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The Power of Place

Our actions, thoughts, and feelings are shaped by our genes and neurochemistry, and history and relationships, and notibly by our surroundings

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The Power of Place: How Our Surroundings Shape Our Thoughts, Emotions, and Actions, by Winifred Gallagher (Poseidon Press, 1993), in my mind, became an instant classic. Here are my notes and excerpts from this insightful book:

Throughout history, people of all cultures have [rightly] assumed that environment influences behavior. Now, science confirms that our actions, thoughts, and feelings are indeed shaped not just by our genes and neurochemistry, and history and relationships, but also by our surroundings.

▪ The biology of behavior concerns the four elements of molecule, cell, organ, and organism, and the physical environment is important from the simplest level up through any stage in our development.

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▪ Burdened with increasingly complex social roles, we each need places that support rather than fragment our lives, and which balance the hard, standardized, and cost-efficient with what is natural, personal, and healthful.

From Cradle to Grave

The resounding theme of our relationship to the environment before birth applies throughout our whole lives, from the cradle to the schoolroom, the home to the workplace: our well-being depends on the delicate business of getting just the right amount of stimulation from our surroundings at the right time.

▪ One reason we work so hard to keep our various surroundings predictable is that we rely on them to help us move smoothly from role to role throughout the day.

▪ When you straighten things on the desk, get the coffee cup just so, and sharpen the pencils, you’re using environmental cues to help you destabilize whatever else is on your mind, get you out of that state, and stabilize the one associated with writing.

▪ A prominent researchers who spent 25 years studying the reactions of prisoners, submariners, the shipwrecked, and others who have dealt with situations so over- and understimulating that most of us experience them only vicariously in darkened theaters, is convinced that when it comes to stimulation levels in the modern world, within the bounds of reason, less is more.

Individual Needs

Our well-being depends on how successfully we deal with individual problems. If we soundproof the apartment, the noise outside no longer distracts us, and if we walk to work rather than ride the bus, we are no longer lost in the shuffle.

Other theories about the roots of urban malaise suggest that the constraints the city imposes on our behavior, such as traffic and crime, are to blame, or the fact that a metropolis is like a vast corporation in which the applicants for jobs and benefits exceed the available resources.

▪ Workers who want to improve their environments to increase their efficiency aren’t asking for the moon: the big items on most lists include quiet, a decent chair, easy access to tools, enough space to maneuver in, and the right to change furnishings around.

▪ Despite the obvious benefits to employees and employers both, however, the former are almost never consulted about the design of the places in which they do their jobs.

Go with the Flow

When we’re in flow, whether while playing the violin or climbing a mountain, our actions merge with our awareness. We stop being spectators of our own experience, which eliminates that ruminative self-consciousness that’s such a burden. We feel a sense of oneness with something larger than the self, whether it’s a musical tradition or nature or a deity.

▪ Because we’re concentrating on the present, our activity dictates our experience of time rather than the clock. This intense focus also means we forget our daily problems.

▪ People whose lives constantly are broken up into short segments and appointments have higher rates of suicide and heart disease because they are overloaded. We do not learn from our experiences unless we have adequate refractory periods in which to digest them.

Half a Loaf…

We can structure our human contacts in ways that can help us be happier, but the best most of us can hope for is to have satisfactory social encounters about half the time.

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Jeff Davidson is the world's only holder of the title "The Work-Life Balance Expert®" as awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He is the premier thought leader on work-life balance, integration, and harmony. Jeff speaks to organizations that seek to enhance their overall productivity by improving the effectiveness of their people. He is the author of Breathing Space, Simpler Living, Dial it Down, and Everyday Project Management. Visit www.BreathingSpace.com for more information on Jeff's keynote speeches and seminars, including: Managing the Pace with Grace® * Achieving Work-Life Balance™ * Managing Information and Communication Overload®



 
 
 

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Business

Smart Move in a Rough Economy: Help Your Boss to Shine

Stay on top of your job, your department’s goals, and your company’s objectives

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Making your boss look good can only reflect favorably on you. Both your boss and his or her supervisors will appreciate this.

The best way to make your boss look good is to handle your work efficiently and thoroughly. If your boss is fair, he or she will give you credit for the work, increasing your chances of promotion.

