The above photo is taken from a really cool article:

Behaviour Change is understood, officially as:

“Any transformation or modification of human behavior."

Often times, behavioural change is discussed within the context of internal transformation. Psychotherapy tools such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and mindfulness are such instances. Articles in business magazines such as this one discuss behaviour change as a process of shifting mindsets and although internal work is critical to behavioural change, I am of the mind that we are missing a very important piece to these discussions; a piece that requires much less energy.

Consideration on biological energy use is very important. This is because our biological systems are set up in such a way so as to engage in actions and decisions that use minimal energy. One reason as to why we are programmed in this way is to ensure we have enough energy conserved in times where we may have to use our fight or flight system. It is due to our inclination to conserve, that we rely so much on unconscious thought patterns and biases to help us make our decisions. It is also why we may not particularly enjoy learning something entirely new because it takes up a significant amount of our mental resources. In the same way, internal transformation and shifting internal mindsets take up a significant amount of mental resources, thereby reducing our chances of successful behaviour change.

The good news, however, is that there may be a way to shift our behaviour without using so much energy:

Objects, buildings and places generally provide us with clues and hints on ways in which we can interact with our space. Frequent visits to the same place, for instance, will eventually form a habit; an action that we do not think much about. However, consider the situation when something in your external environment, one that you visit often; changes. All of a sudden, we become conscious about the ways in which objects and things are organized in said space, and, subsequently, re-evaluate how we interact and think about them. In the world of design, we may think about this in terms of affordances: the intangible “thing” that gives you access to a building, place, space.,’ it is the space between you and the thing.

This is a very powerful notion, specifically as it relates to behaviour change because, although you do require conscious and explicit thought when something in your external environment changes, I suspect that it does not require the same amount of energy levels as an internal shift may require. I suggest this for two reasons:

1. Our brains are naturally wired to make sense of and produce meaning with space and our experiences

2. Now this is more speculative, but since changes in space are scaffolded by physical, tangible objects; it's a change you actually witness and see rather than a change you have to experiment and iterate in your brain space (ex, egocentric navigation); they may take less energy (i.e., mental effort) because you're using your external environment to re-adjust and re-direct your behaviours (ex, allocentric navigation). Mind you, however, not much research has been directed towards determining whether there is any difference between navigation styles and mental effort but considerable research has been done between allocentric navigation and decision making/decision points.

Place-based information plays a fundamental role in the lives of human beings:

Our memory systems rely on spatial information, specifically our episodic memories. I have discussed, in more detail, some of these cellular and biological mechanisms in a previous post As such, the context of these memories and information are of particular significance.

Imagine a scenario where a group of people have to interact with a space that has historically resulted in stress, trauma and/or threats. Here, in this particular group, we will witness behaviours that are developed and adapted specifically to reduce harm and increase survival. Now imagine another group who does not feel any stress, threat or have faced trauma in said space, behaviours observed here will be fundamentally different as compared to the first group.

It is now easy to see that the behaviours and decisions we make, in accordance to a specific spatial location are informed by context. Thus, the type of behaviour we witness is not just a function of the space, but the experiences in that space.

Now imagine further still how behaviour between the same affordances will differ between the two groups mentioned. Many insights and learnings can be taken from the group who feels threatened in the space of interest. In fact, learnings gained from understanding how the threatened group interact with the affordances as opposed to the non-threatened group can help inform productive changes to external environments with the aim to reduce stress, trauma and threat in the first group while maintaining homeostasis in the first group. This, of course, would suggest that not only can you elicit behaviour change with minimal energy using external cues, but also, that you can create spaces that are explicitly meant to re-wire previously stressful memories and encounters.

Nature VS Nurture:

Much of the discussions related to behaviour change reminds me of (still) ongoing debates between nature vs nurture. For a long time, Western scientists believed that nature dictated ones genes, talents, etc. Only until recently have we started to clue into the profound ways in which our environment, our nurture, has shaped us, mostly thanks to epigenetics.

I am finding the same pattern repeating in discussions related to behaviour change. The conversation appears to be focused on the notion that behavioural change can only occur by internal means. This is not necessarily the case; a point I hope I have sufficiently pointed out above.

