5 years ago, Jim Bunch, founder of The Ultimate Game of life, turned me on to a very simple idea that had a profound physical, mental, and financial impact on my life.
We are surrounded by environments. Everything you can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch is an environment that is either adding energy to your life or draining energy from your life.
When you view everything as environments, not just your physical space, but the people you talk to, the information you consume, the clothes you wear, and the food you eat , you develop both a heightened sense of awareness and sensitivity to the impact of those environments. You become ruthless about upgrading the quality of those environments.
When most of us think of environments, we think of our physical environment. This includes the spaces we live or work in, the cars we drive, the clothes we wear and even the devices we use.
Shortly after I learned about the concept of environments from Jim Bunch, I stumbled upon Marie Kondo’s book *The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.* What appears on the surface to be a book about getting organized is really a book about upgrading the environments in your life by making space for new things.
Marie Kondo’s clients have lost weight, earned more money, etc. Her simple filter for whether or not something should be kept was, “Does this item spark joy?”
My first stop in tidying up my own life was my bookshelf. Over the years, I have purchased and received many books. Most of the books that didn’t spark joy were about social media marketing. I got rid of them. Most of the books on my top shelf were published by Penguin. A few days later my editor at Penguin contacted me about writing a book with them. It might just be a bizarre coincidence, but after that, I was sold on the impact of environments on my life.
Another thing I learned from Jim was the power of keeping your car immaculate. Let’s face it. When you sit down in a car that’s clean, you just feel better about everything. That was the end of receipts, wrappers, etc. This isn’t hard to implement. Anytime you stop at a gas station, toss whatever should be trashed.
When you look better, you feel better about yourself. Feeling better about yourself gives you more confidence, which in turn makes you appear attractive…We all have a superficial side, and to imagine that the people who have influence over your career (including your customers, if you’re in business), are not making superficial judgments about you, based on your appearance, is to assume too much. — Michael Ellsberg
There was a time when I used to think spending money on clothes was superficial. One day met my old business partner Brian Koehn at a coffeeshop in Encinitas after a speaking engagement. When I mentioned that this girl had kept looking at me, he said “that’s because you’re dressed like you’re rich and successful.” As a single guy, that was enough of a selling point to dress better.
In the last few months, I ditched most of my wardrobe and replaced all my shirts with 6 custom made shirts from Proper Cloth. I realized that anybody could have a nice wardrobe on a budget if they bought less, but only bought the highest quality.
When you dress well, you carry yourself differently. You interact with people in a different way and they interact with you in a different way.
In every physical environment, we have what are known as tolerations.
Take the example of the check engine light. You know it’s something you need to deal with. The longer you put it off, the more likely a cheap car repair will become an expensive one. Tolerations are an energy drain for your physical environment.
The value of a nice notebook or a new MacBook isn’t just in the fact that you have something that looks nice. It literally impacts your mindset and your productivity. When you’re computer is slow, you spend more time dealing with tech issues than doing deep work.
Make a list of all the things you’re tolerating in your physical environment. Then, make a plan to eliminate or upgrade those things.
Objects Have Memories
Last but not least my business partner Brian talked about how many items in our lives create subconscious associations to our past. I tossed out shirts, shoes, and jeans from a particularly dark chapter of my life and ordered new ones. This doesn’t just apply to clothes. If something in your physical space has a negative memory associated with it, get rid of it.
The next environment that we deal with is our physical body. Physical health is one of the 5 essential investments that every human should make in themselves.
When my friend Mike told me joining CrossFit helped with both sleep and depression issues, I was sold. You not only get an amazing workout, but you become part of a community.
Your body is the machine that makes everything possible. What you put into it is the fuel that determines your level of performance. If you start exercising and eating healthier, a lot of other things in your life begin to change on their own. When the shit hits the fan, your physical body is your first line of defense.
Our memetic environments consist of the books we read, the podcasts we listen to, the websites we visit, and all of the information we consume. This is why I say you have to treat the information that you consume like the food you eat. Be deliberate about all of it.
Consuming nothing but tweets and status updates is the digital equivalent of snorting cocaine and eating a dozen donuts.
The reason I don’t engage with commenters who hate my work is that doing so would be toxic to my memetic environment. This is also a pattern I’ve observed in other prolific creators. The same energy spent debating somebody who hates my work could be put into creating something for a person who loves it.
I’m not religious. My main issue with religion is that it is time-consuming, especially because I’m Indian. If you’ve been to an Indian wedding, you know this. And if you’re not Indian but were invited, you should know the ceremony was shortened because of your presence. Keep attending your Indian friends’ weddings.
That being said, I am spiritual. I do believe that there is some greater force than ourselves. And I do believe there is value in a strong spiritual environment. My spiritual practice centers around surfing. The ocean is my church.
After years of trying, I finally developed a meditation habit. Once I learned that billionaires and high performers all have a meditation practice, I didn’t need any more convincing.
Whatever that is for you, whether it’s in the form of religion or philosophy, a spiritual environment that’s in good condition keeps us grounded.
