Everything in life is a natural and organic process. We adapt and evolve based on the environments we select. You are who you are because of your environment.
Want to change?
Then change your environment.
Environmental design is different. It’s about creating conditions that make your success inevitable.
For example, if you want to be focused at work, you need to remove all distractions from your physical and digital workspace.
If you want to eat healthy, remove all of the unhealthy foods from your house.
If you want to get creative insights, get out of town and relax for a day or two.
If you want to be more motivated, take on greater responsibility and increase the stakes for both success and failure.
Those who focus on environmental design recognize that a person’s internal and external worlds are not clear-cut with fine lines.
When you change your environment, such as surrounding yourself with different people, your thoughts and emotions change. These inner changes then alter your values and aspirations, which requires you to further alter your external environment.
You design your worldview by proactively shaping your external inputs, such as the information you consume, the people you surround yourself with, the places you go, and the experiences you have.
Most people, however, reactively and mindlessly respond to whatever environments they find themselves in, and thus develop a worldview leading to ineffective behavior and victimhood.
That which is external shapes that which is internal.
Put more simply: Your worldview, beliefs, and values didn’t come from within you, but from outside of you.
If you grew up a white person in the southern United States during the 1950s, your worldview would likely have been shaped by that perspective.
The same is true if you grew up in Europe during the Middle Ages, or in North Korea during the Communist rule, or in 2005 as a digital native with access to the Internet.
Your goals, beliefs, and values are shaped by the cultural context in which you live.
You shape the garden of your mind by planting specific things from your environment, such as the books you read, experiences you have, and people you surround yourself with. As will be shown, by shaping your environment directly, you’ll be shaping your thoughts and behaviors indirectly.
When you shape your environment, you’ll have greater control over your thoughts and choices. Thus, instead of making the environment or “circumstances” your enemy, which has been the traditional advice of self-help, it’s important to realize that your environment is actually the only way you as a person can truly change.
New information, new relationships, and new experiences are how you change. You must gather and plant the right seeds from your environment to make a bounteous garden of your life.
Crafting highly demanding situations and then mindfully adapting to those situations is the key to success. Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, not the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”
It’s actually quite remarkable how quickly you can adapt from one environment to the next.
Human beings are highly adaptive.
For instance, Viktor Frankl reflected on his experience in a Nazi concentration camp sleeping comfortably next to nine other people on a small bed. Said Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning, “Yes, a person can get used to anything, just don’t ask us how.”
Other studies have confirmed the widely quoted line from author and public speaker Jim Rohn that we are the “the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
As it happens, we are also the average of the five people each of our five friends spends the most time with.
For example, if your friend’s friend gets fat, your chances of gaining unhealthy weight spike dramatically.
This is called a negative secondary connection, and it’s often more dangerous than a negative primary connection because you typically won’t see it coming.
In a more practical example: You aren’t solely what you eat, but what you eat eats.
A person’s environment forms every aspect of their lives, from their income to their value system to their waistline to their hobbies.
As will be shown throughout this book, your potential is shaped by what surrounds you.
Every idea you have comes from what you’ve been exposed to.
Who you become and what you do with your life are constrained by the people around you and the quality of information you consume.
You are either rising up or shrinking down from the demands of your situation.
Most people are living small, not because they lack the inherent talent, but because their situation isn’t demanding more of them.
They haven’t placed themselves in a position requiring them to become more than they currently are.
The good news is, it doesn’t have to be this way.
The power of environment isn’t just something I write about—it’s something I study, experience in my everyday life. It is my core strategy for living and thriving.
A few years ago, when I moved from Detroit to California, all by myself. My perspective and habits on life changed. I stopped drinking alcohol, I went from being negative, depressed to happy and hopeful and in control of my future.
I came to realize just how powerful the external environment is.
This surprised me greatly, as I had been conditioned to downplay or even utterly ignore the environment around me.
I assumed the environment was static and neutral and that people could autonomously do whatever they willed themselves to do.
Yet, in the course of my studies and life experience, I came to realize that context matters greatly—matters more than any of us are willing to concede.
Immediately, I began to see just how much my own environment had shaped me.
As many people do, I had gnarly and troubling experiences growing up.
It wasn’t until I left some of those places and experiences behind—and thrived as a result—that I realized my environment and I are two parts of the same whole.
To change the one is to change the other.
Thus, I came to realize I could quickly transform my identity, skills, emotions, and very worldview.
My nature wasn’t fixed.
My environment, and thus my identity, were in large degree under my control.
Moving was one thing that helped me understand what our environment does to us.
Another was investing into mentorship and coaching.
My environment continues to compel me forward and to become the best version of myself I can be.
Without the ability to change our environment, we wouldn’t be able to change.
To change one is to change the other.
Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer has said, “Social psychologists argue that who we are at any one time depends mostly on the context in which we find ourselves. But who creates the context? The more mindful we are, the more we can create the contexts we are in… and believe in the possibility of change.”
Thus, it’s not free will or determinism.
It’s not choice or environments.
Instead, it is choice and environment.
More directly, it is the choice of environment.
You are responsible for shaping and choosing the environments that will ultimately shape the person you become and the destiny you have. Environmental design is your greatest responsibility. Choosing and shaping your environment is at the center of what “free will” really means, because your choice of environment and external influences will directly reflect in the person you become.
Your behavior doesn’t come from your personality. Rather, your personality is shaped by your behavior. When you act a certain way, you then judge yourself based on your actions. Hence, you can quickly alter your identity simply by altering your behavior.
My investment into coaching and mentorship became a point of no return, heightening my commitment to my dreams. I created an environment that was now creating me.
Viktoriya and Oksana Gruzdyn are Nutritionists and Immunotherapy Researchers based in Detroit, MI. They specialize in helping people reverse autoimmune and other chronic illnesses by optimizing their immune function and cellular repair.