Although we haven’t always named them as such, we’ve been talking about environments for the past several weeks. The relationships in our lives represent one environment. The finances represent another. Today we address the topic more fully, paying attention to a variety of physical, natural, and systemic environments. It’s important to make sure our environments support, inspire, and enable us to be the best we can possibly be. Why? Because “environments always win.” There’s no way to go it alone. There’s also no way to buck our environments forever. They have a way of wearing us down. So don’t let that happen. Read this Provision to design winning environments.
I have been associated with a number of coach training programs, either as a student or as a faculty member or both. No program emphasizes environmental design coaching more thanCoachVille. To quote the president, Dave Buck, who is himself building on the work of the late Thomas Leonard, one of the founders of the modern coaching movement: “Environmental design is essential to masterful coaching because the environment always wins!”
I agree wholeheartedly. All the will power in the world is not powerful enough to overcome environments that distract, tempt, undermine, antagonize, deprive, drain energy, and otherwise pollute our intentions. If you have been trying unsuccessfully to get something done, then perhaps the problem is not with your mindset or with your goal. Perhaps the problem is with your environments. If so, then stress proofing your life takes on a whole new dimension. Until we successfully stress proof our environments, no real success is possible.
So what is the concept of environmental design coaching? We take our lead from Winston Churchill: “We shape our environments and they, in turn, shape us.” There is always a dynamic interaction between ourselves and our environments. They become a reflection of who we are and they influence who we become. The former process is slow and evolutionary while the latter process is fast and revolutionary.
Here’s how that works: when we put ourselves into a new environment, change comes fast and furious. Anyone who has ever moved from one home to another knows what I mean. Old locations, routines, habits, accounts, numbers, roads, appliances, furniture, and friends quickly • even instantaneously • give way to new ones. I remember moving from Columbus, Ohio to Williamsburg, Virginia in 2002. Overnight I went from a sub-urban to a small-town environment, from overlooking an alley to overlooking a lake, from belonging to a variety of clubs and associations to belonging to nothing. It was all new, and I quickly had to adapt.
At the same time as I was adapting to my new environments, however, I had the opportunity to make some environmental modifications of my own. Take something as simple as setting up my new office. What furniture did I want? How did I want to set up my computer systems? My filing systems? My communication systems? My banking relationships? These things took time, and the decisions I made were critical to my long-term success. They were either going to make things easier or harder, so I sought to make things easier.
But that took time. I remember working for months on an improvised table and a folding chair as I waited for my office furniture to arrive. I remember spending weeks with contractors and my own ingenuity to retrofit my home offices with the requisite cabling and connections. I also remember spending years trying to get those systems right. What seemed like a perfect, low-cost, all-in-one option for Internet, phone, and television proved to be unreliable with no redundancy or backup for business purposes. So that environment had to be modified in order to support the work I wanted to do.
Unfortunately, too many people put up with lousy environments for way too long. I have learned to shorten that timeframe considerably. If an environment is not working out, I no longer tolerate that for very long before making a change. That has not always been my practice. In fact, I have often prided myself on being able to fix environments so they are good enough to keep me going for another six months or another year. I love to tinker, but I fail to account for the time and energy that tinkering takes.
I have experienced that first hand in the past year. Both my desktop and my laptop computers started to have problems, as I have previously reported in Provisions, and I kept struggling to make them work. I have no idea how many hours I spent on that over the course of 6-12 months, but it was substantial. It was also stressful. I never knew when things were going to crash so I developed elaborate redundancy routines to guarantee no loss of data.
The fact that I was successful at that no longer brings me much pride or joy. Having purchased and set up two new computers, I have now gone 6 months without a single significant glitch. My creativity and productivity has been channeled into my writing, as well as other important tasks, which is exactly where I want them. The fact that I know a lot about fixing computer systems does not mean that my calling can be expressed through desktop support. On the contrary, the more time I spend distracted by such things, the less time I devote to the things that are really important to me.
