Look around you. What do you see? Okay, now this time, really look. Are you at work? Home? Where do you spend the majority of your time? Who do you spend it with? Are those people supportive? Like minded? Hold the same values that you do? Do you feel comfortable around them? Do you feel like you can be yourself? Or do you feel like you have to present only a certain way in order to survive your time with them?
The role of nature versus nurture on development has long been debated. It is widely accepted that it is really impossible to extricate the two, but rather some unique combination of both is involved in shaping who we are. But what about how the two, specifically nurture, shape our happiness and quality of life?
Educational models have already dialed into this concept. Environment matters. Children will learn more efficiently in an environment in which they are comfortable and their needs are met. Adults are no different. Maybe as adults our work becomes not so focused on learning, but on being.
Maria Montessori was the first woman physician in Italy and also developed a world-renowned theory of education that focused on development of the whole child and creating an environment that fostered independence and responsibility through child led activities. She also said, “One test of the correctness of educational procedure is the happiness of the child.” Montessori placed great emphasis on the preparedness and the conditions of the environment in which the child spent his or her days. I think the same is true for our environments as adults.
Because we are adults with a higher threshold for discomfort and we have needs that drive us into environments we might not necessarily choose for ourselves, we might not give as much evaluation to our environment. But there are still ways to ensure our environment, even if we are bound to it by financial obligations or otherwise, nurtures our happiness instead of crushing it.
Most of us naturally spend time arranging our home environments like we want them. These are some ideas you can bring to any work environment, but they could also be used at home.
Maybe your office doesn’t have any windows. What about bringing a small, cozy lamp to your workspace to shed some light and comfort on your working days? Short on space? Try a plug-in night light type fixture that could spark a little brightness in your space. Just a small glow of warm light can soften an otherwise fluorescent environment.
Liven up your space by introducing non-toxic plants to your environment. They are beautiful to look at, they come with minimal responsibility (sunshine and water, people), and they infuse life giving oxygen, recycling your carbon dioxide like a natural processor.
If it does not infringe on your confidentiality, bring photos of your family or loved ones to sprinkle around your workspace. Pick out a nice frame to place them in. This is a great way to keep loved ones near, present, in the forefront of our minds and hearts while we are away from them.
Pick out a piece of artwork that you admire or that brings you joy. Placing items on display in our environment that resonate with us lend a sense of ownership and identity to our spaces. It could be a simple folk piece you or a local artist created or it could be a framed print or small replica of a famous work of art. If there are particular words or mantras that empower you, try posting those somewhere in your workspace as well.
Work in a fast paced environment? You may feel like you don’t have the luxury of a second to catch your breath but ask yourself this: Will delaying your task two minutes actually impact the workflow? Or does it just feel like there is no extra time? Two minutes? Think about that. 120 seconds? That is all you need to pause, take a breath, and collect yourself before rushing off to the next thing. It is possible to work quickly, efficiently, without feeling like you are stretching yourself to the brink but that mindset is a shift that has to occur internally.
If you constantly feel interrupted or at the demand of others, consider creating for yourself some type of office hours, if it is permissible for you to do so. Many business professionals find it more productive to schedule blocks of time for discussion, anyway, as opposed to many small, disconnected conversations that disrupt both parties’ workloads. This helps define your workflow and preserves time for the projects you really need to focus on uninterrupted.
If there is some policy or procedure you are unsure about, ask questions! If you find yourself repeating the same mistakes or asking the same questions over and over, discuss with your appropriate coworker or supervisor ways you can bring standardized clarity to this type of decision. If it is a task that is at your discretion, what variables should you consider for discernment? Opening the lines of communication and getting on the same page with your team will help you avoid agonizing over decisions you are unsure about.
Taking time to reflect on your environment and what you can bring to it will enhance the time you spend there for the long run.