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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25 thoughts on “Try This Exercise: Your Ideal Environment

  1. I was exploring and went down a corridor and somehow ended up here. Of all the exercises in all the books that Barbara Sher has done, this is my favorite.

  2. I would be in a group of very supportive, friendly, and kind professionals. People who make commitments they can meet, and if for some reason they can’t, they communicate that immediately.

    Sometimes we’d work as a team, other times we’d work as individuals who can count on each other to help as needed. I’m not sure what we would work on…! Something that we all find interesting, creative, the right amount of challenging, and meaningful.

    We have a big comfortable office with all the amenities (provided by fairies, usually—they do the cleaning, too). There are also individual spaces if one or more of us needs private time. There are many, many books, and other games, puzzles, crafts, movies, etc., to engage, distract, or inspire us. Pets are allowed and it’s okay because we’re all animal lovers and are not allergic. Naps are encouraged. There are outdoor spaces that are easily accessible—we are not only in a forest, we are near the ocean! But there is also space for vegetable and flower gardens, for those of us who are into those activities.

    There would be that constant “buzz” that I find wonderful: the buzz of smart, creative people working hard (but not killing themselves) on work that they enjoy and consider important.

  3. I don’t know. I feel so tired right now. I feel afraid that I won’t get anything out of this. Yet another exercise to do before going to work while I still have a bit of energy and a tiny shred of hope.
    As I walked over to the kitchen to discard my banana peel a thought came to me. I could have a farm with workers who took care of things. I could go and do things when I felt like it and when I didn’t, they were there. I realized it was responsibility. I could let go and allow others to be responsible. I could rest finally. These people were paid well and they were also happy because they loved what they were doing. The animal person loved taking care of animals. The permaculture expert loved having the opportunity to freely explore their ideas and see what worked. The housekeeper loved keeping things tidy and the cook loved creating healthy meals from all the produce.
    I was free to cook a pot of soup if I felt like it or bake up some scones. I could go muck out the barn if I wanted. I could do some cleaning if I felt like it (OK, so that would probably never happen).
    These people surrounding me don’t have issues. They are happy. I am free to explore.
    So, when I’m not interested in the farm, I have my creative pursuits. I love to design, create, invent, make. The world can take care of itself. I’ve invested wisely and my charities are helping others in many ways. I can let that go. It’s done. Now, I can have some fun and explore.
    I can order whatever I want. I can travel to suppliers and look at their products. I can buy what I like. I can order whatever fabrics, materials, sparkly beads I want.
    I am free to travel. I can attend workshops. I can go to retreats. I can go to spas. My assistant will take care of everything.
    They are like my best friend and support. We never fight. They know me so well. When I feel like talking, they listen and share. They make me think and they make me see myself. But, they also see me and reflect me. They encourage and validate me. They support me. Funny, I keep thinking of them as a robot because surely they can’t be human.
    I have conversation when I feel like it and I can ignore them when I feel like it. They won’t be hurt. I can go sit and stare off into space if I like. I am safe. I can relax.
    Writing this feels so awkward this morning.
    Would I sew if I could buy the most beautiful clothing in the world?
    I’d have a personal trainer with the most advanced knowledge for maintaining holistic health. I can have a massage, sauna, facial, pedicure whenever. Money is not an issue.
    Would I really just paint or take classes or make things? I think I’d like to solve some puzzles too. How would I feel fulfilled? My humanitarian agencies do a lot of good on my behalf. Would I take advanced meditation courses? Would I be too lazy? Would I challenge myself if the survival needs were met? Would I be interested in anything besides self-indulgence? Would I try to be a good person? Would I be disciplined?
    I think I would love to spend as much time in nature as I desired. I’d have all the outdoor clothing I desire. I’d have friends to walk with who also love nature. I don’t want them to be exactly like me. I do need to be challenged to grow. Or maybe my innate desire will continue to drive me.
    I would feel something being around the animals. I’m not sure if we’d eat them or not. I would feel something observing the permaculture that was being developed and learning about it. The resident scientist who studies worms keeps me uptodate on all their discoveries. I am fascinated for a couple of days at a time. I move on. I follow the waves and cycles of my attention. I peel away the layers to find the truth of who I am. I become a sage. A wise woman. But I am elusive, reclusive.
    How would I change? What would I really do? I’d love to wake up and stretch and go do yoga in the studio and meditate. Shower, dress in beautiful garments. Go to the beautiful kitchen. Have fresh coffee and a healthy breakfast. Go exploring the farm. See what’s new. Check out the animals. Walk in the woods. I would be interested in hearing updates. I could be part of problem solving. I’d like that. I’d be in residence for part of the year when we accept visitors. People who want to learn and get experience. They pay to stay and work on the farm or take part in the research into sustainable, natural farming. They pay to come and learn how to connect with nature. I am there to solve issues and enjoy the various workshops being presented, but I am free to walk away if I lose interest.
    I am loved and supported. I feel genuine love and connection with my team. I may or may not have a romantic partner. I am fulfilled and full of love. I could have lots of teachers for art, photography, yoga, sewing, carpentry, pottery. No more trying to learn everything from books. They know I am shy and anxious. They know how to help me feel safe while I learn. I pay them generously. I only hire people who are in love with their work.
    Well, I did get into this after all. The part of being relieved of responsibility really hit home for me. Also my whole life being about survival. Wow.
    A great exercise. Hopefully going deeper and deeper over time in my consciousness.

