The Effects of Organized Living on the Body
It is easy to get caught up in what I would call the “tidings” of organizing. For example, things like, the most on-trend organizational solutions, the best life-hacks, and must-have productivity tools. These are all things that help deliver the result of an organized space or productivity practice. But what I’m wondering about in today’s post is: what is going on in the brain and body as it relates to living an organized life.
There are many commonly understood and accepted positive health benefits of living a more organized life. If there weren’t, the organizing industry wouldn’t have its own National Accreditation Industry (The National Association of Professional Organizers) and The Container Store wouldn’t have projected net sales of $890 million for 2018.
Just Google “health benefits of getting organized” and you get pages of results listing numerous sources giving information about how having your sh*t more together can:
save you time
save you money
get better sleep
help you prioritize
improve your diet
help you lose weight
improve relationships with family members
help establish a better work/life balance
and overall, just simply reduce the stress in your life
What’s not to love about that? It seems pretty common sense in the big scheme of things. Knowing that you don’t need to buy cheese this week because you can look in your tidy fridge and see you already have enough will save you a few dollars right there.
BUT IT’S ABOUT MORE THAN JUST HAVING THE CHEESE
Thanks to advances in medical science, more is being understood about how the brain functions, down to specific neural processes. For example, experts have done studies showing how people feel about their homes as it is reflected in their cortisol levels. Cortisol is your body’s main stress hormone. And for some folks, living in a cluttered home, their body has a physiological response by increasing the amount of cortisol in their system. In short, their house is literally stressing them out.
Additionally, a study from Princeton University in 2011 examined what is happening in the brain as it relates to focus and clutter. Specifically, medically speaking, they “measured the interactions of top-down and bottom-up mechanisms in the human visual cortex.” Basically, how is your brain processing what it sees when you are in a visually cluttered space. And what they found is that your brain struggles. There is a limit to its processing capability. Therefore, tidying isn’t something you do just to procrastinate working on that spreadsheet, it's something you should do, so you can work on that spreadsheet more efficiently.
HABIT FORMATION AND THE BASAL GANGLIA
In 2014 Charles Duhigg wrote The Power of Habit. I was introduced to the book as assigned reading in an hospital systems improvement program I was volunteering for at Stanford Hospital. I loved the book and highly recommend it. If and when you read it, you will learn as I did, that your brain has somewhat of a hidden auto-pilot deep inside of it called the basal ganglia. Slightly different than the part of your brain that controls things like breathing, blinking, heart rate (things you don’t have to think about to make them happen), the basal ganglia lays a roadmap for routine and habits.
How did science come to understand this once mysterious part of the brain better? Well, they met a man who couldn’t remember who he was, but he could remember how to get home from his daily walk every day. The memory part of his brain had been destroyed by a case of viral encephalitis, but his basal ganglia remained untouched. And it was the instructions of habit in that part of his brain that guided him home every day. It also showed that doctors that his brain had the capacity to create new habits, even if he couldn’t remember why he was doing them.
Understanding the habit loop is a key insight into understanding how a person can proactively work to create more organization, structure and productivity in their life. It’s like our brain is pre-wired to be set up for success, yet often, we unknowingly (or perhaps knowingly) self-sabatoge before we can come to understand its full potential.
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
I think for me, a key revelation in all this new science centers around knowledge and empowerment. Because if we can understand on a physiological level how our bodies/health and organized living are connected, and that better organizational habits yield better health, I hope it can become easier to make decisions to be more organized.
Exploring these ideas, and learning how it all works is worth it, because there is always a new to-do list to tackle tomorrow. But hopefully with less stress along the way.