To Behave or Not to Behave…

Featured in the January 2016 Issue of Gig Harbor Living Local

Rethinking the way we inhabit (the short list.)
By Brett Marlo DeSantis

Recently George Washington University published a study on Nature and nurture: Human brains evolved to be more responsive to environmental influences. They are suggesting that the human brain is extensively shaped by its environment no matter the genetics and that our brains are constantly adapting to our changing physical environment, including our social and cultural context. So what does that tell us? If we take control our indoor environments, we can effectively train our brain. OK, I agree, that’s an extrapolation AND yet why wouldn’t it be so?

Much like New Year’s resolutions, we can identify a specific behavior that has the potential for positive change. Whether you commit to eat less, stress less, experience more, volunteer more or break an unwanted habit, you are taking account of your current behaviors in an effort to create positive change. While most of us do not think twice about how we occupy our homes, offices and structures in general, as inhabitants how we act decides whether our buildings will provide for our greatest health. In the built environment, the role of occupant behavior in buildings is key to understanding how to attain efficiency. Positive behavior change will enhance our lives and building performance. We know that behavior change is a slow process.

According to Prochaska of In Search of How People Change, research has shown that one will rarely progress through the stages of change in a linear, straight forward manner. Rather, relapse and recycling are common as depicted by a spiral (the most common shape found in nature!) Thankfully we don’t usually go back to square one; we learn from our relapses. They provide opportunities to understand what works, what does not and create a better plan during our process of change. In order to succeed, we try new strategies, make adjustments and try again. If we accept relapse as part of the process, there’s no need to throw in the towel. Here’s a very short list of simple strategies to get you started:

For better indoor air quality- Definitely have a door mat outside your front door. Consider one inside as well. Leave your shoes at the entry. Don’t use products with fragrances. Use a vacuum with a filter. Microfiber mops rock. Use your kitchen and bathroom fans. Check filters. Consider an air-purifier for your most used spaces. Buy a plant (it’ll clean the air + release happy nature-inspired brain waves.)

To ease eye strain and reduce electromagnetic fields- Rely less on overhead lighting and more on natural light or task lighting. Minimize objects that create glare. Choose paint with a low- or no-sheen. Install occupancy sensors, especially in rooms that children use. Opt for plug-in devices that have grounded wiring (3-prong plugs). Take breaks from screen time by looking outside at nature. Turn off devices at night. Make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible for best sleep.

To increase thermal comfort- Live seasonally. Adjust clothing choices. Occupy rooms that reduce the need to change your thermostat (perhaps downstairs in summer, upstairs in winter or rooms that allow for more or less sun exposure.) Keep blankets or throws handy. Opt for operable windows when possible and use them. Increase the use of outdoor spaces. Be active. Whatever behavior, strategy and action you choose after reflecting upon how you inhabit your spaces.

Remember that relapse is inevitable; just rethink your strategy. Learn what works and what is important to you and your health.