Enhance Your Thinking by Changing Your Environment
“Your environment is the invisible hand that shapes your behaviour.”James Clear, Atomic Habits
🧠 Divergent vs. Convergent Thinking
When it comes to thinking, there are two primary modes: divergent and convergent.
Divergent thinking is about exploring possibilities, generating ideas, and thinking outside the box.
Convergent thinking, on the other hand, focuses on finding solutions, analysing information, and making decisions.
Physical environment plays a significant role in determining thinking modes. By strategically altering your environment, you can encourage how you think at any given moment.
🤔 Assess Your Current Workspace
Take a moment to examine your workspace. Is it conducive to creativity, problem-solving, or both? Identifying the strengths and weaknesses of your current environment can help you create a more optimal space.
💡 The Neuroscience of Environmental Influence and Nudging
“If you want to encourage some activity, make it easy.”
Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein
Our brains are highly adaptable and respond to the sensory inputs we receive from our surroundings.
Different environments can stimulate different neural pathways, influencing our thinking and behaviour.
This is where the concept of ‘nudging’ comes into play.
Nudging is a psychological principle suggesting subtle environmental changes can guide our choices and actions without realising it.
By incorporating nudges into your workspace, you can gently steer your thinking in the desired direction, whether it’s towards creativity or problem-solving.
🔍 Nudging in Action
When working on a creative project (like writing long-form content), I will open my inspiration notes. I’ll take a few minutes to absorb the content. Then I go for a walk to allow the ideas to percolate while encouraging creativity. Being unable to write the newsletter nudges me to run through more ideas before I start writing.
When doing analytical work (like creating a content plan for the next month), I’ll declutter my desk, close all open apps on my Mac, put a drink on my desk and start a Spotify playlist. I remove opportunities for distractions.
🎯 Create Your Thinking Spaces
Expand to Encourage Creativity
- Add visual variety: Introduce inspiring artwork, plants and colour to your space.
- Work at a window: Natural light and an open view can encourage expansive thinking.
- Get outside: Go for a walk to spark ideas and explore new perspectives. Removing the ceiling allows your thoughts to expand.
- Mix it up: Try changing your workspace setup or location periodically to keep your brain stimulated and open to new ideas.
Contract to Boost Problem-Solving
- Smaller areas: Choose a cosy nook or a corner to create a focused workspace.
- Less variance: Minimise distractions by keeping your space clutter-free and visually consistent.
- Control ambient noise: Use noise-cancelling headphones or low-volume instrumental music to maintain a focused auditory environment.
- Eliminate digital distractions: Keep your workspace gadget-free or designate a separate area for technology to avoid being drawn into digital distractions while working on problem-solving tasks.
The physical environment you are in can have a significant impact on your cognitive processes.
By understanding how different environments influence your thinking patterns, you can optimise your surroundings to enhance cognitive efforts and tackle tasks more effectively.