Ever gone to the kitchen, gym, or office and felt totally unmotivated after you arrived?
Well, maybe the absence of motivation is less about you and your willpower, and more about the physical space you're in?
I've spent a lot of time in this series looking inward for some answers to what robs us of motivation.
Today, I want to look outward.
In his fabulous book Atomic Habits, James Clear discusses how simple aspects of the spaces we inhabit--like the arrangement of furniture, the lighting of a room, or even the accessibility of candy at the office--can massively influence our habits.
Poorly-appointed, or poorly-cared-for spaces can zap our will, stifle our creativity, distract us, and derail us from practicing the behaviors we know are best.
Trying to stay motivated amidst clutter, uninviting furniture, bad lighting, unpleasant smells, noise, or unappealing temperatures can be a huge drain on your mojo.
See if you can relate to any of these:
Trying to get yourself to workout at home in a cold, cluttered or undersized space can be just enough friction to keep you couch side, even if you know what workout to do.
Having a disorganized or dirty kitchen can make it more appealing to simply order takeout instead of sticking to your eating plan.
Having a television in your bedroom can make going to bed early (while Netflix auto-loads another episode) something you don't have enough willpower to practice.
Trying to cultivate a reading habit when nowhere in the home offers an inviting space to read, makes it easier to pull out your phone and scroll through social media.
Trying to connect with your kids when the play spaces are disorganized makes it hard to slow down and appreciate the moment.
The point: Environment is a powerful factor in boosting, maintaining, or draining motivation.
So...let's take a closer look at this important aspect of motivation.
A PERSONAL STORY
Recently my family (me, my wife, and soon-to-be fifth child) moved to Florida.
The (perhaps) interesting part is we left Virginia not knowing where we would live next--we just knew it was time for a change.
What started as simply a plan to get away somewhere warm for Nina's birthday turned into a 2.5 month "Florida Experiment."
Since we homeschool, and because I work from home, we had the freedom to think in terms of what we really want for our family--so why not pack up, road trip, and find out.
To pull this off (i.e. live simply and not break the bank), we decided to limit our worldly possessions to whatever we could fit in one 8'x16' PODS unit.
If something was easy to replace, or didn't fit in the PODS unit/minivan, we got rid of it.
That alone was a clarifying process.
It makes you realize how little you possession you really need.
For the next 2.5 months we stayed in airbnbs in various cities while we figured out where to go next.
Fast forward to our new home--when we unpacked the PODS unit, the new house felt a little, shall we say, "sparsely appointed."
Here's what else we found...we didn't mind the spareness because:
We loved feeling "owned" by so few things.
We discovered how refreshing "living simple" felt.
The things we kept we were so happy to see again.
We discovered how much we enjoyed experiences vs. things.
Because of the above, we weren't in a hurry to buy new stuff.
Instead, we had a deep desire to 1) continue to prize (and spend money on) experiences, and 2) be intentional about the way we appointed our new home.
As we settled in, the joy of being unencumbered by "things" went to an even deeper level.
One day I was staring at a few unpacked boxes on the floor in my office, and I said to Nina, "I don't want to buy a bookshelf to put away stuff I haven't really missed. I'd rather just get rid of this stuff if I truly don't need it."
For me, I found it invigorating to be surrounded by "things" I actually want to have near me.
Being free of "stuff" made me less attached to possessions and more aware of the influence any given space had on me.
As a result of thinking that way, our spaces took on a fresher, cleaner, more inviting feel.
GAINING DEEPER CLARITY
A question we asked ourselves as we thought about what types of possessions we might want to buy was "What do a we want to do in this space?"
To us, different rooms represent different ways of being--i.e. a place to play, work, be together, exercise, think, read, etc.
One question we realized we were subconsciously asking was "What do we really value?"
As we thought about the various spaces we had to work with, it helped us ask ourselves if we really needed whatever it was, and that gave us clarity about what to purchase, and why.
We knew we wanted to create a space for:
Exercise to be inviting
Nina to foster her creativity
A corner/chair and lighting that welcomes me (and Nina) to do more reading
The kids to be loud and get their energy out--hello trampoline and bikes
Our young boys to enjoy art & playing...(psst...so the whole house isn't a messy playroom)
An appointed space for electronics to charge as well as to shut down at specified times
A floor desk that keeps me from sitting or standing in one position all day while I work
Art that is meaningful, and textiles which provide texture which help us us feel invited into a room--things such as curtains, updated family photos, essential-oil diffuser etc...
Several months later I can say we're still "moving in."
While we don't have any unpacked boxes, we do have spaces we are either saving up for so we can appoint them, or we are experimenting with how we want to use them.
I don't yet have my perfect reading chair (someone please convince Nina that La-Z-Boys are not ugly), there are still walls without art, and some furniture pieces are taking longer to figure out than we expected.
Yet, we have loved the clean slate and the intentionality of the process.
WHY AM I TELLING YOU ALL THIS?
Hopefully, that real-life story has lessons for you without me teasing them out, but a point I want to make sure you don't miss is this:
When you think about appointing your spaces to reflect your values (i.e. family, hospitality, study, fitness, etc.), and ask yourself what you can do to make that space inviting for that purpose, it adds a palatable uptick in your motivation when your vision comes to life.
Said differently--think about how can you appoint your spaces such that they "grease the chute" to make it easier and easier to spend your time on what really matters.
Where can you declutter, freshen, rearrange, and, without overdoing "retail therapy," get a few new things to welcome you into the habits you know you want to practice?
Maybe a move or major home-renovation project is an option, or maybe you're a few small tweaks away from making your environments more emotionally appealing.
Whatever the answer is, I can say it's worth the effort.
A THOUGHT EXPERIMENT
To make this more practical: Think of any important habit you want to practice, then think of the space you regularly inhabit (or could inhabit) for that behavior.
Next, do a motivation audit--i.e. an emotions audit.
Walk through that space in your mind--what feelings does that image produce in you?
Inspiration? Apathy? Stress? Overwhelm?
What would make it feel better?
What small (or large) changes to your home, homeschool, kitchen, office, workout space, reading space, etc. would magnetically welcome you into the space?
BIG TIP: INCLUDE THE STAKEHOLDERS
If other people, (boss, spouse, kids, roommate, etc) need to weigh in on the changes you have in mind, how could you pitch those ideas to get their buy-in?
In your pitch, include how will it benefit them too.
If you're going to dream, show the stakeholders you included them in your dreams.
Do that, and you're much more likely to have your ideas not only welcomed, but expanded.
What's easy to do, is easy not to do.
One secret to overcoming this reality is to make it easier to practice your good habits, and inconvenient to practice your bad habits.
Hopefully, the above inspired you to take a closer look at this often overlooked aspect of motivation--your environment.
A decluttered, well-appointed space gives way to a decluttered, highly-engaged mind, and that my dear reader, may be all the difference in becoming more of the person you can be.
You go be thoughtful about your spaces, and I'll keep writing at my floor desk while increasing my hip mobility.
Until next time,
PS. In Part 8 of this series I'll cover the legit biological obstacles of motivation. In the meantime, if you want a some next-level strategic help with your health, reach out. You can check out this presentation about our coaching, and schedule a consult if you're interested.