Reclaiming Your Environment

I tripped a wire the other day when I combined an old bad habit with a new good habit inside the same environment.

I was inside my car listening to a podcast about incrementally creating better habits daily when I simultaneously hit the drive-thru line. Twice. In the same car ride home.

When I’m in my car driving aimlessly (or purposely like a commute) I find a strong association with hitting fast food lines, with the image of Taco Bell bags strewn across the back passenger floor. This is because I had actually gone through so many drive-thru lines in the exact car I am still driving today, despite going through the massive physical change in my life.

It really hit me after I tossed the empty bag of the second order of Taco Bell down: the physical environment inside my car is associated with reckless eating.

Psychologists point out how environment certainly can become associated with past behaviors, good or bad. A strong mental connection is forged in “learned environments.” Adi Jaffe, Ph.D., writes, “when behaviors are repeated, they can be conditioned to a particular place or situation and these learned habits can be hard to break.” 

If I felt like the driver’s seat of the same car I had done all my caloric drive-thru damage in was triggering, it’s because it actually is.

Place really matters.


Enter the podcasts and lawn cutting season.

I was cutting lawns with a friend and listening to podcasts all day long. A new environment and habit began to forge.

Learning from others via the podcasts while I was smelling freshly cut grass helped re-wire my brain more than it already had, having already lost all my weight.

What made me connect the idea of environmental conditioning with podcasts and my driver’s seat was one more final element…..the smell of….pear? Not sure what the tree was in one customer’s backyard. But I loved running over the fruits because the blade of the mower would slice multiple chunks of the fruit strewn across the backyard. An aroma would fill the air around my riding lawn mower and all of a sudden I was in a Bath & Body Works store. But on a riding lawn mower, sweating.

Scent is closely tied to memory. Add to that the incredible impact environmental conditions have on a student’s ability to learn.

I was hard-wiring my brain with the smell of freshly cut grass, moving scenery, beautiful landscapes, while simultaneously becoming a podcast consuming student listening to personal stories from others who overcome challenges in their lives, and share to help others.

I was consuming advice from some of the world’s leading over-achievers. They were talking about their failures, their insecurities, their bold life-hacks, their methods and routines at approaching life daily. Even their under-achievements and shortcomings.

Hardwired into me now is an association between podcast learning (of the more informative variety [Ferriss, Altucher, StoryBrand, etc.]) and lawn cutting.

And the smell of the freshly sliced fruit in the one backyard.

Now to reclaim the car driver seat forever.

Why not commit to only listening to podcasts out loud in the car on a commute? Taking the good habit, shifting it to an environment once the literal vehicle for a bad habit, is the way to repair the damaged environment.

When I am listening to an informative podcast in my car, I have to listen. I am not listening to my inner-dialogue, no matter how crappy I may feel at the time. Or how good. Sometimes it was moments of euphoric reward that led me to a drive-thru line.

By listening to interviews of people who overcame challenges, I can reclaim an environment which conditioned repeated destructive behavior.  Even a podcast about woodworking will work. Anything to draw my attention towards learning while driving a gas powered vehicle of some sort.

I’m gonna have to get a pear car scent now as the final touch. It will reinforce the process of reclamation.

My car is not a tool to get me into a drive-thru. My car is a tool to teach me one more lesson from one more person who overcame a lot in order to help others.

Small Spark

A small spark vs a great forest. A dark, dense forest. A forest providing beauty, and shade from the sun.

But perhaps too much shade.

The forest as a dark, scary, haunting place is a metaphor carried through the centuries inside the human psyche, found in our collective storytelling.

The forest is a tool shading us from the sun. Dimming the power of light. As beautiful as the forest is, crossing from forest edge into a clearing can surprise our eyes as we adjust to the intense light of the approaching meadow, as if someone flipped a switch on.

As much as we are able to see while walking inside the forest, it is the tree canopy screening the full amount of light possible to us. The forest is ‘dark’ to us during peak daytime.

Forests are screening out the most light available to us. The light is there. But we are lost inside the forest which is always providing a diminished version of the light.

Perhaps, the forest needs to be removed if we can’t find our way out.


There is also the metaphor of a seemingly insignificant small spark, be it fire or a passing thought, having an enormous, disproportional affect on it’s surroundings.

One small careless incident, and the whole forest burns down.

One small careless word, and a kingdom crumbles.

One small thoughtful daily act, and darkness itself begins to fade.

