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David Pace 0:03
Hi. My name’s David Pace.
Alex Barilec 0:04
And I’m Alex Barilec. And this is Pace Yourself, the University of Utah College of Science podcast. And Wellness.
David Pace 0:12
So here we are. Alex, it’s nice to see you. And I hope that the bracing new autumn temperature isn’t, uh. Is it making you too cold there in your home in Ogden?
Alex Barilec 0:25
I love the changing of seasons in our environment here in Utah, and that’s what we’re going to talk about today, environmental wellness.
David Pace 0:31
So as you know, if you’re following the podcast, we’re doing the eight dimensions of wellness that the NIH has set forth and their definition of environmental dimension of wellness is this :understanding how your social, natural and built environments affect your health and well-being, being aware of the unstable state of the earth and the effects of your daily habits on the physical environment and demonstrating commitment to a healthy planet. How do you want to start this big tamale?
Alex Barilec 1:03
Well, I what I really like about the definition is it is all encompassing. So it talks about these natural and built and social and I would throw in there are digital environments as well. I think that’s something that we want to bring into this conversation. But, you know, maybe we just start by talking a little bit about maybe the topic that’s on the top of people’s mind when they think of this, and that is our broader environmental challenges, climate change and, you know, ways in which we think and relate to the natural world and something that always stands out to me and sometimes saddens me is I love to watch David Attenborough, like life on our planet stuff. It’s just absolutely amazing. The one that’s standing out to me right now is that I think it’s like our national parks, where Barack Obama actually narrates it. The footage is just stunning of the incredible natural world that we have here on this planet in all its forms. But it’s never lost on me that I’m sitting on my couch in my pajamas, eating popcorn, watching this world. I’m not actually out there living it. And there’s a part of me that yearns for, like having that direct experience of the natural world. And, uh, yeah it’s kind of ironic. We watch nature, but we aren’t as a part of nature as much as we used to. So what comes to mind for you when you start to think about like these big ideas of climate and the natural world?
David Pace 2:47
Well, to get back to what you were just saying, I think it was Walter Cronkite back in the fifties and sixties who made the comment, you know, revealed the irony of the fact that in the television age and this goes way back, this is not just Internet, this goes back to the television and radio even. But he made the point during a full eclipse that more Americans watched it on television than they did by stepping outside to look at the eclipse. Not that you should look at an eclipse anyway, without glasses, by the way, that’s not very wellness oriented. So yeah, so this has gone way back, you could say, even back to when we started being literate and reading and writing. That’s a mediated message, if you will. We’re not actually experiencing the environment or other people. We’re actually being told how to think about it through a medium. So yeah, the way I think about the broader world and the broader environment that we live in and this is just one aspect of environmental wellness, as you know, is that we have to be cognizant of the fact that we’re part of nature. We’re not just looking at nature and experiencing nature. We are experiencing ourselves through nature and nature through ourselves and that we have to always remember that, that reading about it or watching it on television or searching through the Internet doesn’t make us a naturalist. It doesn’t make us connected, really, because we’re being told how to experience that through David Attenborough.
Alex Barilec 4:38
Right. And I think I like leading with this perspective because when people think of environmental wellness, like climate change probably comes to mind pretty quickly. And I think one thing we want to do in this conversation is, you know, steer away from that, but not like ignore the fact that, yeah, there are some serious changes and uncertainties happening in our planet, but they feel hard to grasp and they feel really hard to understand and they feel like these macro concepts and one of the ways for me that helps me think about, you know, what can I do is I actually just getting out and experiencing the natural world like experiencing the beauty of a rock or, you know, a really rich environment. I can recall spending time up in Baxter State Park in central Maine. We went up there on our honeymoon, and it’s been a very, very intensely well-protected environment of a little over a million acres since the mid 1800s. And it was one of the most pristine natural habitats I’d ever experience in my entire life. And he gave me this really, really rich appreciation and imbibed to me the importance of protecting these these lands. And I think that, you know, if you’re just watching that on the TV, it’s really hard to have an embodied experience of like, Oh, we’re a part of this. This is important. And so, you know, our natural environment is a part of it. But we spend a lot of our time in indoor environments and, you know, that’s one of the things we wanted to keep this conversation is like a holistic exploration of how do we engage with our different environments and how do we promote wellness through our engagement with each of them.
David Pace 6:34
I think you should talk about essentialism.
