The internet has lots of information about habit formation. Most relate to building a skill over time, like learning the guitar or getting fitter. Others are instilling well being habits like mindfulness, meditation or eating healthily. The difficult thing about instilling an ‘eco’ habit in your life is that they’re slightly different to most habits. There doesn’t appear to be a short term, or arguably long term (depending on how hopeful you are) reward for your effort.
Causality of action is one of the main contributing factors to the choices we make on a daily basis. I will do this, because I know that will happen. I will sleep, because I will feel less tired. I will eat, because I will no longer feel hungry. I will go to the gym, because I want to lose weight. I will go to the pub, because I enjoy being drunk. Recycling, Veganism, buying reusable coffee cups, going out of our way to spend more money on rice that doesn’t come in a plastic packet. These are all things that we know to be ‘good’ for the environment and we ‘should do’ but we won’t ever necessarily know our efforts have made an impact, and therefore we may never see the reward. This causes people to ask ‘what’s the point’?
It is true that arguably the superpowers, the big businesses and corporations will be the most impactful in the race against irreversible climate change. But we should not feel disheartened that we are unable to make a difference. We as a mass can alter supply and demand, can change the global market and raise social awareness around the issue. Proof that these things are already occurring are the rise in many of us cutting down meat, Vegetarianism and even Veganism. The popularity in social discussions like school striking by Greta Thunberg who has 2.6 million followers on Instagram alone, extinction rebellion who have thousands campaigning and volunteering on their behalf. Every time you recycle your milk bottle or take your reusable bag with you when you head to the shops is a small nod. A contribution many are not making. So please do not feel disheartened!
We at E.C.O. find it hard to keep up our own habits, we are not here to preach or believe we are omniscient, omnipotent eco-beings who can do no wrong. So, we would like to share a few internal problems we have while attempting to save the planet, as we are sure you share the same feelings. And then we will endeavour to help you overcome those and encourage you that small efforts really do change outcomes. The name wasn’t just to try to make a website that spells ‘eco’….. we promise!
Here, in order of most to least challenging, are our arch nemeses when it comes to establishing and maintaining our eco habits. And why we still keep at it;
We are not stupid. We do most things because we know will benefit from them in some way. We are all brought up on rewards and incentives to complete tasks. I mean, we literally all get paid for working because no one would do it if they had a choice and money was free. We want to see an output from our input. And we usually seek enjoyable rewards. We treat ourselves constantly – whether it be with holidays, buying new clothes, a lay in at the weekend. We believe we deserve things we work hard for. And we easily understand when we are being used, not being appreciated and wasting energy.
This is one of the hardest obstacles for an eco habit. Many of us question in reality if I don’t use a plastic straw how is that going to save the bloody world?!?!?! This is where we don’t have an answer. People can do three things; commit, give it a go or have an awareness but be apathetic in action. We suggest you see it as a good deed. Good deeds are compassionate, unreciprocated actions which make us feel good about ourselves. Usually because we are selfish beings and it is a surprise when we do something without wanting gratitude or praise. We then become proud of ourselves for being so kind and so unlike our usual grumpy character. Become a good deeder. Thing of the world as a poor old lady crossing the road, a little bird with a broken wing or a kid who has just dropped his ice cream. You are not only helping the world but the wider community, future generations and also creating a sustainable planet for animals who are suffering due to human actions. We have created the idea we need recognition or reward to make our efforts worth it. But do we? What if we can just do something good and be proud we are contributing to good cause or to the future of planet Earth?
Society is based around convenience. We are used to believing we should have everything at our fingertips with minimal effort. Next day delivery. Microwave meals and fast food. 3G and 5G. Contactless payment. A conversation we have on a regular basis is ‘I don’t have time to go to a different shop’, ‘I don’t have time to walk rather than use a car’, ‘I don’t have time to cook from scratch’.
It is completely true that a lot of things take a little bit more effort to complete if you are trying to be aware of the environmental impact of your actions. And some things become completely inconvenient. This is why we suggest you make small efforts, that can become habits and build on them. As they say, Rome was not built in a day. And you won’t be able to sustainably change 12 things in your life in a day. This is why most people find it so difficult to maintain enthusiasm. Just take it one choice at a time.
As mentioned before the world is now designed to get us from A to B as quickly and smoothly as possible. Eco habits have a way of being inconvenient and time consuming, so when they get in the way of your busy schedule they can feel less enticing. Veganism is a frontrunner. Veganism for all of its benefits is a time consuming and difficult habit to commit to. You can find yourself in restaurants with little appealing choice. Driving an eco car is a hard one. Lots of people cannot afford hybrid or electric cars, they are inconvenient to charge and will disrupt your life considerably.
But the main thing is to realise that there will always be obstacles in life. And when you encounter one that stops you from acting as you would like to in order to help the environment it doesn’t mean you should give up. You can become creative and work out the other ways in which you can make an effort to help tackle the wider issue.
Many people enjoy the path of least resistance. This is closely linked with how much time you have, and how much energy you want to exert. Willpower is brittle and fluctuates. Sometimes you can be empowered, sometimes you can feel wearied. When you don’t feel like your actions are making a difference willpower dwindles at an alarming rate. But take that as it is. Don’t use it to fuel apathy. Just take a break and figure out how you can encourage yourself to do good by the world. Or find something else eco you do have the willpower to maintain.
This point is very similar to reward, but has a slightly different impact on our motivation. There is no hard and fast way to keep track of the good you are doing. How many plastic bags you have saved? How many turtles have a straw-less nose? How many animals have I not eaten (there are some rough calculators but they are not really accurate)? How much CO2 have I reduced by walking here? How much water have I saved?
We enjoy keeping track of things because they make us proud. This is where we could get away with trade-off for reward. If we could see how much we had done for the planet, then that could be our pat on the back. But we don’t have that either!!!
The only real way to keep track is time. But being eco isn’t a competition for the longest standing eco-warrior. One of our E.C.O. founders Lauren has been veggie for over 11 years. I, Grace, at a mere 2 seems less impressive. But why should Lauren be any better than me at this moment in time? We are still doing our best to cut down and help tackle the climate emergency. And I may do things Lauren doesn’t. If someone wants to be veggie but has meat one day they can fall off the wagon and think well I’m back to square one now. Day 1 of vegetarianism starts tomorrow again! But think of it as a diet. You can just give yourself that ‘cheat day’ if you need it. It may increase the chances of you doing more overall.
In Part 2 we will explore our recommendations (A.K.A. merge what lots of bits of the internet says) about how best to create and sustain a habit. And why we recommend including more eco habits in your daily life.
Grace works for a School Improvement Partnership and is our resident ocean lover. Having worked as a scuba instructor in Indonesia she has picked up her fair share of ocean plastic. Her favourite eco product is Oliva Olive Oil Soap.