Updated: Oct 15
Your environment is the chief determinant of your behaviours and your daily behaviours determine your health. By deduction, the environment determines your health and this has been a profound realization for us. We always intuitively knew that the places and people you surround yourself with are the determinants of who you become but it only recently hit us that the most efficient way to help people is to guide them on changing their environment instead of focusing on their behaviours.
Define Your Environment
Environment is a broad term that can carry a lot of different meanings depending on the context in which the term is being used. The first thing that comes to mind when we say “the environment” is nature and although it can be applied to the natural environment, the artificial environment that we now live within is more important to our health and that is what we will focus on.
A few definitions of environment:
- The surroundings or conditions in which a person, plant or animal lives and operates.
- The circumstances, objects or conditions by which one is surrounded.
Basically, anything that influences your physical or mental being. Changing your behaviour starts with an awareness of what causes you to act in certain ways and that conversation comes back to the environment. Starting small is always the first step and in order to implement small changes, we’re starting with defining the different types of environments that surround us so we can start to make changes in each of them.
Rewilding your environment
Rewilding your environment really means shifting your environment back to a natural one. This doesn’t, however, mean that we need to move into the woods, live like hunter-gatherers and sleep in caves. It means understanding how our bodies function best and bringing our environment back into alignment with our biology. Becoming a movement optimist allows you to turn the urban environment into a wild environment. Go play at a park (they aren’t just for kids), stand on the train/bus, climb trees - create a new experience by changing your mindset to one where life is about playing and finding new ways to use structures of modern life to express movement.
In fact, to make things even simpler - it’s less about having the perfect environment and more about eliminating the harmful conveniences that promote poor behaviours. Walk instead of drive, sit on the floor or squat instead of sitting on the couch - no need to eliminate your car or couch, just to use them sparingly and adopt a mindset and environment that nudges you to make the right decision.
Creating systems and eliminating willpower
If you’re sick, obese and diabetic in modern society it’s not your fault. We live in a culture that is engineered for comfort, convenience, disease and suffering and how we behave is simply an adaptation to those surroundings.
Traditional health professionals have put the blame on the individual. They advise people to get on a diet, to be disciplined and to take responsibility for their health but that's not fair. As Dan Buettner says - in the 1980s there was 1/7th the rate of diabetes than there is today and that's not because people in the 80’s were more disciplined or had more self-control, it’s because they lived in a different environment. The environment is the system that allows you to foster healthy behaviours without requiring a huge amount of willpower or discipline and this is the path we need to take when helping others. Get the environment right and everything else falls into place over time.
The physical environment
The physical environment includes anything that you can touch or feel. The furniture in your home, the clothing you wear, the food you consume - it all combines to create the surroundings that you interact with on a daily basis. Making the choice to be the master of our environment instead of a slave to it allows us to surround ourselves with spaces and objects that promote healthy behaviours.
Many people simply don’t realize that they have the potential to control their physical environment. Whether it’s from adherence to cultural norms, a lack of awareness or addiction to convenience, its easy to become a slave to your environment and the habits that it fosters.
Prioritizing health means creating systems to ensure that healthy behaviours are promoted and unhealthy behaviours are dis-incentivized. A big part of creating those systems is the physical environment we surround ourselves with on a daily basis.
The social environment
The people you surround yourself with daily form you