The current pandemic has pushed most of us inside this summer for longer than we’re used to. It has forced us– for better or worse– to examine the way we relate to our body, mind, and the spaces we occupy.
In the video attached by CGP Grey, he uses a helpful metaphor of a spaceship to explain some valuable, core ideas about taking care our wellbeing. This article is going to break down the video and provide some supplementary information related to the discussed topics.
The opening of the video starts with assigning you a mission. If you’re stuck inside for whatever reason this is your mission.
The core of your health is comprised of two parts. In the video, Grey aptly compares these pillars to a generator. Both equally attributing to your overall life force and wellbeing.
“If the core drifts too much, if it becomes too dark, recovery on your own is unlikely.”
To keep the generator running, you must prime one side or the other. Mental or the physical. This isn’t just a fun metaphor, it’s very real in the way that it relates to our lives.
We must put in effort daily to keep the generator running. One element that Grey left out (probably for brevity sake) was food. Perhaps we could relate food to the physical, but it could have its own category.
So it may be helpful to think of three buckets that you need to keep full in order to keep the generator (your body) running for years and years to come. Those three buckets of wellness are physical activity, mental health, and consumption of food.
The physical is– as much as we hate to admit it– the best place to start. Mental health is a tangled web that can be difficult to clear out on its own. Physical activity can be pretty clear cut and provides immediate benefits to all other parts of the puzzle. We’ll dive into the physical activity part more in a minute.
The key part of this article (and the video) is to help you become aware of how important the spaces you occupy are in effecting your wellness and focus on specific tasks.
In a recent podcast interview with Dr. Yishan Xu from Mind & Body Garden Psychology on the Happy You Are Here Podcast went into detail about how your relationship to your environment plays a huge role in the way our mind relates to that environment by default. The interview with Dr. Yishan Xu specifically goes into depth about the way in which our minds relate to our beds. CGP Grey also goes into detail about this in the video.
Some examples he includes are:
- The library helps you study.
- The office helps you work.
- Vacation helps you relax.
- The couch helps you… couch.
The problem that isolating ourselves to our homes obviously then comes from not having separate spaces for separate tasks. This is where the video shines. We’ll break down how, even with a small space, you can separate your home into smaller spaces.
Station One: Exercise
You only need enough space for your body. If you don’t already know, there are a lot of exercises you can do with only your bodyweight.
Some absolute basic bodyweight exercises include:
For a lot of exercise feels absolutely horrible– at least to start. Starting is the hardest part. When you can create a space for physical activity, especially if it’s easy to access, it will lower the barrier to entry.
If you can’t commit to doing a whole workout routine, at least try to do enough to get your heart rate up. This will provide an energy boost and improve your mental health.
Once you establish a space for exercise and start to exercise in that space daily (or a few times a day) your mind will associate entering that part of your home with exercising.
As Grey puts it in the video:
“Your exercise station is a vital part of returning better than before, whatever else might happen.”
Station Two: Sleep
Creating and respecting your sleep space boundaries is highly important. As most of us know, sleep has effects on every other part of our lives.
As most of us also know, sleep does not always come as easily as we’d like.
In our interview with sleep psychologist, Dr. Yishan Xu, she discussed how activities like watching movies or tv, scrolling through social media, even reading can confuse our minds as to what this space is for.
If you can get to sleep the second you lay down in bed, great. For the rest of us. Here are some tips on how to respect and clarify the boundaries of your sleep space.
- Don’t use your sleep space for screen time– ever. You’ll have another space for that.
- Don’t eat in your sleep space.
- Keep you phone in another room.
- Don’t stress about getting 8 hours of sleep– that’s a myth.
- If you can’t sleep, get up and go to another space until you’re sleepy again.
Like exercise, the more you only do this one activity in this one space, the more automatic that activity will become when you enter that space.
Station Three: Recreation and Consumption
Grey uses the “couch” as the name for this third space. He goes on a bit about the dangers of scrolling through your YouTube feed… because you will run out of worthwhile things to watch.
A very important point he makes is that while zoned into the infinite scroll of social media and YouTube you can often lose track of time. Your core generator (your physical and mental health) will deteriorate without you realizing it until it becomes very difficult to get out of the slump.
