Why Is That Person Sitting in MY Seat?

Continuing our “Gravity Series” at Free of Gravity, where we’re delving into some of the most common (and most powerful) types of Gravity that keep us from escaping our comfort zones and achieving our heroic potential.

my seat

My favorite Starbucks is a hopping place this morning. All of my favorite seats were occupied when I first walked in—even the left-side seats of the long table. So I’m stuck with a right-side-long-table seat, with my back to the room (which I hate). And I found it difficult to concentrate… and continued to look for others to move from one of my favorites so I could reclaim it for my own…

I didn’t have to wait long, thankfully, for one of the folks on the other side to leave, so I’m now in my 5th favorite spot, and getting down to business.

Why is this important? The specifics aren’t, particularly, but the reasons… those are interesting. I notice that bit of discomfort I’m feeling when I’m not in a preferred location, which threatens to keep me from being at my best. And I hear the voice inside my head saying, “If I don’t have my favorite spot, I’ll not get any productive writing done today.”

Which is crap. An excuse. A hedge. Resistance. GRAVITY.

I can get productive writing done anywhere. It doesn’t need to be with a coffee, in a particular seat, in a place with just the right amount of ambient noise. Okay, so that structure HELPS me, but it doesn’t mean that I MUST have it in order to complete my work.

I just find it interesting how quickly humans adopt patterns of behavior. Routines we form that, when disrupted, throw us off.

Have you ever been to a seminar or conference or course or similar event? Assuming your seats weren’t assigned, chances are you staked out a particular seat when you first walked in. And chances are, after break, you came back to the same seat… and so did everyone else in there.

After lunch? Same thing. Even if you met new friends on lunch, and wanted to sit with them for the afternoon, one of you sat with the other, because one of you sat in the same seat as before lunch…

Watch this behavior the next time you attend an event, or church, or class, or a meeting. How often do the same people sit in the same locations? More often than you think…

There are varying theories as to why this phenomenon occurs:

  • It’s learned behavior: We were assigned seats in grade school (for ease of the teacher learning student names) and the practice continued into our adult lives, even when we had the option to pick any place to sit.
  • It’s evolutionary behavior: back in our hunter-gatherer days, we learned to repeat patterns of behavior that were safe and effective, because they minimized our risk of injury or death, and maximized our safety and productivity. A favorite camp might provide a safe and plentiful source of water and food. A favorite cave might serve as a “tested” protection from wild animals.
  • It’s territorial behavior: tied to the evolutionary model, we learned to protect those favorite territories from the encroachment of animals or other humans who’d use (and potentially use up) resources we count on for survival.

Though I gravitate to the evolutionary explanations for most things (recovering Anthropology major), I can see any of these explanations having merit.

At the heart of all of them is the same core idea: increasing safety and efficacy, and reducing risk and threat. Whether we learned the behaviors, or they come hard-wired because of tens of thousands of years of human experience, this idea is a part of us.

The challenge for us modern humans, though—as with most of our evolutionary, hard-wired experience—is that our systems are “overclocked” for the modern age. Our ancestors from hunter-gatherer days faced threats to life and limb. Today most of us rarely do. Our biggest threats are to reputation, or relationships, or feelings… or established patterns of behavior…

Yet our bodies still react to these modern threats with the same intensity as when our forebears were being chased by a sabretooth cat…

And hence sometimes our behavioral responses are also an overreaction to the incoming stimuli. I acknowledge that I feel a twinge of possessiveness, of territoriality, when someone is sitting at “my” table. And then I go and sit at whichever favorite spot is open. Threat averted, and a measure of comfort reestablished—in my new “territory.”

And then I get to work.

Whether it’s personal territory, or other comfort zones we erect to reduce threat and increase productivity, we all have the ability to notice those patterns of behavior, and to change them when they don’t serve us.

So next time you’re taking a class, or attending services, or sitting in a coffee shop, try out a different seat than you normally would. And after each break, switch up your seat to a different one. Take the opportunity to see what this change in physical location does for your perspective on the room and the people. Observe what the physical move does for your thoughts and feelings. You might even use it as an opportunity to meet someone new.

And if you absolutely hate your new spot, you can always move somewhere else. (And declare your territory experiment complete!)


What territorial behaviors do you find yourself repeating for comfort, and in what situations? What other regular behaviors do you rely on to increase your comfort when under stress? Which ones serve you, and which do not? Share in the comments!


If you’d like additional resources and encouragement to help you overcome the manifestations of Gravity in your own life, and become your most heroic self, be sure to subscribe by entering your email in the box in the sidebar to your right. You’ll get your own copy of the Be Your Own Hero manifesto, updates from the blog, and other subscriber-only tools and goodies.

[photo courtesy of Gordon Ednie (cc)]

2 thoughts on “Why Is That Person Sitting in MY Seat?

  1. James Michael Taylor

    You know I’ve been fighting this one for years, brother. It’s funny I go to read this right after texting you another of my “#writeranywhere” check-ins.

    We’re such weird creatures.

    I used to desperately need a coffee shop environment to do creative work. I was stubborn, and the limiting beliefs ran deep. Now, I love that ambiance, but I know I don’t need it. That’s good. The bad? A huge part of my new #writeranywhere mentality is that I bought a laptop and don’t have to use a keyboard+tablet combo anymore. Not sure if that’s really good or bad, but I wish my creativity and confidence to produce weren’t tied to a tool or a place!

    I’m thankful for the progress, though, and for the opportunity to do more and better work for my people.

    Stress and discomfort now lead me to a state of resentment that I “can’t be creative” unless I have absolute emotional calm. The best weapon I have with which to fight back? When I can, I remember that those emotions are powerful energy, and I redirect that energy into writing – even if I’m just wring out my stress, discomfort, anger, or fear.

    It’s no simple two-step to dance with life – more like a tango. You have to stay on your toes.

    1. Steve Post author

      Thought you especially would appreciate this one! Interesting how comfort and discomfort both can be allies of Gravity… Let’s not let them keep us from doing the work we’re meant to do!

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