I remember the first day of one of my first Psychology classes during my undergraduate studies. The Professor told a story about a little girl running into the house everyday, taking off her coat, stretching her arm out to reach the coat rack without stopping, missing, and her coat falling to the floor. The Professor asked the class, “How do we change her behavior?” I tentatively raised my hand and answered, “Move the coat rack?” To my surprise, it was the answer he was looking for. On the surface it doesn’t make sense. After all, you haven’t really changed her behavior. Her coat would still be falling to the floor if you hadn’t moved the coat rack over a few inches. You have changed the environment, which changes the outcome of her behavior. Well, isn’t that the goal?
Until recently my home office was on the first floor of my house. It had a window facing the street, which opened under the cover of our front porch. It was nice to open the window and hear the rain without getting wet but it also meant every delivery person and solicitor who came to the front door knew I was home, could see in to my office, and sometimes scared the bejeezus out of me. Over time I noticed myself increasingly distracted and subsequently angered by the distractions around me. The sounds of car doors slamming, dogs barking, the neighbor’s inexplicable need to use his power saw in his driveway at all hours of the day, and those pesky surprise front porch guests were making me crazy. I became completely fixated on all of the behaviors around me and I couldn’t concentrate on my own.
I decided to make a change to my environment. Directly above my downstairs office is a small bedroom with one window that sits on the side of the house. There is no window facing the front so the room is more quiet, a little darker, much cozier, and has fewer distractions. I painted the pink room a cool blue, and with the help of my husband, moved my office upstairs. At first I felt isolated being away from the traffic of the house and the traffic of the street. “It’s quiet,” I thought, “It’s really quiet.” After a few days I realized I felt calmer and more relaxed as I was working. I wasn’t fixated on the power saw or the barking dog anymore. In fact, I couldn’t even hear them.
Other than now taking the steps downstairs to get a refill on my coffee, I didn’t change my behavior at all. Changing my environment had changed the outcome of my behavior and my entire mindset changed along with it. It was so simple and had an immediate impact on my life. For me, moving my office was a reminder that sometimes you need to change your environment before you can change your behavior. Now that I am more relaxed in my office space I have room in my head to think about what other outcomes I’m looking for in life. What other environments do I need to change? What other coat racks do I need to move?