Furthermore, I find it troubling that the onus of behaviour change is placed solely on the shoulders of individual citizens. Though it is the responsibility of each and every one to make a contribution to more positive change, both within themselves and in their communities, we must remember why behaviour change is such a hot topic at the moment, some of them being:

1. To cope with the stressful and uncertain work environments

2. To shift mindsets out of colonialism and capitalism; into healthier ways of living and being

3. To reduce otherness and increase diversity and inclusion

4. Climate Change

Upon close contemplation, you will find that much of these reasons are a result and product of many of our institutions and systems and being that they are much larger entities, they are just as responsible to contributing and working towards positive change as individual citizens are. Thus, it is my hope that part of this work, the work of re-adjusting our spaces and places to facilitate behaviour change (with the assumption and speculation that it may take less mental effort thereby increasing the success of the behavioural change) and help communities heal and prosper; be placed on the shoulders of our institutions and systems; afterall, isn't that what they're there for?

References + Inspiration:

Duffy, F. D. (2012). Counseling for Behavior Change. In Goldman's Cecil Medicine (pp. 50-52). WB Saunders.

Ing, David. (2020). Are System Changes Different from System + Change? OCAD University Lecture; SFI Program.

Kahneman, D. (1973). Attention and effort (Vol. 1063). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Mackay, Jory. (2019). The most effective way to implement behavior change. Fast Company.

Ratner, Paul. (2018). How evolution made our brains lazy. Big Think.

Selinger, J. C., O’Connor, S. M., Wong, J. D., & Donelan, J. M. (2015). Humans can continuously optimize energetic cost during walking. Current Biology, 25(18), 2452-2456.

Torres, Alexis., Hout C. Michael. (2019). Pupils: A Window Into the Mind. Frontiers Young Minds.

Wood, P. B. (2017). Citizenship, Activism and the City: The Invisible and the Impossible. Routledge.

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  • Zemina

Updated: Oct 14, 2019

Life Stages and Native Women – Kim Anderson

This book is an exploration into the theory of life stages and how it applies to the daily operations of indigenous life. The theory of life stages is meant to provide guidance, a sense of purpose, and belonging for each person as they move through different stages of life. Contrary to Western culture, the theory of life stages here are not necessarily defined by age, but rather, emotional, mental, and spiritual growth. So, if the Elders do not feel you are ready to take on the responsibilities of the next stage of life, regardless of how old you are, you will not be given said responsibilities. The theory of life stages, in this text, also intimately connects with ideas and significance of place, identity, and the disruption of this theory due to residential schooling and colonization.

Where to find this book:

Seekers Books; 509 Bloor Street W

Native Wisdom for White Minds – Anne Wilson Scahef

This book is a compilation of meditations and reflections by the author as she works with and talks to Indigenous Peoples from tribes all over the world. There is a quote from an Indigenous tribe member for every day of the month followed by her own reflections. Though this is an interesting text, to be honest, I was more interested in reading the quotes in the book and parsing out what they would mean to me as opposed to reading her reflections. This book is a good way to start priming your brain to being more open about thoughts and ideas that are not particularly popular in mainstream Western culture but may resonate nonetheless in your sub-cultural groups.

Where to find this book:

This one is a little tricky to find. Although you can get it on Amazon, I was up for the challenge of chasing this book down. By calling various local bookstores in my area, I came to know that Type Books (883 Queen St W, Toronto) orders books directly from the publisher for you if they don’t have it in store.

The Design of Everyday Things – Don Norman

This book provides a thorough background in the now very popular industry and practices of design and design thinking. It gets you in the mindset about re-evaluating the ways in which objects and buildings are designed and how the design of these things inform the way you subsequently use them. For me, I am finding this book helpful in learning about the origins of design thinking and seriously questioning how the physical layout of spaces influence us on much deeper levels than we think.

