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Exploring ways to hack our built environment for increased physical and metal wellbeing.

Updated: May 12

 Part 1:

Envirohacking, Enviro Hacking Exploring ways to  hack our built environment for increased physical and mental wellbeing.   [Part 1]
 

Architecture shapes decisions. Design your environment to influence behaviour and outcomes positively. EnviroHacking. (Environment + hacking)

It’s a Saturday morning. To your dismay you find that you are fresh out of your favourite morning coffee brew. It’s still early so you decide to do a quick dash to the grocery and whist there, also pick up a few other needed items. Hurriedly you scribble off a list. “This will not take long”, you think to yourself. There will still be enough time to enjoy your favourite morning brew in the comfort of your patio chair before the day gets too busy. However, more than 2 hours later, you return home slightly agitated with an additional bag of items you did not plan for and to your absolute horror also discover that you somehow forgot to buy the ground coffee beans.


What happened? The reality is that whilst the average adult makes about 35000 decisions each day, most of these decisions are heavily influenced by the environment we place ourselves in. Every physical space and every digital space we interact with daily impacts what we do and how we do it. The concept is simple. Whilst you may have a plan, every grocery store, retail store and restaurant, to every app and interface on your digital devices, also has a plan for you. They are all designed to capture your maximum attention, time and money. Whilst none of these hold a gun to your head, all of them are playing with your head. Their main aim is to use environmental coercion to take maximum advantage of your predictive human behaviours.


All is not lost however. There is a concept called choice architecture, and it is the idea that we can impact the decisions we make by actively choosing the environments that we place ourselves in. In a sense, therefore we are all the choice architects of our own environment. Dan Ariely, James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and behavioural economics at Duke University explains the concept beautifully.

“Imagine, I came every morning to your office, and I layered your desk with fresh doughnuts and croissants. What are the odds that at the end of the year you'll be as trim and healthy as you are right now? Our ability to make decisions is not in resisting the doughnuts when they're there. It's about deciding not to have doughnuts on the desk in the first place. And this is the strength and the importance of choice architecture, that the environment that we put people in matters a great, great deal, much more than we understand.”

The data is overwhelming. In fact, as early as 1984 Roger Ulrich a researcher in evidence based healthcare design did a study on the recovery of patients post gallbladder surgery and found that the patients who were put in a room with a view of nature, consistently had quicker recovery times and shorter hospital stays than those whose facing a brick wall.


This concept by extension naturally applies fundamentally to all the spaces that we choose to spend our time in daily and considering that on average we spend 90% of our time indoors, where we spend our time, homes, offices, schools and stores, matters a great deal. All of them directly affect the way we feel, how we behave and ultimately how happy, healthy or successful we may be, or not.


We tend to blame failure on a lack of talent or willpower and conversely attribute success to natural gifts, hard work and effort. Of course, those things matter. However, recent studies clearly indicate that motivation and talent have been somewhat overvalued and that our environment in most cases may matter more. With advanced technology, neuroscience and psychological studies, we now have a much better idea of the kind of environments that stimulate people both positively and negatively.


To that end, in order to afford ourselves a bigger chance of success, health or joy, we can now quite effectively reverse engineer these findings and thus customise our environment in ways to trigger and stimulate our most desired outcomes. In this sense we can think of envirohacking i.e. “hacking” our environment in the same way that we tend to think of hacking a computer or indeed hacking our bodies, a term called biohacking, for increased positive physical and emotional results.


There are thousands of examples of environments working for us and conversely working against us in very unexpected and interesting ways. Please join us again next week where we will look at some real world examples to illustrate how our environments works for us or against us and how (envirohacking / enviro hacking) can be applied very affectively to help us achieve our goals.



 

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