One of the things that I observe in people (and myself) and I find fascinating is how we are so wired to our habits, it is amazing how we engage in these automatic behaviours without even thinking about it.
Often we don’t notice we have a particular habit, other times even if we know it is habit and we don’t want to repeat it, our brain goes into default mode very quickly and we end up following exactly the same behaviour we didn’t want in the first place.
Living a more sustainable life is a lot about change, identifying our old habits, understanding the negative aspects behind them, questioning them and making a decision to adjust our behaviours and form new habits.
As you probably already know the path to change is not an easy one, for that reason today I’d like to share some information about forming new habits.
Understand your “why”
I reckon before we can establish any strategy for change, we need to have clarity about the reasons behind forming a new habit and why it is important to us.
Trying to be more responsible about our waste, living a more sustainable life, taking care of the planet is about stepping outside of normal social standards and comfort zone. Not many people are willing to change what’s easy and familiar for new “weird” behaviours, it is hard work and I get it. I have been there!
This is the road less travelled, therefore to follow it, it is important to understand what is driving your change.
What do you value? How does this change aligns to those values? How would you feel if you continue your old habit?
Every habit has a trigger
Recently I was talking with two friends separately. They have been reading this blog and trying to change some behaviours and both told me it was hard work to change habits, by chance both of them are struggling to refuse plastic bags but interestingly not in every scenario.
It seems both managed to successfully start using reusable shopping bags to do their weekly shopping but they find it hard to remember to refuse plastic bags when buying other stuff.
Every single habit has a trigger, cue or reminder, again we might not be aware of it, but it is there. For example, when entering your car (trigger) you automatically adjust your sit-belt, when you go to the movies (trigger) you buy pop-corn, before going to bed (reminder) you brush your teeth.
So in my friend’s stories above, it seems going to the supermarket was the new trigger, they now know it is time to take their reusable bags with them and refuse any plastic bag. However, for other random purchases here and there they haven’t established any trigger or reminder yet.
This is a key component about forming new habits and experts say a good way to do this is by pairing your new behaviour to something you already do on regular basis.
In my post How to easily develop the “Reusable Bag” habit I mentioned that personally when it comes to refuse plastic bags my reminder is the payment, in the counter I already know it is time to pay and therefore tell the person in advance that I don’t need a plastic bag and take my reusable bag out of my purse if I need it. These days I automatically do this everywhere because of course payment is not optional and it is something I always do when I am buying something. Another related trigger for this particular habit could be taking your wallet/cash/card out of your handbag/pocket.
Other examples of triggers/reminders associated with green habits: leaving your shopping bags in the front door so that you take them with you next time you leave the house, hang your car keys to reusable water bottle so that you take it with you in the morning, 12 pm lunchtime at work time to take your reusable cutlery with you to the food court.
Once you have selected your reminder is time to practice some mindfulness in the environments where you are trying to form this new habit, at the beginning if you are distracted talking with a friend most likely even knowing your trigger you won’t remember. Repetition and reinforcement is required.
Reward your efforts
According to Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habits” (which by the way is a very interesting book) other important component of forming a habit is a reward. Your brain needs to associate something positive after a particular behaviour. Check the video below:
Personally I haven’t consciously rewarded myself for all the new habits I have formed over the years, but something that in my experience has been useful (and it might be associated with this reward component) is having that positive feeling of victory after I have finally remembered and changed my default behaviour.
The first time I remembered to refuse a plastic straw and plastic lid in a juice bar, I felt so proud, I was doing what I consider right and it felt good to act in alignment with that. So I think maybe those positive feelings are also a type of reward because at the end of the day we all want to feel good and happy about the choices and decisions we make.
Last but not least, be kind to yourself. Let’s avoid putting ourselves down, we are doing the best we can, we are trying to make a difference here and it is ok to forget stuff, we’re not robots. Our brains need time to adjust and change, with repetition and persistence we’ll get there.
Self-compassion is simply giving the same kindness to ourselves that we would give to others. – Christopher Germer
I hope you have found some useful information to change habits, if so please share this post with your family and friends. I’d love to reach and serve more people. Also let me know in the comments below: Are you currently struggling with a new habit? Do you have some reminders linked to green habits that you want to share?
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Thanks for reading,