Try This Exercise: Your Ideal Environment

In one paragraph—or more, if you like—answer this question:

In what imaginary environment would your best self emerge?

Most of us have never asked ourselves that question because it’s not considered askable. What we’ve been trained to ask is, “How can I fit into some preexisting environment? How can I change myself to fit the world?” When we go to the store, we hope we’ll fit into the clothes on the racks. If the jeans are too long or too narrow, it’s we who are too short or too fat. If we happened to have three arms, we’d cut one off rather than politely but firmly insist on a jacket with three sleeves!

Just in fantasy, I’d like you to try shaping the world to your needs for a change. Imagine an environment that is perfect for someone with all your present characteristics—a world so tailored to your nature that you’d be at your best in it without changing yourself one bit. Let the environment do all the work for you.

I’m going to stop right here and define my terms a little bit. By environment, I don’t just mean your physical surroundings. Sure, it would be nice to have a house with a patio and a swimming pool and a huge fireplace, and it might be even nicer to be in the Bahamas under a palm tree. But I don’t want you to spend too much time on the color of your walls or the climate and the vegetation, unless that is vital to your best state of mind. It may be. But environment is also, very importantly, your human environment: the kinds of people you’d like to be surrounded by; how much privacy you need, and how much interaction; what kinds of help you’d like; what kinds of responses you’d want to your ideas.

You might need to be challenged…or just really listened to. (You will certainly need to be respected.) You might want to be a teacher, with the opportunity to inspire your students; or you might like to be a learner, surrounded by people who could teach you all kinds of fascinating things. You might want to be in charge of a large operation staffed by totally cooperative, efficient, loyal people who are dying to do whatever you tell them to. Or you might prefer to be a member of an egalitarian group effort. It’s entirely up to you.

And “Let the environment do the work for you” means don’t change yourself in this fantasy. Above all, don’t improve yourself. Improve the world, so that your characteristics stop being problems. If you hate doing the housework, don’t imagine you being more self-disciplined or patient. Imagine eight little gremlins following you around cleaning up after you! (Be as whimsical as you like—this is fantasy, so anything goes.) If you’re disorganized, or you need a lot of love, or you’re shy, or you tend to procrastinate, don’t think of those characteristics as “weaknesses” that need changing. Think of them as design problems—challenges to your ingenuity as a world-maker. Create an environment that fits and supports you as you are, so that you are comfortable, secure, and free to turn in your best performance.

I think you’ll enjoy this exercise. You won’t be asked too often to re-design the world to suit you. But you have to know that it’s important to think about what such a world would be. What emerges is another view of who you are.

Print this page and write your answer or share your answer in the Comments section.

(If you’d like to do the next step in this exercise—it’s pretty good and you might like it—just go to and open to Chapter 3. Then turn to page 49 and start reading.)

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12 thoughts on “Try This Exercise: Your Ideal Environment

  1. This was fun to do and interesting too. I have some of what I need already, privacy for my introvert self to be free, easy access to nature and the countryside and a peaceful place to be. I also totally assumed my partner and dog would be there, they’re automatically part of my life. What was interesting was that I’d like to be able to ‘pop in’ to something like a university campus and just sit and learn anything that sounded good, have access to their library which would be stocked with anything that came to mind, and be able to talk to both librarians and experts who would not only inspire me, but also validate me, my learning and my thoughts! Interesting stuff indeed…

  2. There are things I currently do, other than my career, that give clues to my ideal environment. My ideal environment would be a larger version of what I enjoy with a few added creature comforts such as warmer weather, a log cabin, and a jet plane. Currently, I race and build slot cars at the local hobby shop, race on road tracks around the world through sim racing, and experience real racing through indoor karting. Ultimately, having my own race team to build race cars, help me be competitive, and travel to tracks around the world would be cool. I also enjoy working with kids. Showing them the ins and outs of slot car racing and building a business that includes racing and education would be neat. Do I want to race 24/7? No. Let’s go snowmobiling.

  3. Funny idea, Barbara,

    because I already thought about what I would do if I were king or queen for one day.

    To make it short: I prefer small communities which conduct themselves and go into negotiations with neighbour communities if it is needed or wanted. Living, working and pleasure would not be separated from each other. If I want to commute I just walk around the corner, the same I mean for my home and the place(s) where I work. Not to need much time and money to go to work or back home or to meet other people for fun, talks and so on. Life would be more about quality than about commerce, competition, career, efficiency … more lay back

  4. I don’t think I care about an ideal environment – at least I didn’t think I did and I didn’t do this excercise. but then I found that there are some things I care about, and they are things I have control over. Yea!!!!!

