Most of the success literature is about how to work harder, longer, and smarter. There is no doubt that working harder, longer, and smarter will improve your results. Nevertheless, that’s only one side of the coin. The other side is to create an environment and identity for success. The effort you invest in your environment and identity pays its dividends in success over time. This post will be about creating an environment for success. I’ll write another post about creating an identity for success.
It’s much easier to create an environment and identity for success than willing yourself to work harder, longer, and smarter.
Work from Wherever You Want, or Not?
You might have come across advertisements that promise you to be your own boss and work from wherever you want. Some of these advertisements use the image of a woman in a bikini, working on her laptop on the beach. These marketers try to take advantage of our associations of work and beach. People associate the beach with relaxing and having fun. People associate work with hardship.
Is it really possible to work on a beach in your swimwear with a laptop on your lap? If you haven’t tried it yet, here’s the answer. First, you won’t be able to see anything on that screen because of the sun glare. Second, the laptop will soon get so hot that your legs will burn. Third, working is the last thing you will want to do when you’re on a beach.
Let’s Dive in Deeper
Do you do your best work in an office, wearing business attire, and working between certain business hours or when you’re at home, wearing your pajamas, and working whenever you feel like it? Most people would admit that the first setting would produce better results for them, even though they would prefer to work in the second setting.
Working in an office, wearing business attire, and working between certain business hours trigger your brain to get into the working mood. Your office and working hours contribute to your environment. Your business attire contribute to your identity. Both, your environment and identity, trigger the working mood.
On the other hand, being at home and wearing pajamas is associated with resting and relaxing. Unless you condition your mind to perform at home as good as in your office, your mind will still associate the home environment with resting and relaxing.
Is working from home a utopia then? Not necessarily. Working from home can be a better alternative to working in an office. You can avoid wasting time in daily commute. You can work flexible hours. You can work from the comfort of your home, in a relaxed way. There are also other advantages to it. But it doesn’t mean lying on your bed, in your pj’s, with the day time TV in the background. It’s your responsibility to create your an environment to maximize your performance.
Creating an Environment for Success
If our environment and identity have such a great impact on our results, why not take advantage of them by designing them for high performance?
Take a look at your working environment. How can you improve your working environment to increase your performance? Maybe you can get rid of the clutter on your desk and bookshelves. Maybe you need to get a better desk and office chair to improve your performance.
Look around and determine everything that distracts you. Maybe you should switch on the “do not disturb” mode on your phone, so that all notifications are switched off except most important calls. Maybe you can clean up your computer desktop. Maybe you can select a desktop wallpaper that helps you to focus, instead of distracting you.
My favorite is noise canceling headphones. I wear them to isolate myself from the environment and to focus entirely on the task at hand. I listen to steady Baroque music to maximize my concentration. I figured that neither no music nor upbeat pop music produce as much concentration as Baroque. The same is true with the amount and timing I consume caffeine. Neither no caffeine, nor lots of caffeine produce the same results as two cups per day, in the morning.
It’s up to you to figure out the sweet spots and to stick to them. You might think that these are small details, but if you can optimize hundred small details that would make a 1% difference, you will end up with 100% difference in your reality. That’s enough reason to pay attention to them. Which 1% improvements can you make in your environment to 38X your results in a year?
Look Around Carefully
When you look around carefully, you will notice thousands of things that you can change to improve your performance. Look at all the tools you use. Do you use the best computer, smartphone, and software that you can afford? Which apps are on the home screen of your smartphone? Do they lead you to better performance or do they distract you?
How close is your home to your work? In what kind of a neighborhood do you live? I know these are the decisions you cannot make overnight, but they are worth thinking about. Some of these changes might sound like a lot of time, money, and effort to implement at the beginning, but think about the dividends they’ll pay over time. If you can save an hour every day, wouldn’t that make a big difference over your entire career?
Design Your Home for Success
High performance doesn’t depend only on your working environment. Your home is as important as your working environment. Does a big TV dominate your living environment and is it switched on all the time? Is your home, clean, neat, and tidy? Do you have a quality bed to rest properly? I even pay attention to the temperature and humidity of my bedroom. I realized this plays a huge role in how good I rest at night and how good I perform the next day. I experimented with different temperatures to find my sweet spot, not too hot, but not too cold either.
This may sound funny but even the beverages you drink contribute to your environment and identity. I drink two cups of of fair trade, organic, medium strength, desert coffee a day, in the morning. That feeds my identity by telling me that I pay attention to the people who are less fortunate than me, and that I pay attention to my health and consume only good quality foods. Also limiting my consumption to two cups a day helps me resting better at night and keeping my performance high throughout the week. I also experimented with not drinking any coffee at all, but I didn’t experience a performance improvement that would justify the lack.
Never Underestimate Inspiration
Make sure to include something that would inspire you to perform well in your working environment. Some people put a picture of their families on their desk. When I was a college student, I used to put my mobile phone on its charging dock on my desk at home. Back then mobile phones weren’t as common as today and it was something that successful people used. But of course, within a few years everybody owned one. Nowadays, I have a piece of paper that summarizes my life goals and how I plan to achieve them. I call this practice creating your Matrix for success.
If you’re a student or a freelancer working from home and you have a difficult time concentrating at home, try working in a library or in a cafe. Or try designating a certain part of your home as your working environment, with a decent office chair and desk. Try working in decent clothes, between certain office hours, even if you’re working from home.
Observe Your Work and Living Environment
Both, your environment and identity, are difficult to become aware of. You’re immersed in both of them. It’s like water to the fish. It takes conscious effort to realize the parts of your environment and identity that are hurting your results and fixing them. There are several methods to become aware of the parts of your environment and identity that are holding you back and to fix them. I suggest you apply all of them, step by step, one step at a time.
Look at your results and ask yourself which part of your environment and identity is holding you back from achieving the results you want. By asking this question, you will figure out the obvious factors and you can fix them. For example, not having a TV at home greatly increases my performance. It’s a no-brainer for me. I never had a TV since I left my parents’ home. Having a simple, minimalist decoration is also a decision I made consciously to improve my performance. I donated all the stuff that I didn’t use regularly to a charity.
Your environment and identity has at least as much impact on your results as your actions, if not more. It is not obvious to us which parts of our environment and identity are holding us back. However, once you become aware of that, you can find ways changing your environment and identity. You have read some methods to become aware of your environment and identity in this post. I recommend saving this post and applying the ideas to change your environment and identity to improve your results. Let me know in the comments or via a private message, whether these methods work for you and if you have other methods to change your environment and identity to improve your results.
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly overview of my latest content on personal development and life lessons.