Your Default Setting

How much control do you have over your environment? Kind of a big concept, right? I’m asking because health itself is such a big concept. It’s not just the sum of biological systems within your body; it is how those systems interact with their environment. Trying to understand your health or your environment in isolation is like trying to understand how airplanes work in a metaphorical vacuum. Or a literal one. Both kinds, actually.

Environment includes your access to:

  • Loving, supportive relationships
  • Food
  • Your home—and its compartments
  • Where you work AND your experience of work
  • Nature
  • Settings for exercise and physical expression
  • Rest and regeneration
  • Hobbies, leisure time, and entertainment
  • Transportation
  • Political freedom

It also includes and/or limits exposure to hazards like:

  • Toxic chemicals via exposure, pollution, etc.
  • Violence
  • Discrimination
  • Disease

The list goes on. There are undoubtedly things I’ve left out. Some are less essential and more personal. So, feel free to include access to good pickle-ball courts—or an absence of people chewing loudly in public. Whatever floats your personal boat.

Every component impacts you. And control varies substantially. It’s easier to grow a plant than overhaul federal policy. Or to buy an air filter rather than eliminate the dust and noise of nearby construction.

The next thing to know is that your environment makes a lot of these choices for you. These are default settings. Some are inequitable. And many of these are outside of your sphere of control. Understanding what you can’t control is essential to thinking intentionally about what you can—and designing for it.

On what you can control
Environmental design is an essential skill to living more intentionally. Here, your default settings are designed with purpose. What do you want to make easier? Or harder? It’s your call. I’ll always advocate for health behaviours because of the freedom they provide.

In the world of behavioural economics, this type of structure is often referred to as choice architecture. You don’t limit your own freedom to, say, eat french fries and watch The Real Housewives of Dinosaur, Colorado at 3 am. But it’s not the default. Your environment makes it easier to go to sleep in a timely fashion or eat a bunch of colourful vegetables. Moving away from a default is like running your computer’s OS in another language. You can choose to do it but it won’t happen automatically.

So, if you ever feel like your freedom to live the way you want to is constrained, I have two pieces of advice:

  1. Look at the list above and find one aspect within your sphere of control that you can change. Start there. Email me if you feel stuck.
  2. Don’t just accept the things that are outside of your control. If it’s part of your mission—whatever that may be—fight like hell to get a finger-hold on it.

They say that life is short but it is also way too long not to fight for what you believe in.