Your financial environment is exactly what you might imagine it to be. Your bank accounts, your investments, etc. A few months ago I decided it was time to start a new chapter in my business. That meant getting rid of an old bank account, one that had lots of painful memories and unprofitable months associated with it. Adios Bank of America.
If you’re serious about upgrading your financial environment, I can’t recommend the new edition of Ramit Sethi’s book [title of book?-I Will Teach You to Be Rich, Second Edition] highly enough. It’s all about designing a financial environment that eliminates the need for willpower and relies on automation.
Often this is the environment we want to improve the most. But one thing I learned from Jim Bunch was to upgrade the environments you could change right away.
The people you surround yourself with can either be the rise or fall of your career — Dr. Dre
The people that we spend our time with, our friends, our relatives, and our co-workers have a profound impact on our lives.
I have friends who unfollow anybody who is constantly negative on social media. In some cases, they go so far as to banish them completely. Be the Soup Nazi of positive energy when it comes to your relationships.
If somebody sends me a scathing email about my work, I usually delete it. Attacking a complete stranger even if you don’t agree with them is no way to start a conversation. Remember there’s a human on the other end of every email, tweet, and status update you send.
Sometimes toxic people are the ones closest to us. So we can’t exactly cut them off with no explanation. Fortunately, there’s a way to deal with them. In her book Broadcasting Happiness, Michelle Gielan dedicates an entire chapter to this. One example is what she describes as a strategic retreat:
A retreat may be cowardly, but a strategic retreat is courageous and can help create conditions for a better relationship later on. Strategic retreats have long been used to win battles. In this sense, can use it to defeat the ill effects of someone else’s toxicity. A strategic retreat allows you the chance to regroup and reenter the fray stronger than ever. — Michelle Gielan
When you remove toxic people from your life, you’ll be amazed at how much energy you gain. It’s like lifting the weight of the world off your shoulders.
As Benjamin Hardy, PhD says “Leaving the safety and comfort of your previous shell can be terrifying. But holding onto behaviors, beliefs, and even relationships that no longer make sense halts your personal evolution.”
I view my network as an extension of the relationship environment. Every single day we are immersed in various environments known as networks, communities, and tribes.
All of the networks you participate in online are a digital environment. With the internet, we have more ability than any other time in history to shape our network.
Make a list of all the interesting and influential people you’d like to learn from and follow them on twitter. You’ll learn what they’re working on, who they’re connected to, and what books they’re reading.
But don’t limit yourself to online networks. You can’t reach the same level of intimacy and depth in a digital environment. Events like “The Architects of Reality” are one way to have more face-to-face interactions, and we are in dire need of those.
Nature is an environment we interact and deal with on a daily basis. It also has a positive impact on your creativity.
When we spend our days going to work when it’s still dark, breathing recycled air, and then leaving when it’s dark, it’s terrible for us. Immersing yourself in nature in some way or another on a daily basis is essential for your physical, mental and emotional health.
Consider taking up an outdoor hobby like surfing, snowboarding or hiking. It beats the hell out of being someone who stays out drinking until 2am. I can tell you that from experience.
When you have meetings, consider doing a walking meeting. Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and many others conduct walking meetings. In his post about why successful people spend 10 hours a week just thinking, Brian Scudamore even talked about walking in nature.
If you live in a location where the weather doesn’t permit you to be outside too much, consider taking a short walk. Just get up from your desk and breath some fresh air.
The self environment is your personality, your strengths, your weakness and everything that makes up who you are as a person. There are several ways that you can begin to make upgrades of your self environment.
If you’d like to do a self-audit of your environments to understand exactly how your own 9 environments are helping or sabotaging your growth, sign up here and I’ll send it over.
You can’t upgrade one environment and not it have it affect the others. If you upgrade one environment, it will send a ripple through all the others. — Jim Bunch
When you read through all of those environments above, two things will probably run through your mind-
Much like changing habits, your best bet is to attempt this one at a time. Drastic changes are not only unsustainable, but they also don’t stick.
For example, if you start exercising regularly, and lose weight, you start to feel better, and your self environment gets upgraded because of the body environment upgrade. In their book, The Last Safe Investment Michael Ellsberg and Bryan Franklin make a similar argument:
Take any component of the system, and by improving it, you positively impact all of the other components.
A few months ago, I bought a pair of Beats Headphones. On the surface what seemed like conspicuous consumption was one of the best investments I’ve made in my productivity. Given that I am a writer who works from coffee shops on occasions, they were more of an investment than an impulse purchase.
There are many things that might appear to be conspicuous consumption that might actually be an investment in your success.
When there is a premium on peak performance, such as toward the end of an important project; right before a big meeting, pitch or public talk; or in the midst of a big deadline; investing in massage, private yoga sessions, acupuncture, or a trip to the spa can yield very large systemic returns. These are what we would call high-leverage periods of time, where performance increases of 5 to 10 percent can yield a huge difference in the outcome of your earnings or performance that year.- Michael Ellsberg
The impact of environment on success is so profound I wrote an entire chapter about it in An Audience of One. You’ll be amazed by how your life changes when you upgrade your environments.
I’ve created a swipe file of my best creative strategies. Follow it and you’ll kill your endless distractions, do more of what matters to you, in higher quality and less time. Get the swipe file here.