Provision #431: Design Your Environments

Laser Provision

How hard is it for you to maintain Work / Life Balance? If the answer is, “Very hard!” then perhaps you have not enlisted the support of your environments. At their best, environments can make Work / Life Balance an effortless thing to accomplish and to maintain. At their worst, they can make it virtually impossible. So why not design your environments to support your best efforts and to be your best self? This Provision shows you how to get started.

LifeTrek Provision

Too many people work way too hard to get what they want out of life. By relying primarily on effort and willpower, they end up having to carry the ball all by themselves. Until, of course, they end up dropping the ball. To achieve Work / Life Balance over the long term, the secret is to design our environments in order to minimise how much effort, struggle, and willpower it takes to get what we want.

Great environments are like the autopilot feature in an airplane. They maintain our speed and keep us on course, even when we aren’t looking. Bad environments require our constant time and effort. Without constant vigilance, bad environments will lead to a crash landing, every time.

Fortunately, once we understand the nature and power of our environments, it becomes easy to design them accordingly. Our environments include many things like personal habits, relationships, physical environments like our home, office, and technology, as well as our ways of thinking, feeling and doing things. Almost anything that we interact with is an environment that can be designed to work for us.

Dave Buck, Head Coach and CEO of CoachVille, explains that humans are very adaptable and quickly become just like the environments they are in. We humans are also natural environmental designers, creating environments that reflect who we are. Drawing on leading-edge ideas from CoachVille’s Schools of Coaching, let’s explore how designing environments can immediately benefit our Work / Life Balance.

As we make changes on the inside with our Work / Life Balance, it is necessary to make changes to our environment that reflect the new us. Dave Buck says that if we don’t do this, the existing environment that created the “old you” will pull us back to the way we were. This is why going to a workshop rarely results in lasting change. Our new learning doesn’t stand a chance against the existing environment.

The key is to craft environments that craft us and bolster our intentions. When we intentionally design our environments to support us, we remove much of the willpower, thinking, and stress from everyday tasks and events. Instead, we create repeatable and consistent performance.

I learned this many years ago while attending a business seminar. The speaker challenged the audience to guess correctly how long it takes to cook McDonald’s Fries. Some people guessed and some even insisted that they knew the answer, “3 minutes,” they shouted. “No it’s 4 minutes and 30 seconds, five minutes” and so on. The correct answer was: “Who cares? A buzzer goes off and you know they are cooked.” This simple system is the essence of a well-designed environment.

We are often the product of our environments. Sales and Marketing experts understand this dynamic. They seek to create environments for us to interact with all the time. They certainly understand how to manipulate my love of chocolate. To get in better shape, I recently promised myself I would eat less chocolate. But as each week rolled by, no matter how hard I tried, my willpower eventually caved in. I was baffled for a while, until I considered my environment. I had clearly “bought in” to the messages of the Sales and Marketing professionals.

They had led me to believe that if I bought in bulk I would save money. And, indeed, on a per item basis the savings are considerable. But by filling my environment with chocolate, by creating a chocolate-rich environment, I slowly started to eat more and more, simply because it was there. The environment was crafting my behaviour. As I ate more I ended up spending more than ever before. And all the while I thought I was actually saving money!

Luckily, designing a new environment was simple once I recognised the dynamic: only buy chocolate in quantities I will consume that day. This simple practice led to an environment that required no further thinking or willpower on my part, just a commitment to respond to and be crafted by it. After a while, I couldn’t be bothered with having to go out to get chocolate every time I wanted some. The result? I happily ate less chocolate and spent less money.

This approach might or might not work for you. But everyone can design environments that minimize our reliance on effort, struggle, and willpower to achieve Work / Life Balance. Such environments will inspire rather than drain, will be sustainable, will not depend on us to keep them going, will support our goals and needs, and will reduce the need to think or push hard.