If your boss is not doing his or her share of the work, leaning on you unfairly without giving you the credit, it’s still likely that you’ll be promoted when your boss is promoted. That person knows you’ve been doing more than your share, and he or she won’t be able to take a new position without your help.

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Becoming a Mentor to Others

Maybe you’re only 27 years old, or perhaps you’ve only been with your present firm for a year and a half. Yet, with your previous experience and achievements, you may already be in a position to serve as a mentor to junior members of your organization. This can be accomplished on an informal, ad hoc basis, and you can literally choose the amount of energy you’re willing to commit. Helping junior members always looks good to those above you, especially at performance review time.

Stay on top of your job, your department’s goals, and your company’s objectives. This three-way strategy includes reviewing your job description, deciding precisely what your department’s goals are, and determining your company’s objectives:

Your Job Description

First, knowing your job description and honoring it, or amending it if necessary, protect you from any misunderstandings. It will also give you an idea of the part you play in the total picture of the organization, an important factor in your work satisfaction and chance of promotion.

Your job description ideally contains all the important activities of your position, the knowledge you need to have or acquire to perform those activities, and some sense of your overall role. If your job description does not adequately detail the information you need to know and the responsibilities you have, now is the time to change it.

Company Goals

Second, learn and understand the goals of your part of the company. By whatever method your organization is broken into groups — department, division, project team — your group has objectives.

Goals are important to guide actions as well as to mark milestones. Knowing your group’s goals will help you to set priorities for your own work and make wise decisions concerning how jobs can best be done.

What is the Mission?

Finally, be aware of your organization’s mission. Any organization, from the smallest business to the multibillion-dollar corporation, has a mission. If you don’t already know it, find out. Your organization’s brochure, annual report, promotional literature, or employee handbook will have the mission spelled out.

The mission will unify and give meaning to all the division or department goals. Although conflicts among divisions will occur because of the nature of different responsibilities, a solid base can be produced when all employees realize the overall mission of the organization.

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Business

Lessons of the 2020s: Unanticipated Events Happen

Unforeseen tasks that arise represent intrusions on our mental and emotional state of being as well as on our time

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By now, nearly everyone has mentally marked the first few years of this decade as strange and, for those on the right, entirely upsetting. While we can’t guard against the unknown, or anticipate radical moves emanating from Washington DC, we can seek to do our best with what we have and what we know.

Each day when you compose your to-do list and begin proceeding merrily down it, do you take into account what is likely to occur in the course of a day? No matter how well we organize our lists and how productive we are in handling the products and tasks unexpected obligations, interruptions, and other developments arise that are going to throw us off.

How do you react when you are humming along, and all of a sudden, you get an assignment from out of left field? Perhaps your boss has asked you to jump on something immediately. Maybe a client calls. Maybe something gets returned to you that you thought was complete.

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To Be Flustered No More

If you are like most professionals, you immediately will become flustered. The intrusion on your time and your progress means that you are not going to accomplish all that you set out to before the end of the day. Is there a way to proceed and still feel good about all that you accomplish?

I believe there is, and it involves first making a miniature, supplemental to-do list that accurately encapsulates the new task that you need to handle. Why create this supplemental to-do list? It gives you focus and direction, reduces anxiety, and increases the probability that you will remain buoyant at the time of its completion and be able to turn back to what you were doing before the task was assigned.

If you don’t compose such a list, and simply plow headlong into the unexpected challenge that has come your way, you might not proceed effectively, and you might never get back to the to-do list on which you were working.

Anticipating the Unexpected

Unforeseen tasks that arise represent more than intrusions on our time; they represent intrusions on our mental and emotional state of being. Some people are naturally good at handling unexpected situations. Most of us, however, are not wired like this. Interruptions and intrusions on our workday take us off the path that we wanted to follow, and tend to be at least momentarily upsetting.

So… when executing the items on your to-do list, proceed ‘knowing’ that there will be an interruption of some sort. You don’t know when it is coming or how large it will be, but it will pull you off course. The key question for you is: can you develop the capacity to maintain balance and equanimity in the face of such disruptions?

The good news is that you can, and it all starts with acknowledging that the situation is likely to happen, devising a supplemental checklist to handle the new task, and as deftly as possible, returning to what you were doing.

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