzing around that he could punch Thanos’ lights out. ?

The guy is pretty much invincible.

But when Superman was ferried away into General Zod’s spacecraft, he got an allergic reaction to the Kryptonian atmosphere inside the ship, and his super strengths dwindled superbly. 

Why, you may ask.

Well, Superman harnesses energy from earth’s yellow sun, like a supercharged solar battery. Red sunlight, like the one in Krypton, would render him powerless.

On another note, because Superman’s home planet has a mass more than 5 times that of earth, the gravitational pull on planet Krypton would directly affect Superman’s ability to fly.

And who would Superman be if he didn’t descend like a light from the sky with his bright red cape flapping in the air, adding to the flair of his greatness? 

But I digress. 

A line from William Golding’s Lord of the Flies would capture the point I’m trying to make.

“If faces were different when lit from above or below—what was a face? What was anything?” 

— William Golding, Lord of the Flies

If who we are, what we do, how we act and think in the moment—our internal environment, is chiefly dictated by our external environment, what becomes of us? What is us?

Despite the purely imaginary aspects of Superman’s entire storyline, there is truth in the fact that our environment contributes a great deal to who we are and who we become.

On Food, Dieting, and Almost Drowning.

Last week, my best friend and I thought it was a good idea to go on a detox. We were going to be accountability buddies in our little foray into the realm of Healthier Lifestyle. Come Monday, day one of what was supposed to be a three-day detoxification process, the universe decided to be funny. 

Of the countless perks there are to living at home with your parents, homecooked meals must be at the summit. But if your immediate goal is NOT to eat the savory adobo with potatoes, pineapple, hard-boiled eggs, and *drumroll please* hot rice, this advantage can quickly shift from friend to foe. Alas, I’m yet to master the skill of snubbing a hearty meal that’s within an arm’s length. 

Before I move on to my next point, let me tell you about that one nasty childhood near-death-but-not-really-I-may-just-be-exaggerating experience of drowning in a pee-infested pool. 

As a kid, I could never explain why bodies of water made my imagination run hot with the horrors of sea monsters that would devour me. So I never learned to swim, and I was teased because of it. 

I thought the best response to the teasing was to jump into six-feet deep water. Not my smartest move, I must admit.

When they finally fished me out, I was coughing my lungs out, and (the punchline is coming, dear reader) someone thought a glass of water would help calm my nerves. 

The irony is subtly hilarious. I was too young to make room for irony in my frontal lobe back then, but I realize now that the universe was only trying to be funny. 

I took a sip. 

Again, I digress.

How Do Our Environments Shape Us? 

I’ve dedicated a fair amount of brainpower to thinking about how our environment shapes us. A person’s external environment is like a moving piece on a chessboard. It influences what happens in the mind; the mind directs the body, and the body exercises the will into action. 

But it goes both ways—a seamless exchange between two worlds and how the internal environment dances with the external environment could potentially transform the person. 

For example, the Alorese, a people from a small island in the Netherland East Indies, were emotionally predisposed to be suspicious, distrustful, timid and insecure. For the Alorese, their fearfulness and timidity don’t root from feelings of inferiority and anxiety but a culturally observed way of being. While the Zuni, a North American Indian tribe that resides in present-day New Mexico, tend to be more emotionally secure and cooperative. 

The intricacies that go into the development of our personalities is a topic too complex to cover in a single article, and frankly, far more than I’m comfortable discussing. But there are generalities that we could use as a starting point. These generalities aren’t blanket descriptions. 

Instead, they back the existence of more complex differences and nuances that make the case of each person fundamentally unique. Differences aren’t constrained between societies only, but even more so within societies themselves. 

How Can You Design Your Environment to Help You Win?

Relying solely on motivation is an overrated and ineffective way of ushering in much-needed change in your life. According to James Clear, there’s a better way of going about things, and get this, it doesn’t require a single ounce of motivation. 

Brian Wansink from Cornell University and Koert van Ittersum from the Georgia Institute of Technology discovered during one of their experiments that switching from 12–inch plates to 10–inch plates resulted in a 22% decrease in calories.

This is all thanks to the Delboeuf Illusion

In another situation, say for example, you want to cut down habitually checking your phone for notifications that aren’t there. Nip the temptation in the bud. 

Think about all the things you could achieve if your personal space was designed in a way that made good decisions easier to make. 

Where exactly am I getting at? Two words. 

Environment. Design.

I wrestle with distractions all the time, just like you. I know the itch of wanting to get your hands on your phone. I know the promise that you’ll only be on TikTok or social media for five minutes, and I know that’s almost always an epic failure. 

To help me cut down this addiction to my phone, I keep it stashed away in a drawer that’s more than five paces away from my workspace. Whenever I feel like getting up and checking it for a teensy weensy moment, I take out my writing pad and scribble what I wanted to do. 

My list looks like this at times.

It helps me actualize the urge without acting on it. 

Our influence over our life starts and ends with the things that are within our reach. Pick a tiny area and start there. Personally, the area in my life that needs a lot of improvement is my eating habits. 

Anyway, enough talk. I leave you with one of James Clear’s best advice, 

“Environment design allows you to take back control and become the architect of your life. Be the designer of your world and not merely the consumer of it.”

— James Clear

Now that you have this information, what are you going to do next? 

Stay in touch! xo