Be your own zoo keeper

Have you designed a healthy environment for yourself?  Photo by Christopher Windus on Unsplash

There is one thing people sometimes get wrong about improvement.  They think it is always down to the individual to change themselves irrespective of their environment.  But it’s rarely down to the human mind and body alone, and here’s why.


Homeostasis is the tendency of a system to preserve its own habitual position.  For instance, if you get hot, your body sweats, in order to preserve the body temperature that your human body has, over million of years, found appropriate.

In the same way, if you go on a diet, your body gets desperate for food, in order to preserve the body weight that it ‘thinks’ it is sustaining.  I say ‘thinks’, because your body is designed to operate at a much lower level of food availability.  The human body, over millions of years, has worked life out in an environment of scarcity.  If food is more easily available, then the responses of your body’s homesostatic system are inappropriate to your context.

In this case, to rectify the problem, you may have to mimick natural food scarcity by simply not buying calorific foods, and not having them around.


In a mental health environment, you may experience similar problems.  Hoarding, for example, which was appropriate in the scarcity environments your body evolved in, is inappropriate to a context of material plenty.  Pleasure-seeking, appropriate in an unstimulating environment, is counterproductive in an environment of plentiful stimulation.  Pain avoidance can be similarly counterproductive in a relatively comfortable environment.

In this way, the structure of modern civilisation is unsuitable for the easy and natural self-management of human beings.  People fall into mental health problems, not because they are wilful, but because they are trying to behave naturally in an unnatural environment.  Society is giving them easy access to things that were not in plentiful supply previously – food, possessions, and easy ways to seek pleasure and avoid pain.

The problems of weight gain, hoarding, and drug addiction can therefore be seen as natural responses.  The people who suffer them are not deficient – their environment is deficient, because it is pushing at them things which their ancient environment made scarce.


If you were an animal in a zoo, your zoo keeper, out of kindness, would make it their business to reconstruct your natural environment.  This is because they want to minimise your stress, and maximise your health.  They don’t want you developing a distorted body and mind – they want you to be a good example of what a human can be.

If you really want to reduce the pressure on yourself, then you will have to think about being your own zoo keeper.  This involves adjusting your environment until it is in sympathy with the relative scarcity your mind and body expect.


Here’s an example.  As a human, you have developed in an environment where you probably got up when the sun rose, indulged in moderate activity during the day, and then went to sleep when darkness came.

You now find yourself in an unnatural environment where you are expected to wake up at a different time, take on pressurised activity (a job) for fixed hours, and then go to bed when you’ve caught up on everything.

That’s a pretty weird zoo for a relaxed creature.  The job obsession of modern society places some individuals under near-intolerable stress.


Have a think about how you could adapt your environment to make it more like the environment your species developed in.

For instance:

  • Is TV ruling your body clock?  Do you stay up until you have finished watching what you want to watch?
  • Is your job slowly killing you?  Does it preoccupy your mind even when you are not doing it?
  • Is clock-measured time ruining your life?  Do you find yourself rushing, always rushing?


Human beings have placed themselves in an environment which does not suit their natural selves.

In particular, we lead increasingly crowded lives, full of the availability of things which were once scarce, but now, in plentiful supply, can kill us.

It is helpful to think about how we can modify our own environment to make life more liveable.

Humans can be their own environmentalists, creating home and local environments more in sympathy with our own ancient health needs.