  4. In my perfect world my book keeping works with magic: my magical books keep automatically track of everything I spend and everything I earn. Every bill and every slip of paper I need is magically filed away and organized, so that I can later look at the numbers and check how much I have made or spent.
    I have a beautiful garden full of greens and vegetables and trees full of fruit. And under one of those trees in the shade there’s a nice chair and a table where I can sit and write on my next novel, write my next blog article. I have a strategy group with a few other artists and we meet once a week, just to talk, to trade ideas, to cheer each other on and help each other out. It’s wonderful.
    I have high speed internet and the fastest and coolest notebook in the world – with Linux and, of course, every extra imaginable like a super high def, sensitive screen and pen to perform absolute accurate drawings. And I have lots of time for things like making my own shoes, or learning how to repair my washing machine. And people come to me to learn these things.
    Oh, and in my perfect world I don’t have to worry about social media at all. There either is no social media or I have someone who manages that for me. Actually, I think, there is no social media. People have gone back to actually living in the real world. XD
    Oh yes, and I have a literary agent who manages all the publishing stuff and is super cool and I don’t have to worry about a thing.
    And so much more I can’t think of right now. Lots of interesting people who don’t think I’m weird, because they’re just as weird as I am!

  5. My world would be populated by people as eager to help and fill in the gaps as I am so I don’t have to ask for help! I hate asking for help.

    They would challenge me, but in tactful ways… “I have you ever thought about doing it this way..,”

    They would be passionate not just about what they do, but about making the whole business work. They would be invested.

    We would work as a collaborative team. Maybe we’d all have stakes in the company.

    I would be included. We would be like coworkers, but also friends and family who like each other, like hanging out and also really respect each other. We’d look out for each other.

    I would have work PAs to help out with the details. I run around trying to fill in for everyone and do everything and it’s the worst. If I had two PAs at work just for me who were passionate and dedicated I would have the help I need.

    I would have two personal PAs for off work. Two to help divide it up, so everyone has a life. They could help with errands and maintenance, scheduling etc. I would love that so much!

    I need a staff that loves me! I know that’s wrong, but that’s what I need.

    I have always wanted to foster dogs and have horses, bees, land. But with my job and how I travel I need a team to keep it up. If I could have it all, that’s what I do. Have three onsite caretakers. Landscaper/bee keeper, someone for the horses and chickens, and another for the house and the dogs.

    Plus, i don’t want to live alone. I’d love to have people staying over all the time.

  6. Surrounded by supportive, kind interesting people who can handle hearing about a number of creative ideas, big and small, and not freak out or get overwhelmed or start critiquing them too soon. From social justice concepts to creative writing ideas. People who can help take ideas from concept to reality. People who respect my need for a balance of quiet time to read, think and research, and then want to come together to brainstorm and collaborate. Plenty of sunshine accessible from the inside and water nearby to see or stroll along when I need a break from being inside.

  7. i would love to have an environment in which everybody is doing “it´s best” do be patient with others. Everybody would use “it´s” strengh to deal with the weakness of the people around. So there might be no more fokus on weakness in general, cause you would only have to fokus on what you can do and what you can “learn” realy well. And by learning realy well you would get so good at what you can, that evolution would be exponantial lifted without having to sacrifice your freedom to society.

  8. So my environment would be one in which I could experience all kinds of jobs that appeal to me, just to feel how it would be for a day or a week. I would like it to be non-judgmental towards women, and class. Ive felt recently how I would like to see what being a taxi driver, or a garbage collector, or a fisherman on a trawler is like. Interestingly though, i dont want to feel what its like to be a lawyer!
    So I feel that this environment would break the shackles of conformity of my upbringing, and society, and allow me to be true to my free spirit. PS Im 48 and have recently started working in a small restaurant in the evenings due to financial strains. I am really enjoying the work, and thats perhaps where these feelings are coming from!!

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