Where to find this book:

BMV books (471 Bloor St W, Toronto)

Women, Race and Class – Angela Davis

She is a legend and I cannot possibly do her or her writings any justice in the format of this current post, however, I will say this: her ability to so seamlessly connect and interrelate these concepts all underpinned by historical and on-going events; was mind-blowing. I was also particularly stunned at the fact that many of the themes she presented in this book (originally published in 1981; 4 years before I was born) are still very prevalent in todays’ society. This gem of a book will introduce you to concepts and characteristics that define colonialism and the ways in which they manifest in conversations related to women (feminism), race, and class. Highly recommend this read.

Where to find this book:

A Different Booklist (779 Bathurst St, Toronto)

ColonizeThis! -- Hernandez and Rehman

I literally drank this book up mainly because so many of the things written in here truly resonated with me and my own experiences, struggles, and forms of resistance I have dealt with and continue to deal with as an outspoken woman of colour. The range of topics and story types this compilation presents is most likely to at least hit parts of your being if you are a first-gen WOC. Many of the stories discuss the identification and subsequent turning point for these authors upon realizing that their feminist classes were really just talking about white feminism and completely discounting the fact that there are several other layers to feminism that must be accounted for.

Where to find this book:


How to be an ANTIRACIST – Ibram X. Kendi

I started this book just this morning to be honest (October 12, 2019). I have read the introduction and CH1. So far, he has reviewed the idea that you cannot be in-between on matters of racism. You are either a racist, or an anti-racist. He also defines what it means to be an anti-racist. An interesting notion he also introduces is the idea that terms such as racial discrimination, systemic racism, institutional racism, etc, are all quite redundant. Instead, Kendi advocates to use the term "racist policy" since it is easier to understand and therefore more accessible of a term. I am excited about reading more. Keep you posted!

Where to find this book:

A Different Booklist

Citizenship, Activism, and the City – Patricia Burke Wood                          

A small but mighty text that brings together ideas of citizenship and activism within the context of the city (Toronto). Wood describes, in explicit terms, how we must re-think activism and re-examine who is actually involved in such acts. The book also thoroughly explores what it means to bring the invisible, marginalized experiences at the forefront of conversations, thought; and how activism, even if temporary, brings these conversations into the physical tangible space. This text for me not only connected so many ideas about how my experiences in the city are dictated by how space is used, but also that space itself is an institution. I’m probably going to have to read this book again. It is also part of the Routledge series of Place, Space and Politics that I imagine to be reading more about in future.

Where to find this book:

Very privileged to have been given this text by Dr. Wood herself but can be found on Amazon I think

TARP (Toronto Aboriginal Research Project) Final Report

I just finished reading through the executive summary which outlines the current state and experiences of Aboriginal youth, men, and women and their experiences accessing and living within city spaces. There is SO much work that needs to be done and I look forward to reading through this report to gain a better understanding of the issues Indigenous Peoples have faced and currently face and ways to remedy them.

Where to find this book:

Can be found here:

The Original I Ching Oracle or The Book of Changes – The Eranos I Ching Project

This book discusses the development of I Ching, the hexagrams, and the historical practice of using the I Ching as an oracle to understand present-day circumstances and situations using natural systems and cycles as the foundation of understanding. I am reading this text to help open my mind to other forms of thoughts and ideas on how change works and how to understand it. Since we are entering a time in which many things are about to enter into a state of transition, I think it is important to make a conscious effort in acquiring knowledge in other forms of thoughts and ideas. I am also finding this text fruitful in understanding differences of thought between Eastern and Western thought and thinking.

Where to find this book:

BMV Books (Bloor location)

Legislatures – David C. Docherty

This book is an audit of Canadian government and governance practices. It also provides interesting recommendations on ways to fix Canadian government. This is also a good text to read in conjunction with Meslin’s Teardown Democracy (review follows) as there are quite a few overlaps. Legislatures was published before Meslin’s book. Also a good resource to develop a background in Canadian government operations, what things are, mean, what they do etc.

Where to find this book:

UBC Press:

Designing Regenerative Cultures – Daniel Christian Wahl

I purposely read this book slowly because there was SO much wisdom in this text. It talks not only about how to re-design our culture in a way that is more sustainable but also stresses the importance of asking the right questions using systems thinking approaches. It really provided a language for me to articulate and express my own inner thoughts about what I felt was and is going in. Highly Recommend.