Alex Barilec 6:37
Well, essentialism is an idea that I got from Greg McEwan, and Greg’s an author and a speaker, and this idea is really related to our digital environments, which is where we spend a lot of our time today. And his thought was, hey, there’s just too many choices out there. There’s too many restaurants to go to, there’s too many apps vying for your attention, there’s too many movies on Netflix to watch, and there’s a lot of social pressure to engage with those. It is all of our responsibility to prioritize our life because somebody else will. And in the digital space or the digital environment, that has never been more true. So Greg has a four part framework. There’s like four questions to it that help us to engage with the overwhelm that the digital environment brings, which is like I have to do this because I see it on social media or all of these things are important to me. Like I feel that all the time.I have a bookshelf full of books that are all important to me or like, I can do both. I can do all of these things.
David Pace 7:49
You just you just made a noun out of the out of a verb and overwhelm it. Remember that? That’s right. It’s like this big space ship above us called the Overwhelm. There’s the overwhelm. Oh, my gosh! Run away!
Alex Barilec 8:02
It feels that way sometimes, doesn’t it? It’s out there. I love that. Like, that term is is so real in our environments. And so Greg’s framework is four parts: understanding the essence, right? So this idea of having the ability to choose to discern and to understand tradeoffs. So he’s like looks at the world kind of stoically and is like, Hey, most things out there are non-essential, right? And like, you’re nodding your head. I say that because we know that’s true, but they’re in our environment, so we engage with them. And the last part is understanding that there’s tradeoffs, right? So saying yes, to one thing means we’re saying no to another thing. And then the other three parts that and these are really where the action comes in, right? So the first is the essence. The other three are to explore, to eliminate and to execute. And I use, explore, eliminate and execute. When I think about my digital environment, when I think about my built environment, and I think, okay, when I think about exploring, how can I discern what he calls the trivial many from the vital few.
David Pace 9:15
The trivial, many from the vital few.
Alex Barilec 9:18
Yeah. Like what’s really important to me. And then once I identify what the trivial many are though. So for me, I’ve realized many years ago, Twitter was one of those things for me, it just was like one of the trivial many things. I just deleted it from my phone because it wasn’t, it wasn’t important to me. And one of the questions that I use is understanding what is your intent? What is your like essential intent in this world? How do you orient your action towards that? And then finally, thinking about executing, right? How do we make all of this real? So what’s coming up for you as we’re talking about essentialism as a framework to create healthier environments in our life?
David Pace 10:04
This relates to my writing life. Actually. I was an English major and then later, as with my graduate degree in rhetoric, I was in that space that’s what I identified with and that’s how other people identified me as well. So, you know, a writer writes, right, Well, not this writer. I did everything that I could to avoid actually doing the writing that I claimed that I wanted to do because I was so busy helping other writers. I was at the Utah Humanities Council running the statewide book festival, for heaven’s sake. So I was coordinating all of this. I was reading a lot of other people’s, you know, written manuscripts and advising them on it. And it wasn’t until fairly recently actually it was the pandemic when I couldn’t do any of that stuff that I thought, Oh, here I am, left in my office downstairs in my digital space, and if I’m going to be a writer, I better start writing. And I had already had one book published, but I started actually doing- prioritizing as you saying the essential, which is sit down, be at your post, be there for 2 hours at least, and do your job. The thing that you claim that you want to be, the thing that identifies you and I think during the pandemic was the first time that I wrote a long manuscript where I actually enjoyed it. That’s on the process. I used to say, I don’t enjoy writing, I enjoy having written. But I think the pandemic helped me realize how essential this was in my life and how I had to front it. And I had to say goodbye to some things, like in your case, Twitter. I had to realize that you can’t have everything, so you have to make a choice. And I think in America, especially with consumerism raging as it is, we think that we can’t just keep adding to our life and nothing ever goes out the other end. And that’s not true. That’s not true in relationships either, but it’s definitely not true in terms of acquiring stuff and keeping yourself, you know, occupied.