If you design an environment and it doesn’t quite work, continue to reengineer it through a process of trial and correction. When our needs change, we can update our environments. Such deliberate environmental modification causes us to ask different questions and to take different actions as we seek to achieve our goals and wants with less effort and stress. By removing unnecessary effort, we are freed up to enjoy ourselves more. The key is to be willing to rely on and respond to our environments.

Let’s design a make-believe environment as an example. How about a general Work / Life Balance goal around health and fitness? Say you have decided to start riding your bicycle each night, but are finding it difficult to do so on a regular basis. You start to assess and redesign your environment and find that it is failing because work sometimes runs overtime, eating into your riding time.

Your first redesign is to switch to riding in the mornings. You try this but still don’t get onto your bicycle. Why? Too much willpower and not enough environmental design. What is wrong? You look at where your bicycle lives each day • it’s stuck at the back of the garage behind some boxes and is hard to get at!

So, you put your bicycle by the front door, with your shoes and house keys ready to go each morning. In addition, you might create another environment to support your bicycle environment: you commit to meet a riding friend each morning at an agreed time. Finally, you decide to have the post office hold your mail so you can pick it up each morning on the final leg of your ride. Now your environment really starts to work for you and become fun. Your only decision is to commit to rely on and respond to it as a way for you to socialise, get your mail, and stay fit.

This is a simple, generic example. Imagine what you can do on your own, or with a professional coach, tailoring environments to meet your needs! Each and every one of us is a natural environmental designer and we inevitably respond to our environments.

Being deliberate with our environments creates exciting and endless benefits in our Work / Life Balance. We can design environments to make technology work for us instead of against us, generating more family time, more down time, or more productivity.

We can design environments to balance our energy, lower our stress, improve our relationships, and perform at a higher level. We could design an environment to remove fear, ignite our passion, or give us back some of that old-fashioned satisfaction in our Work / Life Balance. We can even design environments that improve our wealth similar to the way a large corporation does. The applications for designed environments are endless.

Designed environments reduce unnecessary effort and stress. They stimulate and develop us the more we simply surrender to them. Such environments remove a lot of the hard work, effort, struggle, and willpower to achieve both optimum performance and satisfying Work / Life Balance.

If you want to try this, start with the things that you are tolerating right now. Design an environment to support the outcomes you are seeking. Look for those things that are hindering your success and standing in the way of your Work / Life Balance. The goal is to have environments that are enjoyable and serve to launch you forward.

Coaching Inquiries: What environments are crafting you right now? Which environments are you struggling with right now? How could you re-craft them so they craft you toward your goals? Would you like help crafting a personally tailored environment?

This Provision, and each Provision in our series on Work / Life Balance, is written by Michael J. Alafaci of • Copyright Solution Maps 2005. All rights reserved. You can contact Mike by email or phone, in Australia, at 61-7-3311-5361.

If you or your company would like to talk with LifeTrek about coaching, Email Us or use theContact Form at our Website to arrange a complimentary conversation.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, Email Bob or use our online Feedback Form..

Although I love receiving your newsletter, I rarely stop long enough to read them and have filed many anyway until there is time to do so. However, the article presented in your last Provision, “Choose Your Speed,” caused me to pause and read most of it. Mike Alafaci’s observations are, unfortunately, right on…a true state of affairs in my life. I’ll get the book to learn more, but your overview has really raised my awareness of the need to make some changes that I know will make a difference. Great work on the entire newsletter!

Mike’s Provision, “Choose Your Speed,” was probably the best writing I’ve seen on this topic. I really connected with it, and find it very useful in looking at my own life, as well as assisting others in looking at theirs. Thank you!

Thanks for another great newsletter. I just wanted to bring your attention to one thing. I believe the name of the Carl Honor•’s book is In Praise of Slowness. (Ed. Note: The same book has two titles,In Praise of Slowness is the title in the United States. In Praise of Slow is the title everywhere else • and Mike hails from Australia. Click for More Information.)

I recently read your series of Provisions on Listening and they made me weep Click. It was life-changing learning for me, answering many questions about holes in myself and my life! Thank you!

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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