Where to find this book:

Triarchy Press

Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory –Eichenbaum

This was the text I continuously referenced during my Master’s work and find myself re-exploring. My Master’s work was focused on episodic memory, behavior, and hippocampal (a structure in the brain) state. If you’re interested in that space, really recommend this text. My Master’s work also appears to be related to a lot of my current explorations around space as an institution, systems and design thinking, so, that’s super exciting.

Where to find this book:

Amazon. Sorry.

Racism and National Consciousness – Case

So this book shouldn’t have been in this pile because I haven’t started reading it so I don’t have anything to say but I’m excited to get to it. Keep you posted!

Where to find this book:

A Different Booklist

Thinking in Systems – Donella H. Meadows

This book was recommended to me by a friend. Really great primer text in learning about systems and systems thinking. Reading this one extra slowly as well because it’s full of good things. If you’re interested in Systems thinking, read this book.

Where to find this book:

Amazon. Sorry.

Teardown Democracy – Dave Meslin

So as discussed above, this book goes through the different ways in which we can work towards fixing our government and the democratic process, much like Dochertry’s Legislature, but in a more accessible way. There are also pictures to explain things. So. That’s good.

Where to find this book:

If there are any books in here that you are reading and would like to talk more about, hit me up! Also, if you are having difficulty accessing any of these books, reach out. Though I am hesitant to loan out my books (because my books are my babies), I would be open to figuring out how I can share this information with you.

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Here I am at Humber College running the mid-term program evaluation this Summer for hEr VOLUTION

I'm quite keen about program evaluation. One reason why this is so is because I enjoy the process of extracting meaning from data, and the other; that it allows me to test and ground my creative hunches. The latter is probably not very clear so please allow me to elaborate by using an example for a program I am currently evaluating:

I've recently been working with Doina Oncel, the Founder of hEr VOLUTION, on evaluating one of the many programs she runs: the STEMing Up Program. This program is meant to provide underprivileged young girls with the necessary (hard) skills required to pursue STEM-related careers. I was very excited to receive the opportunity because the objective and goal of the program spoke to something that is important to me: It is designed to inject STEM careers/industries with the necessary diversity they so desperately need.

Physical diversity is important as it is the easiest and most organic way to promote diversity of thought and processes. I have discussed the importance of diversity while using a systematic framework in this post. This program is also important because it opens the door to a diverse range of career options to a segment of the population that may not have full access to them otherwise. Because of what the STEMing Up program offers, I was motivated to come up with creative, but relevant KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) to assess the programs’ effectiveness at getting these young girls ready for exciting STEM-related careers!

The more obvious measures are assessing (hard skill) learning through traditional mediums such as tests, etc. But we’re not here to follow the herd as there are many more important components to learning!

Through my own experience in the higher-ed sector as well as background research I do, I suspected that there were unconventional (and more interesting) measures to learning acquisition we could pursue. I hypothesized that there are “hidden” aspects to learning and that these hidden aspects are tied to the development of soft skills such as confidence and resilience and also play a role in learning acquisition. Interestingly, by examining these more “hidden” aspect to learning, we fell upon an inherent strength of the STEMing-UP program itself! Specifically, first-pass analysis is suggesting that feelings of inclusion and belongingness (the hidden aspects) may have an influence on learning. Furthermore, feelings of inclusion and belongingness also help with comfort levels in sharing thoughts and ideas (which is great because participation helps with learning) and, subsequently, builds confidence. So you can almost say that the hidden components of learning are actually fundamental drivers contributing to the learning environment and learning acquisition.

These creative hunches have proven to be useful in three main ways: a) with the establishment and explicit identification of these hidden components to learning, we are now able to develop and further build upon future evaluation pathways which may provide insight on novel understandings of learning acquisition b) we located an inherent strength of the program and can now leverage the value and benefit of the STEMing Up program in grant applications and branding c) most importantly, we can nurture these inherent strengths to make this program better for future iterations, and subsequently help prepare these young girls not only for STEM-related careers, but for the ebbs and flows of life.

I look forward iterating through these creative hunches and assisting, where I can, to help strengthen this very valuable program and hEr VOLUTION.

Thank you Doina for this amazing opportunity and can't wait for round 2!

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