The role our environment plays in creating a conducive context is critical to effectively achieving our goals
Ionce worked for an executive who was a fitness freak. He was either running, kick-boxing, cycling up a mountain, or doing some other physical activity, which left me quite exhausted just hearing about it.
Being calorie-conscious, he was appalled at the bad eating habits of many of the staff members in the company. He could have told them that the highly processed junk food they ate was going to lead to serious health issues later in life, but he didn’t. Instead, rather smartly, he introduced a daily supply of fresh fruit, vegetable sticks and other healthy snacks, which were prominently positioned around the office. The office’s catering staff were also instructed to replenish the items regularly. Additionally, he made sure there were fresh flower arrangements, adorning all parts of the office, to create a welcoming atmosphere.
Over time, the employees adjusted to the fresher environment; fruit and other healthy snacks were consumed regularly or given away at the end of the day to staff members to take home. Best of all, the odour of junk food no longer permeated the office. As a result, over a series of months, the eating and consumption habits of the staff changed – I think – for the better. Our behaviour at work and in the home depend – to a great extent – on the triggers before us and the context we find ourselves in, leading to the formation of positive or negative practices.
If you want to practise the ukulele, but keep it in the guest room, or want to read a book, but keep the books in a storage box in the garage, then it’s simply not going to happen. You are making it really hard for yourself. If your ukulele is right beside your bed, you’ll be more likely to strum it. If the books are on a shelf in your living room, you’ll be more likely to read them.
I try to read for at least 20 minutes before falling asleep. I find reading in bed is the trigger for my body to know that it is going to be time to sleep very soon. Obviously, I make sure I’ve already completed everything I need to do with my smartphone prior to reading.
We can train ourselves to respond to the triggers in the environment around us, which will lead to certain practices. In a study with insomniacs, scientists gave the participants a clear set of instructions that were designed to strengthen the association between the bedroom and sleep, and to re-establish a consistent sleep–wake schedule. They instructed the insomniacs to go to bed only when sleepy, get out of bed when unable to sleep, use the bedroom for sleep only (no reading, watching TV, etc.), wake up at the same time every morning and also, to not take a nap.
The participants in the study soon began to associate the bedroom with sleep, and for many, it became easier to fall asleep when they went into the bedroom. Of course, other practices were also introduced alongside these instructions, and these related to spending only sleeping time in bed, reducing somatic tension, changing misconceptions about insomnia and good health practices. The researchers reported: “The evidence supporting this behavioural approach shows that cognitive-behavioural therapy is effective for 70 per cent to 80 per cent of patients and that it can significantly reduce several measures of insomnia, including sleep-onset latency and wake-after-sleep onset. Aside from the clinically measurable changes, this therapy system enables many patients to regain a feeling of control over their sleep, thereby reducing the emotional distress that sleep disturbances cause.”
In the same manner, setting up the right environment, whether we are working in the office or at home, can provide the positive triggers that are critical to being effective at work and retaining a sense of well-being.