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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.

▪ 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

Running up Huge Deficits: Bad for Nations and for Individuals

Deficits are risky, whether global, national, regional, state, local, or personal

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Joe Biden seeks to spend $6 trillion annually, for now. It could be higher thereafter, as our national debt climbs to staggering sums: $28.5 trillion, and $153.5 in unfunded liabilities. Has any nation in history that accumulated large deficits over a prolonged period of time and, lacking a concerted effort towards reducing them, sustained economic prosperity for its people?

Personal Deficits

Deficits are risky, whether global, national, regional, state, local, or personal. What are the deficits in your own life? For example, based on how many calories you’re consuming daily, are you running a deficit in the number of calories you need to burn to maintain a proper weight level? If so, you know that you face many health risks.

Do you have a financial deficit? For decades, tens of millions of Americans have accumulated personal debt via credit cards. Sustained deficit spending erodes one’s ability to prepare for the future and, worse, exploit current opportunities.

Is there a deficit in the time that you spend with relatives and loved ones? What about hobbies? Friends? Worthy causes?

Answers Appear

When you’re honest with yourself about your deficits, the answers to reducing them naturally appear:

* To reduce a weight deficit, plot your weight each morning for six months. Once you become vividly aware of the relationship between calories burned and weight reduction, watching your weight drop will further reinforce your ability to maintain balance in your caloric intake.

* To reduce a personal financial deficit, place a moratorium on spending – regardless of what items entice you – until all your credit cards have zero balances.

* If you have a deficit in the time spent with friends, on hobbies, or on worthy causes, devote one evening per week to such endeavors. Give up addictive news and information via web and TV that, in retrospect, might add little to your life while creating other time-related deficits. To spend more time with your children, involve them in activities you have traditionally done without them.

Here are two resources:

Debtors Anonymous: www.debtorsanonymous.org
Obsessive-Compulsive Anonymous: www.obsessivecompulsiveanonymous.org

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Business

Your To-Do List: Unforeseen Events Will Arise

No matter how well we organize our lists and how productive we are in handling tasks, unexpected obligations and interruptions arise that could throw us off our plan.

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Each day 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 tasks, invariably, unexpected obligations, interruptions, and other developments arise that are going to throw us off our plan.

How do you react when you are humming along and, suddenly, 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 felt was complete.

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?

A Supplemental To-do List

I believe there is, and it involves making a miniature, supplemental to-do list that accurately and completely encapsulates the new task you now 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.

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 and often work as public servants, such as police officers and firefighters, or in health care, as nurses and orderlies.

Most of us, however, are not wired like this. Interruptions and intrusions take us off the path that we wanted to follow, and tend to be at least momentarily upsetting. Hereafter, when executing the items on your to-do list, proceed with the mindset 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.

Equanimity Reigns

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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