So what’s the solution? Getting new computers on a regular schedule rather than waiting until they go on the fritz. The latter is a formula for environmental toxicity; the former is a formula for environmental vitality. When my computers are working well, lots of things are working well. When my computers are down, lots of things are down. And I want things to work well. I have fewer frustrations, distractions, diversions, and sink holes of time, energy, and focus. Instead, I have the freedom and the joy to do the things I love with reckless abandon. That’s the key to success in any field, and it all depends upon environmental design.
I pay attention to these things when I work with coaching clients. On the one hand, I like to ask whether they would like to move to a new environment in order to trigger rapid changes and adaptations. People often protest, “Oh, I can’t do that!” But upon further review it becomes clear that they are really saying, “Oh, I don’t want to do that.” We are always at choice when it comes to the environments we hang out in. If we feel stuck, then we are probably feeling scared by the prospect of change. No one is ever stuck. That’s a judgment call that reflects our thinking in the moment. We can, however, be scared, angry, frustrated, confused, uncertain, or otherwise upset by what is happening in our environments. Those feelings are real and I view them as gifts.
Why do I view negative feelings as gifts? Because they tell us that something is not working with our environments. Something is out of alignment. Some needs are not being met. The problem is not out there, in the sense of someone or something to blame. The problem is one of fit between who we are, what we need, and our environments. When the shoes don’t fit, it’s time to change the shoes. What parents, apart from those living in poverty, say to their children, “Tough. The shoes may be too small, but wear them any way.” Parents know, as do coaches, that it’s easier to change the shoes than the feet.
Such changes can be as easy as joining a new group or getting a new job. If we do not feel good associating and working with the people we associate and work with, then associate and work with different people. I know that sounds simplistic, but it can really be that simple. More than one person has reported on the transformational effect of changing their relationships. Stop going to the bar and start going to church is, perhaps, a classic example. But it can be multiplied across platforms. We truly do become like the people we surround ourselves with. Environments always win, so pick your environments well.
On the other hand, I also like to ask whether they would like to change their existing environments in order to initiate slow but steady improvements. Here, too, people may protest that they can’t do something when the problem is really that they don’t want to. Taking something as simple as changing the foods that are in our home environments. People come up with all kinds of excuses as to why they keep foods they don’t want to eat in the house. Someone else wants those foods. They’re nice for special occasions. They’re not bad in moderation. So we keep buying junk food and we keep wondering why we’re not eating the way we want to eat.
Environments always win! If we know the foods we want to eat, then those are the foods we want in our environments. If we know that we don’t want to smoke tobacco, then we don’t want tobacco in our environments. Not even in limited quantities and secret places. When we design clean environments, then it becomes easy to realize our intentions. Of course this takes clarity (as to what we want) and work (to design our environments accordingly), but it is doable. It is always doable. Modifying some environments is more challenging than others, but it is never impossible. Some things just take a little a longer.
The key is to stop tolerating dysfunctional, toxic environments. That is a formula for disaster, burnout, and stress. When something isn’t working, when you’re not getting the support you need, when you have one distraction after another, when you’re not enjoying the work you are doing, when you’re not able to do what you want to do, then the problem is probably not with you. The problem is with the interface between you and your environments.
Pay attention to the interface. Change the environments you can change, leave the environments you can’t change, and get a coach to help you figure out which is which. Putting this off only makes things worse. Jumping on it quickly can enable you to more effortlessly, consistently, and enjoyably become the kind of person you want to become.
Coaching Inquiries: How are your environments working for you? Are the holding you back or moving you forward? Are they making things easier or harder? Do they support or frustrate your intentions? What environments can you change? What environments can you leave? How can you muster the patience, the courage, and the wisdom to make it so?
To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. To learn more about LifeTrek Coaching programs, Click Here.
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, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..
Great to be in touch after all these years. I look forward to your Provisions, even if I do not respond. I have seen the options you have on your web site too. I am very pleased that this new “ministry” has really taken off for you. You are the enterprise minister in getting things going, not the captain of a mainline cruise ship. I admire your creativity and wisdom. Way to go!
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
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