On February 1st, 1982 the world of late night TV was changed forever. A young fella by the name of David Letterman officially hosted his own show, Late Night With David Letterman.
Letterman came from humble beginnings, starting as a radio personality and weather guy. In 1975, at the urging of his wife and fraternity brothers, he moved to LA to pursue a career in comedy and it wasn’t long before he caught the eye of another popular late night host, Johnny Carson.
Late Night With David Letterman took off. It was an unprecedented hit, and Letterman became a pop culture icon. Never content with success, Letterman was obsessive about finding ways to advance the show.
Letterman began playing around with the thermostat in the studio. During some shows it would be set at 75 degrees, others would be 68, or 65, or 71. One taping he set it at 55, and the crowd responded by laughing more than he had ever seen. Letterman didn’t think he was exceptionally funny that night, and attributed the success to the temperature.
From that point forward, every single taping of Late Night With David Letterman (and later The Late Show With David Letterman) was done in a 55-degree studio.
There is no one thing that has more of an impact on us than our environment. Ironically, this one thing is also overlooked more than anything else.
Whether we realize it or not, we’re slaves to our environment. This is best seen in situations when we a mob mentality takes place.
We all think we’d be rational people who don’t take part in poisonous group thinking, but have you ever been in an airport, found out your flight was delayed, and reacted by being pissed off and grumbling about shitty airline service along with everyone around you?
Or driven on a crowded freeway and gotten pissed at the asshole who jumped in front of you, even though you pulled that exact same maneuver 2 miles back?
You probably don’t think of yourself as an intensely angry individual or someone who’s likely to blow up on a complete stranger. You’re rational. You think things through. You understand everyone has their own struggles until you find yourself in the wrong environment, and everything changes.
We’re under this impression that we have total control over our environment, and maybe we do at some points. We’re also under the impression that our environment is static, only changing at major points in time with events like moving to a new city or starting a new job.
This couldn’t be more wrong. In reality, our environment not only influences every single decision we make, but it changes constantly throughout the day. You’re in an entirely different environment at work than you are at home, or at the gym compared to at the coffee shop.
All of these environments can have a profound impact on our actions.
The environment we place ourselves in constantly triggers various behaviors. What those behaviors are depends on what the trigger is.
Consider a mall. I personally love the mall. As of late I’ve been getting more into fashion and dressing like I actually know what I’m doing with my life, so the mall has gotten to be a really fun place.
But holy shit does that place entice you to spend money.
And think, the entire mall is designed to gently nudge you towards the decision to part with your hard earned cash. The big signs, the bright lights, the clean appearance. There are people who sit around and tinker with ways to alter that environment in order to get us to spend more money.
The crazy thing that is we enter that sort of environment on our own.
Another not so obvious and more subtle environment that influences our behavior is Starbucks. Starbucks is obsessive about their environment, so obsessive that you actually can’t buy a Starbucks shop here in the U.S. They prevent that from happening so they can retain more control over the environment inside each Starbucks.
Everything inside a Starbucks is designed to make you feel comfortable and like you’re having a world-class coffee experience. That is why people go. Not because of the coffee.
We adapt to our environment to fit in. It’s human nature. When you’re in an environment where the junk food flows, the gym is a far off mythical land, and water is only used for showering, you’re going to be more tempted to succumb to these environmental forces.
Sure, you can resist the temptations of your environment for a while. But eventually it will wear you down. You may not crack all at once and go insane. But you’ll respond by succumbing to one little temptation at a time.
First it might be drinking less water. Then skipping a gym session or two. Then not getting enough protein. Before you know it, you’ve given up on healthy habits that took years to cultivate.
If you’re in an environment that places a premium on eating lots of vegetables, getting sexy as hell, and drinking lots of water you’ll probably do the same. This is the same reason that we consistently see cities like Washington D.C. named the fittest in the country, and states like Mississippi named the most obese.
The environment of these places influences and rewards each places behavior. Mississippians aren’t as likely to bust out curls and slam brotein shakes, because their environment isn’t conducive to it.
So how do you gain control of your environment?
I recently read a fascinating book called Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith that gave quite possibly the coolest idea to control your environment I’ve ever seen.
Instead of thinking of your environment like some mystical thing that is floating around you like a fog, think of it as an external agency. Give it a name. Think of you and your environment as archrivals sitting across one another at a negotiating table.
Your environment has certain things it wants in the negotiation, like controlling your behavior. You have certain things you want, like behaving how you know you should no matter what.
Viewing your environment like a person allows you to actually see what’s influencing you. We’ve got a ton of different environments, so name them all.
Give them weird names, so they have a somewhat comical context to them. It sounds strange, but this can add to your feeling of power over the environment, which aids in making the decisions you know are right.
This system works perfectly for me when it comes to a couple of specific places in my life. For example, the coffee shop I go to crush life, I call it The Firm. It’s a throwback to being a marketing major in college.
The only thing that I do at The Firm is work, and that is the other crucial part to all this: name your specific environments and then only allow yourself to do one thing in that one space.
When I go to The Frim, I enter a mental zone where I know I’ll only be focusing on work. From the minute I walk through the door, before I even order a cup of coffee, I feel more alert; it makes me excited to sit down and begin working.
David Letterman took at least 8 years to figure out how much environment impacted his audience. Because audience participation is so vital to a talk shows success, he realistically gave away 8 years of potentially better ratings. Figuring out the power of your environment takes time, but once you do have it figured out, you have the potential to crush your goals and own the world around you.