Alex Barilec 12:24
Yeah. And so often- you just shared like a really great example of how you were letting the trivial few get in the way of, you know, the essential intent for you, which was to produce a written manuscript. And I think that to, you know, bring all of this into like our environments, the digital environment is engineered in a way that, you know, it takes our attention and takes us away from that. And holds us back from doing hard things. So a couple of things for me that have really worked in the area that has been most helpful is exercise for me. And I’ve shared a fair bit about, you know, running a 50K and really committing to that in my life. When I learned about the effects and the benefits of physical exercise and longevity, I decided that it was absolute essential for me. But what I noticed was that like when I was working out my phone, spent a lot of time in my hand, which meant I spent less time climbing or lifting weights, or that when I didn’t want to go out the door and it was kind of rainy, I would grab it almost as like it was comforting to me. And so a few things that I did to engage with my digital space differently is, you know, in this spirit of being essentials, I made my phone uninteresting. Andso what I mean by that is like my phone is a tool in my life, but spending all of my time on it is not essential. So my phone doesn’t ring like I’ve probably gotten a text message or two since we’ve been on this podcast hasn’t vibrated and hasn’t buzzed. The only way that I engage with my phone is if I pick it up, right? But our phones are designed in a way that they’re always vying for our attention. The ringing they’re buzzing and every app wants all of your attention. Ooh, look at me. You look at your streak, look your updates they’re all engineered. So you want and they know what helps drive human behavior. So one of the things I did was make it an interesting a few other things that I did was like I deleted apps that I was spending a lot of time on from my phone. So I still use Instagram a bit for like information and news, but I’m old school. I only use it on the browser. It’s not on my phone. And I did this because I was finding that this environment, this digital space, was having a negative impact on my life. So these are just like a couple of tools that I’ve used. I think about like decluttering or cleaning up my digital environment..
David Pace 15:01
Not doomscrolling as they say.
Alex Barilec 15:03
No, I mean, I’m guilty of it as much as the next person is, you know.
David Pace 15:07
We don’t want you to we don’t want to think of you as being too pristine about this environmental.
Alex Barilec 15:13
It’s hard. It’s really hard. Yeah.
David Pace 15:15
I think it’s Deepak Chopra. I don’t know if I pronounced his name right, but he’s kind of a, you know, a mindfulness guru and consultant with Oprah. And runs all of these meditation seminars. He I remember reading about how he engages his phone. It’s one hour a day, and then he turns it off. He checks his email. And that’s email, too. That’s not now, not all of us can do that because we work in an environment where, you know, our email is everything, you know, it’s how we get our work done. And the other problem to that, which maybe we can address too, is that our work life has now melded our work. Email is now melded into our personal email. We just toggle back and forth between that. And so it’s not just contained to the desk when you go to work. So and again, it’s so pernicious, you know social media iit just I don’t know if it’s malicious, but it’s just ubiquitous. It’s everywhere. And these are algorithms or they’re the real flying monkeys in our life today.
Alex Barilec 16:30
Yeah. Email is actually something that probably as or more relatable for a lot of people and it kind of like flies under the radar right because algorithms and you know predatory you know social media companies get a bad rap, but email is ever present and necessary for a lot of our roles. However, I share this idea in this like fundamental mindset of essentialism, because I think that we often overstate the degree to which spending all of our time on emails is essential. Like I got an email the other night and I was receiving a reply from someone at 9 p.m. and something that on a scale of 1 to 10 might have been like a two on essential. And I was like, I was just a little bit sad. I was like, Oh man, you don’t have to be spending your evening on your email. This is definitely not an essential part. So if people are like, okay, great, David and Alex, I know my email kind of gets in my way. I really think coming back to this idea of understanding what’s essential for your role and in your life is a really great way of thinking about, you know, how to do that because it takes our time and it takes our attention away from like being out in the natural world, takes our time and attention away from spending time with our kids or our loved ones or really listening to people. And it’s those aspects we’ve talked through in other episodes and how rich and how helpful and healthy they are to engage in regularly. And you know, this area has kind of made its way into a lot of conversations, but it seems to really even hold us back from just helping promote a healthier environment in many ways, too.
David Pace 18:16
Yeah. Before we talk more about the natural environment, let’s go back to built environment for a minute. You were talking about de-cluttering and what our built environment or homes actually say about who we are. And you have something here called recharging your batteries like you do your phone. What do you mean by that?
Alex Barilec 18:35
Yeah. So this idea comes from the NIH’s definition. And if you look for resources on the NIH site, they talk a lot about allergens and toxins, and they talk a lot about how we create our home environment because that’s where we spend, you know, our work environment or home environment is where we spend like 90% of our time or something. So I’m not an expert on like cleaning products. The NIH has some some interesting ideas if you’re thinking because that is an aspect of this and allergens is an aspect, air quality is an aspect. But the part that stood out to me was some ideas of like decluttering and how like our space is an outward representation of ourselves. And you know, when our space is cluttered, like it can impact other areas of our emotional or our social wellness or our ability to engage with, you know, with our loved ones or go out sometimes. And for me, like the most simple aspect of keeping my built environment is I make my- we, my wife and I make her bed every morning and it’s just a simple little thing that makes me feel or makes me feel good. I hope it makes her feel good. I have a sense that it does because it’s like this little bit of responsibility for our built environment. We want to keep this place neat and tidy.
