Author Becky Brown, Water Programs Coordinator at WMEAC.
Human beings are creatures of habit. We use that expression casually and often disparagingly, but habits allow us to be the intellectual creatures that we are. Habits are efficient. They allow us to focus on other things beside meeting our basic needs. Forming new habits requires effort, because we are temporarily introducing an inefficiency into our day-to-day life. We should not despair when we find that adopting a new habit can prove really difficult. We are, in fact, hardwired against it!
Here are a few tips for introducing that new green habit into your life in 2014:
Be concrete and modestly ambitious
Make a resolution that is specific rather than general. Instead of saying “I am going to bike to work in 2014,” say, “I am going to bike to work three days each week in 2014.” Do not make your goal too easy. If the goal is overwhelming, scale it back a bit until you’re ready to level up.
We seem drawn to wholesale life changes, but this practice is not necessarily a route for success. A new habit forces us to focus on something that we probably did not have to focus on before. Meatless Monday is a great example of incorporating gradual lifestyle changes into your routine. Although we all need to work diligently toward more sustainable ways of living, steadily taking on new pieces of that life is a better recipe for success and still makes a good impact on the planet.
Research and plan
Uncertainty is stressful. If you’re planning to start riding the Rapid more in 2014, research maps, routes, and fees; find your nearest bus stop and ride your desired route when you’re not in a hurry. If you’re adopting a vegan diet, plan store lists and meal menus. Once you begin undertaking your new habit, keep a journal of the lessons you learn each day. Humans love to explore and learn—frame your resolution as a new adventure.
Embrace your motives
You might be giving up dairy because you know it has a considerable carbon footprint and because dairy farming is rife with animal abuse, but what you’re really interested in is fitting into your swimsuit a bit better in June. Resolutions that are meaningful and contribute to society are great and more likely to last, but many resolutions very likely appeal to our well-being and self-interest and that is OK. We have copious motives for our decisions and goals.
Quantify your progress
Your effort to live more sustainably is quantifiable in important ways and understanding the positive impact that your resolution is making is extremely motivational. If you’ve begun walking to work, track the carbon you haven’t emitted or the calories that you’ve burned. Effective feedback is specific, concrete, as immediate as possible, relevant, and understandable. Utilizing mobile apps or other software might be a good way to get feedback on your resolution. Track your progress in whatever unit of measurement is meaningful to you.
Repetition is the key to forming habits. Expect missteps and potentially weeks or months of concerted effort.
Find a friend, family member, and/or an online or offline community to help support and refine your work. Online, there are copious sources of support for those adopting green lifestyle changes. Support is not only great for our self-esteem, but it is also an excellent source of ideas and innovations. Sharing our commitment with friends, family, or co-workers is a good motivational tool, a source of support, and an opportunity to engage others in a sustainable behavior.
Do not undermine your success by proceeding thoughtlessly into your New Year resolution. A new habit requires effort, self-awareness, planning, and support. Undertake your resolution methodically and utilize setbacks as part of the learning experience. Maintain the vision of what you hope to achieve, because just like saving the planet, your resolution will take many, many steps.