“The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
When I tell people Matt and I have reduced our carbon footprint to just 10% of the American average, many people respond: “wow, how did you do that?” – while giving me a look as if I am so far out there and living on the fringe of society that they could not possibly do it, too. Or they say, “Gosh, I wish I could, but I just can’t give up xxx.”
Truthfully, our lifestyle ebbs and flows, and some days we’re better at it than others. But overall, we’re keeping up with our goals fairly well. So I’ve been thinking about what has kept us to this path, in the hopes that I might help others to make similar changes…
1. Focus On The Positives
I don’t think I could live a sustainable lifestyle if I were constantly thinking about what I’m giving up, how much I’ve “reduced”, and what I’m depriving myself of. Instead, I need to create a positive spin in my mind: I focus on how much good I’m contributing to the world, how much I’m helping others, how much money I’m saving, and how much happier and healthier we are.
There are little tricks that go along with this. For instance, I might tell myself that if I don’t stop at Starbucks for a cup of coffee, I will be able to use that money to buy a book I’ve been wanting to buy for years (something that lasts much longer than a cup of coffee and has the potential to be truly life-changing). Or I might instead transfer the amount that I would have spent on the coffee into our Savings account. Then not only am I keeping a coffee cup out of a landfill and avoiding a purchase of coffee that wasn’t fairly traded, but I am also contributing to my own financial well-being. Plus if I really need the coffee I can wait until I get home to make fair trade, organic, locally-roasted coffee – that tastes better – for about 1/8 the price!
There are also health benefits upon which to focus. For example, while the initial time cost of learning non-toxic cleaning methods might be tough, my health and budget will benefit substantially!
2. Allow Yourself To Be In A Continuum Of Change
Change rarely comes overnight, though sometimes the inspiration for change does. Which means you often have the will to change immediately, but lack the power and strength to make drastic changes to your lifestyle immediately. This is how many get discouraged and simply give up on trying.
Do constantly work toward your goals. But at the same time, allow yourself to change as you grow, to conquer new obstacles with grace as you acquire the time, the patience, and the skills for them. In other words, harness the increasing strength you acquire from each accomplishment to catapult yourself to the next level of change.
3. Make Sure You Are Enjoying Yourself
Change can be uncomfortable from time to time, as you get used to new ideas and new ways of doing things. But overall if you’re not having fun, if you’re not feeling good, if you’re not enjoying life, stop and re-evaluate. What can you do to allow yourself pleasure while still working toward your goals? How can you reward yourself for changes you make on a daily basis, while still adhering to your new lifestyle?
Don’t be afraid to turn to others and ask them for ways that they have accomplished things and had fun doing it. I’ve learned so much from all of you, and from other websites and blogs.
Also, remember that just because you might be addicted to buying stuff, doesn’t mean it makes you happy. Having the accomplishment of not buying stuff, and saving that money or putting it toward things you really want or need, might actually make you happier!
4. Allow Your Worldview To Change
When I became a vegetarian 20 years ago, it was a strange thing to do. People thought it was strange. I had a difficult time going over to friends’ houses for dinner, or going out to eat. But after a few years, I didn’t think much about it. In my mind, meat isn’t part of my repertoire, so I don’t think about it. I don’t really see it on menus anymore, my eyes simply glaze over those items. My worldview changed, I redefined what is normal for me.
Twenty years later there are more ways of eating sustainably, of course, and each of us must find their own way. But my point is that I feel healthy, good, and that I am contributing positively to the world. And once I became a vegetarian, I began working on my nutrition intake and changed even more the way that I eat. Once I’d conquered that, I worked on finding better sources for what I ate. And then cooking better. And so on…
5. Remind Yourself Why You Set Out On This Path
Sometimes this requires that you stop and look beyond your immediate situation (in which you may be tired, hungry, and cranky) and remember that your actions have meaning beyond the here and now.
Buying that Starbucks coffee contributes to a system where farmers aren’t paid a living wage, where pesticides are sprayed – affecting farmers, soil, and wildlife along with your own immune system as you drink the coffee. And it affects your budget, making it more difficult to pay off your debt, and further from saving for harder times ahead. Buying that coffee means you perpetuate a system of agriculture that doesn’t work, and an economic system that doesn’t work. The consequences of your actions go far beyond one immediate act. And they even go beyond the person you inspire to change as you are changing.
So step outside of your immediate situation and remember why you do what you do, why you set out with goals of change. And feel good about sticking to those goals.
How Do You Find The Willpower To Change Your Everyday Habits?
I need to admit to you that yesterday I was cranky, tired, and hungry and I walked all the way into the Starbucks (with a reusable cup in hand). And then I turned around and walked back out. Because I have a book in mind that the library doesn’t carry, because I have a debt that I want to keep slowly paying off, because I don’t want to support an unsustainable agricultural system, because I don’t want to drink pesticides, because I have better coffee at home that adheres to my belief system, and because I want to feel good about my actions.
And as I walked out of that Starbucks, I smiled.
Does this happen to you? How do you handle it? What keeps you going in the right direction?
- How To Keep From Becoming Overwhelmed — Part 2: Reaching Long-Term Goals
- Do You Have To Change Your Life Entirely In Order To Stop Climate Change?
- How Do You Get People To Change Their Lifestyles?
- Saving The World Vs. Saving Yourself… And Finding The Balance To Do Both
- The Importance of Knowing Who We Are