Are Danes just heartless? You might come to this conclusion based on the fact that only 4.25% of them were willing to donate their organs back in 2004, while more than 98% of the people in Austria, Belgium, France, Hungary, Poland and Portugal were. And while Danes very well could be a selfish, socially unconcerned people, in the case of organ donation they were just behaving according to an environment that had not been set up to turn them into donors. It came down to something incredibly simple: checking a box. All those others humanitarian countries? They just didn’t bother to un-check the box.
This is the magic of environmental design. We may think we are in charge of our choices and how we come to be who we are, but in reality, our environment shapes us a lot more than we are aware. A bike path going right by my house? Oh, maybe I’ll get a bike! Fresh, free bread in the basket on the table? Mmm, how tasty. Hand lotion on the restaurant sink? Don’t mind if I do.
A lot of our daily actions are simply responses to the cues put in our way. Which is good to know because that knowledge can be leveraged, especially for wellbeing-type things we want ourselves to do, but may not really want to do. Getting the obstacles out of the way, in this case, is critical. A co-worker of mine was shocked to discover how simply putting his sneakers by the door eliminated the common downfall of his lunchtime walking plan because he had, once again, forgotten his walking shoes. In one move, he became a person who walks.
But who are we kidding…
Half the time the fruit rots in the bowl while the M & M’s have somehow found their way back into the house. I set myself up all the time with systems intended to get me to do the right thing, but only a fraction of my environmental architecture pans out. The failure is always for one of two reasons: either I don’t want this thing badly enough yet; OR I didn’t design it well. For instance, there is a spray bottle of Tilex sitting in a little space between the sink vanity and the shower, perfectly positioned to remind me to keep the shower clean. I have done this exactly never.
But what I am just now realizing is this: that Tilex bottle is so ugly I resent it. “You are too ugly to pick up every day of the week,” is essentially what I say in my head when I see it. In other words; this is a case of bad design because I really do want a cleaner shower with less effort.
Your Wellness Wednesday* challenge if you choose to accept it
Complete this sentence then put it into action in the near future: I want to be the kind of person who __________________ (writes thank you notes, for instance) so I will __________________ (keep a box right on my desk for instance).
My assignment: I will revise my clean shower plan by finding an aesthetically pleasing spray bottle and keeping it right in the shower. It will be so beautiful it will be a pleasure to pick up and use.
*Published originally on 8.28.19 with the employee wellness program I run.