David Pace 19:57
Um, I hope you respect the positioning of the throw pillows.
Alex Barilec 20:01
I do, I’m actually quite neat and tidy, so that’s actually my job, not my wife. She buys them, I position them. But this is an extension of our space. And another idea that is really important in our built spaces is this idea of creating a space that is semi-private, stress free, quiet, and spending time there.
David Pace 20:29
And bringing nature inside.
Alex Barilec 20:30
Yeah, you can bring a plant inside. And what was so interesting is, as I said that you just took a really deep breath because you’re like, maybe I need a space like that in my home because every night we put our phone on the charger, right? I think most people can close their eyes and they can see where their phone lives in the charger. But we don’t create a space or we often don’t think of ourselves in the same way, right? Like we spend our time at work. We spend our time commuting. And when we go home, that really is our time and place to recharge and creating a space to recharge just like we do our phones is a really important tenet of being, well, I think.
David Pace 21:14
So, we live in Utah, and every time I talk to a faculty member or students as well. Did you come to Utah? In fact? Why did you come to Utah? Alex really tell us.
Alex Barilec 21:23
I mean, the natural environment, skiing, spending time.
David Pace 21:27
That’s what they all say.
Alex Barilec 21:27
Spending time outside. And then what happened was I also fell in love with the desert.
David Pace 21:31
Yes, it’s interesting to be in Utah for that reason. You know, you’ve got the mountains on one side, you’ve got the deserts on the other side, and it doesn’t get any better.
Alex Barilec 21:40
David Pace 21:41
That’s why Hollywood comes here. There’s so many different environments that they can film in. You know, the high Uintahs is very, very different than the Wasatch Range and the West Desert is -and we’re not even talking about Moab and the Arches and…
Alex Barilec 21:55
And all those places are like three or four hours from each other.
David Pace 21:58
Yeah, so here we are. What is this tragedy of the commons?
Alex Barilec 22:04
Yeah. So this idea kind of comes back to the onramp for this conversation, which people might be thinking about. You know, our natural spaces are the beautiful aspects of Utah climate change, protecting public lands. And this is just a way that I think about or try to understand the unfortunate nature of using resources. So the tragedy of the Commons is this way or thought experiment that if there is a place or an area where people have access to public resources, the idea of this is fish, people ultimately are going to act in their own interest and likely deplete that resource. So even if there is like 99 people that decide, hey, this lake, we don’t want to over fish, so we’re all going to use like, you know, methods that help fish reproduce at a regular rate. If just one person buys the biggest motorboat they can find and they use industrial and commercial fishing methods that one person can over fish the whole lake and he can gain all of the resources and he can deplete things. So it helps me think about my responsibility in climate change, but it helps me not get overwhelmed and it helps me think about the importance of like policy and thinking at this at a macro level. So it’s just a tool that I use because I spent a lot of my twenties David like really, really overwhelmed about climate change. The more I learned about it, the more despair I found. So this is something I learned along the way that helped me combat that despair.
David Pace 23:43
We all can’t do everything. But each of us can do something. That’s that’s been my motto about protecting our resources. We’re experiencing that now with, you know, the skiing resorts around here, that last winter it took 3 to 4 hours to get up Cottonwood Canyon to go skiing at the worst. So, yeah, that’s a conversation you have to have, both socially, politically and internally in terms of what you can do about that. You also have here listed social spaces and of course we’ve been talking about digital spaces, which overlaps wildly with social spaces. Do you feel like are environments socially? And I don’t want to go down too much about this because we’ve already talked about social wellness, but do you feel like our social relationships have been changed by our environment and the quality of our relationships through digital? Because we were talking about this earlier about how during the pandemic it was a lifesaver to be able to facetime with people. But I’m just wondering if social media is changing, not only our time and our anxiety, but the way we relate to others.
Alex Barilec 25:01
I think that it has personally, I think I mean, nothing is black and white, right? So I don’t want to talk about this in black and white terms. There are a lot of really amazing benefits about it. You had mentioned finding communities of people with like interests through digital spaces, right? So you were able to cultivate an environment combining your social and digital spaces that was really helpful and restorative and healthy. I do think, though, that Tristan Harris and the team at the Center for Humane Technology, if anyone’s ever seen the social dilemma, it came from those guys I think that they’re doing really good work to help us understand that this thing is a tool, but it’s a tool that’s been engineered in a way that isn’t promoting social connection and it isn’t promoting like fundamental tenets of, you know, ways of being.