When I consider the warning how a small spark can burn a forest down, I find it as a warning of thoughtful discernment. The message isn’t “don’t be careless and screw everything up.” What if the message is “a small spark can take on a great forest.”

We should decide with care which forests to burn down. There are forests preventing us from full access to the Light.

There are forests of oppression, shielding the Light of all we can be if not for unjust systems.

There are forests of depression, shielding the Light that is telling us we are tremendously valued as we are.

There are forests of bitterness, shielding the Light trying to tell us to let go, move on, and walk forward humbly motivated.

There are forests of lies, shielding the Light of Truth by using Light itself in a very diminished, altered state.

A small spark, the smallest amount of hope you could possibly imagine, is enough. It’s always just enough. It will light a new light as it burns the forest down. What is left is more Light. The Light which was diminished. A Light we only saw a burst here and there of through the forest’s thick tree canopy.

We had no idea how bright it was outside the forest.

But liberated from the dark forest we lived in, are we not tasked to carefully burn down forests of lies, oppression, worthlessness, shame, anger, or bitterness we see others are wandering in? Setting a small spark in our forest takes resolve, but it only has to be a small spark.

Burn down the forest of shame, bitterness, hopelessness, all which shields Light.

A Lot Has Changed In The Past (2)Year

Wage War has the song that defines my last two years. It’s going to be my anthem, my marker of these years.

The chorus says it all. But I’ll get there. 

First a walk up to the chorus with a verse punching me in the gut: 

Let’s get this straight
A lot has changed in the last year
Thought I had everything together
But watched it all disappear

It is remarkable what has disappeared from me. Previous to 2 years ago, I thought I was at least on the trajectory of putting it all together. I knew I didn’t have it all together. But I was on the correct path.

Silly me. 

I watched a lot of ‘stuff’ disappear. What’s remaining in the process? I’m finding the Person I always identified as the core behind everything. 

This is where every biblical metaphor of pruning, burning away, and seeing what’s left over applies to my last two years.

Thought I had everything together takes on a unique meaning for me. I didn’t arrogantly believe I had it all together. In fact swaying heavily in the other direction, I was already well on the way of holistic improvements a year, two years, really a few years in the making because of an acknowledgment of not having things together. Improvements made because of the humble identification of desperately needed change.

So when the hits started coming one after another over the past two years, all my personal improvements felt for not.

These personal improvements ironically had no challenging places to test themselves out in (or at least not in the arenas I figured I would apply my personal improvements in).

In other words, if I could establish habitual changes when times were ‘good,’ without realizing it, I was being prepared to keep it up when times became ‘bad.’ 

It’s kinda like the stakes were raised so change wouldn’t be on my terms anymore.

So here I am putting my past two years into perspective, and with everything that is burned up and gone, it is what remains which brings me to my knees.

This chorus. It stuns me:

Now I see, I was broken to be made a better me

There are so many defeats I’ve had to deal with. There are many incredibly significant moments of pruning. What’s astonishing within this reflection is how I have become a better me in the process. This is the best version of myself ever. I have never been ‘clearer.’ 

A career stall actually turned into a time period of incredible learning through massive amounts of reading and writing, all combining to solidify my why.

An empathy I possessed intellectually a decade ago as a believer has now manifested itself personally through intense breaking and healing. Frankly put, as I reflect back on the idealistic 22 year old Jesus follower, having consumed massive volumes of early 2000’s Christian blogosphere material, and beginning their graduate studies with the aim of ‘getting into’ a field based on helping people, I see a person only scratching the surface of servant-hood. 

The ‘better me‘ standing now embraces hardship completely different. I had somehow avoided major pains in my life and figured I could serve others out of a timid, shy, intellectual point of view.

But I was finally broken so that I can look into someone’s eyes and see their pain better. 

I was assuredly empathetic before. But pain? Obstacles? Losing it all? Terror?

I’ve come into contact with pain I’d wish on no one. And yet here I am on the other side of it. I have learned the art and practice of taking the obstacle as a learning tool, as a data point. 

Am I still here? Is it morning? Is it a new day? 

Then be grateful.

Is Jesus still standing with me? He sure is.

Then be faithful.

And now I….

‘Had to learn to let it go and let it be.’ 

This is the clear marking of ‘forward.’ There are things I simply must let go. Even the process of breaking must be let go at some point. 

There are burdens too heavy to carry on my own. They were never meant to be my burdens. 

Now I can start fresh over again changing things I am actually tasked to change. Not things I have no control over. Only the pieces I have been given to put together.

The serenity prayer is on my heart like never before.