  5. Barbara, your idea about finding the ideal environment saved my day. It’s just what I needed to read. Thank you!


  6. Oh, this is something i’ve thought a lot about. I wrote it in my journal. I live in a small, beautiful cottage that is decorated very simply on the coast of Oregon. Natural wood, sea shells, Japanese glass floats. My “office” overlooks the ocean, and I have a wonderful computer with a big, beautiful screen. I work on solving problems with engineers and scientists all over the world. Writing, illustrating, solving, improving. My English Bulldog in a cozy little doggie bed near where I sit. I occasionally fly to visit the engineers and scientists, and get to see all of the cool and interesting things they are working on, for the environment, animals, space, and underwater exploration.

    When I am at home in my cottage, after the day is over, I walk along the beach with my dog, picking up sea glass, and beach combing. I walk and walk, breathing in the air and listening to the waves crash.

    I go back to my cottage and my boyfriend stops by with some tasty, healthy dinner. We sit and talk about our day, and about interesting thoughts and ideas.

  7. My ideal environment is a combination hotel/library with a great garden space and café. I’m an urbanite so what can I say. I’d rather be in the middle of everything than out in the country. I would live in the penthouse suite, although it doesn’t have to be very large, only loft-like, high ceilinged, and open. This fantasy live/work space would mean that I wouldn’t have to do any household chores (someone to clean up everyday), I would have access to abundant knowledge, and I could work in the hotel café, library, or garden as I please. There would also be plenty of other Scanners living or visiting at the hotel, and there would be constant workshops and conferences taking place, as well as art, dance, and theatre shows. For which I wouldn’t have to pay. There would also be a direct link to the airport and the train station for those times when I want to travel.

    • Very cool! I once had a dream so vivid I still remember it. I lived in this vast, huge hotel, and there was so much to do and see. Scanner’s paradise! And when I had enough exploring, I headed back to my room to rest and ponder. I also had a dream once where I bought a house, and discovered it had floor after floor of rooms, almost neverending. At the very top, it opened up into a beautiful forest and garden, with no one around.

  8. I also have in my past thrived in a community that was very much like co-housing. It happened when a bunch of us college students rented separate duplexes next door to each other on the same street and used to have a “standing invite” to a pot luck five days a week in a common courtyard. Later I did a tour of various co-housing situations and noticed that the quality of the garage workshop – construction areas probably reflected the relative harmony of the residences better than kitchens did. (Talk to me about that.)

    To start out this exercise, I made a rather amusing list of features in myself that I prefer to avoid, or needed to design a way around avoiding. They included such trivial things as: not get my socks wet, wear tight clothes or get greasy…and other more important things – not lose my funny, musical abilities or not nag my students to show up to learn from me. I saw some interesting paradoxes in a few of them – for instance, I wanted to delegate housework and organization and stop hiding “important” stuff from myself, but also wanted to avoid micromanaging and compensating for other people messing up how I do organize things for my specialized needs. Some of these things on the list I’d already partially solved, but wanted refinements for them. Some of what I listed nobody knew how to solve and I just need to get better at accepting ambiguity and be more patient, because they were “unknowns” that may or may not improve with time and possible opportunities yet to come. Some of the things listed will take practice and skill in changing speech & communication patterns – that would require the right ideas, inspirations & practice. Perhaps these could respond to “idea-party” imput…

  9. Perfect–and you nailed my perfect environment!
    “You might want to be a teacher, with the opportunity to inspire your students; or you might like to be a learner, surrounded by people who could teach you all kinds of fascinating things. You might want to be in charge of a large operation staffed by totally cooperative, efficient, loyal people who are dying to do whatever you tell than to. Or you might prefer to be a member of an egalitarian group effort.”
    That’s it exactly–and I’m living it!

  10. As it happens, I’ve been reading about co-housing and longing to live in that kind of community. It’s sounds like a place where I could thrive, just the way I am. Co-housing can vary, but I’d love to live in a co-housing community of 30-60 people (about 12-25 houses or apartments) diverse in ages and incomes and backgrounds. Each family has its own house or apartment, but you walk out your front door into a courtyard/community area with a few cozy patios and benches, paths, gardens, a picnic area, a playground, and some woods. Maybe a stream, if you’re lucky.

    And then, if you feel like it, you saunter over the to Common House for breakfast and either join a cluster of friends or just wave and smile and read your newspaper or work on your laptop. I think I would work well in that atmosphere–privacy when you want it, but community handy when you want it. It sounds like heaven–especially if a number of the other residents have home-based businesses. And there are a bunch are artists who like to work on their porches, and songwriters and acoustic musicians who love to jam. And there are greenish people who love to experiment with small-scale DIY solar, wind, and other alternative energy. And some homeschoolers.

    • I love that. Very cool! I once did a visualization/meditation in a group I was in, and “saw” my vision as a place that looked kind of like New Mexico. There were all of these cabins scattered as far as the eye could see. Each one “taught” something very different and interesting. You could wander all day and night to cabins. Then when you had enough, you went back to your private cabin to kick back and relax. Or hang out with others.

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