David Pace 26:03
It is or it is not?
Alex Barilec 26:05
It is not
David Pace 26:09
Yeah, that’s how it got marketed and continues to be marketed. Right, which is kind of sad. Yeah, I think, oh, I’m keeping connected with my son by emailing him and, and telling him everything that I’m doing in my life and but not really listening to him and not even interacting with him in a face to face way.
Alex Barilec 26:28
Yeah, Yeah. That’s something that becomes a substitute. Our ability to do that in person atrophies is something that’s always been confusing to me is like I’ve had family members living across the country that are like, Oh, why don’t you like post on social media? Like, we would love to see what’s going on in Utah and this might be just my frame of it, but I don’t think that that’s real connection, you know, like the people that I’m really connected with that really do care. Like they asked for pictures or when we’re together in person, I show them pictures on my phone. It’s not that I don’t want to share this with people. It’s just that, I think that’s a proxy for real social connection. And I think it confuses us and it gets in our way. But I don’t think that we should shy away from these things. I just think we need to be the masters of our digital domain and thinking in this essential way and remembering that this thing’s a tool. It isn’t essential for life. And that’s like going to be like a hot take, probably. But this thing is not essential for life. People have been living for thousands of years without smartphones.
David Pace 27:30
No, news flash, scandal!
Alex Barilec 27:34
David Pace 27:35
I’m reminded of one of my good friends, his daughter, who is attending another university south of here called Utah Valley University, was scandalized because she was sitting in the hall waiting for a class to start. Everyone on their phone, of course, and a young man had the gall to walk up to her and introduce himself and ask her out. She couldn’t believe that he was doing this because that’s all done online now. It’s done through chat rooms and hook up places and well, not hook up, you know what I’m saying? So yeah yeah yeah.
Alex Barilec 28:18
David Pace 28:20
No, not Tinder. Anyway.
Alex Barilec 28:23
David Pace 28:25
Yeah. Dating sites, thank you. And she it was so unusual to have somebody actually in the person saying, Hi, my name is Joe Bloe, and I’ve been watching you across the hall and you’re in my class. And I was wondering if you wanted to go to a movie. She was just like, I couldn’t believe it, Dad. I couldn’t believe it. What’s wrong with him anyway?
Alex Barilec 28:48
Yeah. So as you were saying that, I was just thinking about how to wrap all of this up of, like, you know, we’re talking about, space and environment. And the saddest thing to see is that the overuse of our digital spaces takes us away from actually being in the physical space that we are, where they were in nature. It breaks my heart when people are out in beautiful places in there looking at the world through their phone, right? It’s like there’s just no comparison. I stopped sending pictures to family. And now the thing is, like, it doesn’t capture if you go down to Canyonlands and you take a picture of it, it’s like, oh, that’s nice. If you go and stand on the edge of the canyon rim, it’s like, what am I looking at? It can’t be captured in a photo, but it takes us away from being in the environment together. And this story you’re sharing is really an example of how it you know, it just takes us away from being present. And in that present moment, there’s so much richness and there might be potential connections and lifelong partners. So yeah, I think that what hopefully we’ve done through this conversation is expand the definition and the idea of our environment. And, you know, maybe my, my closing thought would be reducing our engagement with our digital environment might just be a way to reconnect us with our natural environments, which seem to be and have always been really important.
David Pace 30:17
I like the essentialism that you talked about and the four E’s, which I wanted to review very quickly. Just mention essence, explore, eliminate and execute. Wow. I hope you’re not talking about murdering anyone. When you say execute, but I think I know what you mean. How can we make doing the vital few effortless subtract by removing obstacles to progress, create habits and routines routines? You know, a lot of this is about habit and about self-regulation or non-regulation. I think that’s a good way to end because the NIH talks about that as being an overarching concern about wellness. Is that we are fighting habits that are socially and commercially being pressed upon us for all of the reasons that we know about and regulation and lack of shame in our lives. I think we have to be intentionally intentional and aware of all of this, which is what I think the environment invites us to do, whether it’s natural built environment or whatever digital. Thank you. You did a good job today.
Alex Barilec 31:38
Thank you so much for your time. I think we should go outside and spend some time in in nature on this beautiful sunny day. What do you think?
David Pace 31:44
Last one out the door is a dirty, rotten. whatever. Okay. Nice seeing ya.
Alex Barilec 31:50
You. Have a good day, David. Bye bye.