This is something we’ve all probably experienced. Maybe you weren’t mindful of it happening, but after a few hours of YouTube, Netflix, or scrolling through Instagram, your body needs to move. Your mind needs something more present.
One of the ways you can keep this insatiable need for more media is through dopamine fasting.
That name can be a bit deceiving, because it’s not completely realistic to not activate any dopamine at all. It’s also not accurate that a media consumption fast will really lower dopamine levels. It has been proven, however, to dramatically increase your engagement with the world around you and the satisfaction you feel out of all things you interact with.
The couch is double dangerous as it can lead to lethargy but also anxiety. Grey makes the great observation that you may be tempted to “stay up to date” with what is going on in the world, but this comes with dangers as well.
News media thrives on your attention. They do everything they can to drag stories out for days and weeks. Whatever they can do to keep your eyeballs glued to the screen. The virus and political climate is a field day for them. You may think people hate “the media” but cable news hit a record setting quarter.
The hard truth is that most of the things you see on that screen you can do nothing about. It is designed to get you agitated and therefore no matter how hard you try, the new will cause you more and more stress over time.
The world will still be there when you check back in. And even if it’s not… it’s not like watching the world end on the news would have made you any more prepared.
Instead of falling victim to these two dangerous loops, Grey suggests using this space to interact with entertainment you enjoy while giving it your full attention. Play a game, watch a movie, talk with friends over video chat, read a book.
The key thing to remember is to limit your time in this space. It has a tendency to expand as far as you will let it. So it will take some mindful consumption to keep it in check.
Station Four: Creation
This station is one of the most fulfilling aspects of your space. This can mean a lot of different things to different people, so Grey smartly puts work and hobbyist creation in the same category.
In a recent podcast episode, author Ryan Stanley pointed out we are constantly creating. When we put on a blue hat, we are creating a person wearing a blue hat. When we watch TV, we are creating a TV viewer. When we make a salad, we are creating a salad. When we created these other spaces, we were literally creating our environment.
This purposeful creation of our environments is well worth the efforts. As Grey points out, it has a multiplying effect. By feeding into a healthy environment, your healthy environment then feeds your wellbeing. Then you have more energy to keep your environment healthy, which in turn creates more wellbeing.
If your work or studies can be done remotely, then great. You get to keep contributing and creating in a concrete way. Grey suggests some helpful advice for those who may be out of work and do not have formal studying to do. Still create something anyway.
To keep your mental fitness at peak levels (or as full as it can be) you’ll need to do something that actively engages the mind. Humans are creators. It’s something we all do in one way or another. If you don’t think you are one, take this opportunity to challenge yourself. Start working on a craft you were always interested in. Get really into cooking. Learn a new skill.
Whatever it is you choose to do, separate these activities from your other stations.
Getting into a focused state in order to create is not always easy. Especially if you consume media on your computer and also create on that same computer. It can be very tempting to hop on over to Facebook the moment a creative activity gets even moderately difficult.
This is a hard piece of advice to follow, but it will make you feel like you have super productive powers if you can keep the defined boundaries between your consumption space and your creation space.
Bonus Station: Kitchen – Food Prep
One station that we feel CGP Grey left out (again probably because it didn’t fit into the tidy four corners metaphor) is a station for food. It is helpful to be mindful when eating, and therefore have a space that is dedicated to that VERY IMPORTANT activity.
If you can separate a space for food, you can be fully engaged with prepping, cooking, and eating. This might be a great opportunity for you to start eating better!
The reason we feel strongly that this needs to be a separate station is because eating in any of your other stations will detract from the focus those stations have on specific activities. Eating releases a plethora of chemicals to the brain’s reward system. If you eat in your consumption space, that space suddenly becomes more appealing to spend all your time in. Likewise, if you eat in your sleep station, your mind will have a harder time slowing down to go to sleep.
Use this time whether you’re confined or not to better yourself and your relationship to your environment. All improvement doesn’t need to take massive willpower. Be smart. Designate your willpower to things that will have a multiplying effect on your other habits– and will give you more willpower.
If you are interested in learning more about Environment Design, check out James Clear’s blog.