I just got back from an enjoyable three-day multi-family camping trip. Like several other camping trips or vacations, it for some reason prompted me to write a short blog post. Which is good, because I should really be writing more frequent short blog posts and not just infrequent long blog posts.
What I found interesting about this trip is that for some reason my ten-year-old daughter spent a LOT of time biking. Which is unusual for her, because at home, she hardly spends ANY time biking. If you asked either one of us why, we might have said that biking is not one of her interests, or that she is just not the kind of person who likes biking. In other words, we would have explained her biking behaviour in reference to her internal psychological state.
But during the trip, for whatever reason, she was instantly transformed into the kind of person who really likes biking. She was on her bike within ten minutes of waking up, and then on and off until about ten minutes before going to bed at night.
What changed? Did she somehow become the kind of person who is into biking? Did she have a transformative biking experience that changed her mind? Was she convinced by parents or friends that biking is actually a fun thing to do?
No, because as soon as she got home she went right back to not riding her bike. The only thing that really changed was the environment. Something about this change made a radical difference in her movement behaviour.
We tend to assume that people’s movement behaviours are driven by internal states of the mind, or the fitness of the body, or personal preferences, or discipline, or intentions. All these factors certainly matter, but in some cases, the environment is the most powerful determinant.
Here at home, my daughter has access to a bike, places to ride, and friends to ride with. On the campsite, all these variables were altered a little bit in favour of more biking (perhaps most significantly in the absence of electronic devices), but these small alterations led to a huge change in her biking behaviour.
In terms of complex systems thinking, we could say that her movement behaviour underwent a nonlinear phase shift due to changes in environmental constraints.
I think we should all be more aware of how the environment affects our movement behaviour. And how small changes can sometimes make a big difference.