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What environment works best for you?

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Idea Journal Weekly 3

January 2 · Issue #224 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.


Summary: A new calendar year offers a welcome opportunity to reflect on past wins and losses, and to plan for the months ahead. What will you accomplish in 2022? What will you say to yourself in January 2023?
A key factor to make the most of the next twelve months will be how you manage your environment. Starting with your internal environment—what intrinsically drives you. This issue offers a few ideas to help.
Happy New Year.
(~5 min read)

#1. What’s your internal fuel?
Author and marketing guru Seth Godin writes on his blog that in the face of obstacles, rejection, and exploring the unknown, we need a “narrative to fuel our forward motion.”
That fuel empowers you to keep insisting on better results and on doing work that matters even more.
Choosing the right fuel for you is critical. 
As Godin puts it, the fuel you choose “determines how you will spend your days. You will spend far more time marinating in your fuel than you will actually doing breakthrough work.” 
For example, the physicist Richard Feynman was motivated by the joy of figuring things out. His scientific journey both earned him a Nobel Prize and provided him with truly wonderful days.
So, what’s your fuel?
Godin offers the below partial list of “narratives light and dark that can serve as fuel to push us to do work that others might walk away from.”
As you read the list, remember that they all work
But some of them will wreck you, while others can create an environment of connection, possibility, and joy.
Here’s the list:
  • “Avoidance of shame (do this work or you’ll be seen as a fraud/loser/outcast)
  • Becoming a better version of yourself
  • Big dreams (because you can see it/feel it/taste it)
  • Catastrophe (or the world as we know it will end)
  • Competition (someone is gaining on you)
  • Compliance (the boss/contract says I have to, and even better, there’s a deadline)
  • Connection (because others will join in)
  • Creative itch (the voice inside of you wants to be expressed)
  • Dissatisfaction (because it’s not good enough as it is)
  • Engineer (because there’s a problem to be solved)
  • Fame (imagining life is better on the other side)
  • Generosity (because it’s a chance to contribute)
  • It’s a living (pay the writer)
  • Peer pressure (the reunion is coming up)
  • Possibility (because we can, and it’ll be neat to see how it works in the world)
  • Professionalism (because it’s what we do)
  • Revenge (you’ll show the naysayers)
  • Selection (to get in, win the prize, be chosen)
  • Unhappiness (because the only glimmer of happiness comes from the next win, after all, we’re not good enough as is)”
#2. Create an environment that supports your goals
Author Josh Kaufman writes in his book The Personal MBA that the structure of your environment is often the most influential determinant of your behavior.
If you want to change some behavior, don’t try to change the behavior directly.
Instead, change the structure of your environment and your behavior will change automatically: “If you don’t want to eat ice cream, don’t buy it in the first place.”
Kaufman tells the story of how he and his wife Kelsey used this principle during their three-year experiment with a vegan diet.
When they first decided to try a vegan diet, most of their friends and family responded in one of two ways: “Are you crazy?” or “That must be very difficult — I could never do that.” 
Family and friends marveled at the couple’s willpower.
But as Kaufman notes, instead of relying on willpower to resist the urge to order a pizza or cook a steak, changing the “guiding structure” of their environment was much more effective.
When they went out for dinner, they chose restaurants that served vegan food instead of steakhouses. At home, they threw out the food they didn’t want, and replaced it with healthier options that still tasted good. And they changed where they shopped — instead of going to the supermarket, they went to a natural food store.
As Kaufman recalls: “When I got hungry, I ate an apple or carrots or hummus — that’s what was in the refrigerator. Ordering a pizza or buying and cooking a steak took more effort, so I didn’t do it.”
#3. Run the right race
Entrepreneur Emil Anton writes on his blog that if you think of yourself as a plant, then your current reality is your “soil.”
“The same seed can grow faster in some environments and starve in others.”
But unlike the seed of a plant, you have the power to control your environment.
Your job is to figure out what kind of environment works best for you.
An influential aspect of your environment is the group of people you spend time with. 
As Anton puts it: “You want to be better? Find people that make you better!”
Find people who challenge and support you.
You want to find people you enjoy being around—”not because they’re below you and their insufficiency makes you feel ahead.”
Putting aside ethical issues, they’re not the ones you’re in a race against anyway.
You’re actually in a race “trying to catch up to your potential self.”
For Anton, two things happen when you realize what kind of people you vibe with: 
First, when you get together with people in your circle, your value expands exponentially. Collectively, you can share ideas, connections, goals, and strategies that no single person could have come up with on their own. “The circle has more value than the sum of its parts.
Second, once you realize what kind of people you vibe with, it’s easier to avoid people who are toxic to your growth. Now you know who to avoid. In the same way that you remove weeds next to a plant to give it the best chance of growth.
Quote of the week
“This interaction of genetic and external influences makes my behavior unpredictable, but not undetermined. In the gap between those words lies freedom.”
- Science writer Matt Ridley in his book Genome
Idea Journal
Idea Journal
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