Environment Design

In my reading of Willpower Doesn’t Work, the concept of “environment design” stood out especially and prompted me to take a fresh look at my work / life environments.

Environment design, for me, starts with the end in mind. What am I trying to accomplish? Where am I trying to go? What do I value?

Personal Values

In my recent reflections on the next few years of life, a few areas of personal value stand out:

  • Personal Growth – Continuing to get better, every day.
  • Creating Value – Creating exponential returns for the folks I serve.
  • Inspiring Options – Having choice and variety in what I do and how I do it. Choices that are motivating and interesting.

With those values in mind, I then set out to design an environment that aligns with and supports those values.

Environment design, in my experience so far, includes three key areas of focus:

  1. Physical Space – Where I work and live.
  2. Mindset – How I think, daily habits, and mental fitness.
  3. Relationships – Who I spend time with.

Physical Space

I’ve developed the ability to work (or even sleep) just about anywhere. I can tune out distractions and focus in. Sometimes I’ll listen to ocean waves to facilitate a sharper focus.

I noticed, though, that my office had recently gotten a bit crazy. Papers all over. Larger than normal piles of unread books. Stuff piled up on my desk.

And while I can focus on through it, there is a cost. Reading Willpower Doesn’t Work prompted a fresh look and I gave my office a good cleaning.

As I evaluate and improve my physical spaces, I keep two key ideas in mind:

  • Relative Cleanliness – Items in my space have a purpose, even if its sentimental, and are where they’re supposed to be – at least on on a fairly regular basis. The end result is a relatively clean space. Minimal clutter and I know where things are.
  • Mode Support – What do I use the space to do and do the items within the space support what I’m doing? I keep my top 5 books on a table by my reading chair with paper and a pen handy to jot down notes and ideas. I keep 3 other books by my bedside, for easy access in the morning. If items are no longer relevant, time to move out and keep the space focused on the mode it’s intended for.


I find what’s going on in my head to be a key part of achieving what I want to achieve. Carol Dweck introduced the concept of a growth mindset and it’s stuck with me.

The way I think and process my surroundings contributes to the mental environment I occupy as I go about life.

I encourage a growth mindset in my mental environment through two areas of practice:

  • Tiny Habits – Today is day 1405 in a row in my experiment with tiny habits. I use a collection of daily habits (around 20 at the moment) to create tiny amounts of momentum in areas aligned with my personal values. I find that these contribute significantly to cultivating a growth mindset.
  • Positive Intelligence – Shirzard’s work on Positive Intelligence has inspired me to focus on mental fitness. When I find emotions taking over unhelpfully I’ve been learning to strengthen self-command muscles and switch to a positive focus, practicing empathy instead of judgment, curiosity instead of avoidance.


We tend to reflect the people we spend the most time with. If I value personal growth, if I want to deliver exponential value to the folks I serve, and if I want to have more and more options available that inspire and motivate me, then I need to seek out and invest in relationships aligned with what I value.

My focus here is on proactive investment. Reaching out and staying connected to folks who share similar values.

If you’re wanting to grow, if you’re focused on creating value, then a relationship with you offers another point of inspiration and more options of things to learn and experiences to share. Reach out, I’d love to connect with you.


Environment design is an ongoing process. I’m happy with my designs today and looking forward to experimenting and improving them tomorrow. I’ll keep what sticks, folding it into my daily habits, and move out what doesn’t. And along the way I’ll keep investing in relationships to learn more, to gather different insights and perspectives, to enjoy the best of what life offers.

What have you learned about environment design in your own experience? What works for you to align your environment with your values?