With the start of a new year comes new traditions, new resolutions, and often, the struggle to maintain these well-intentioned lifestyle changes.
What role do habits play in becoming more eco-friendly?
“We are what we repeatedly do.” - Aristotle
Aristotle’s quote pretty accurately summarizes the role of habits in both our New Year’s resolutions and our day to day life.
Chances are you’ve spent most of your life doing things a specific way because that’s what you were taught by a caregiver or role model, or how you simply thought things were supposed to be done. We think the choices we make each day are a result of our decision making, when in reality they are actually habit-based.
When you start out or expand your eco-friendly journey, you are trying to let go of these engrained (and often unconscious) habits to make changes that stick, and this can be hard!
How can you change your habits?
Habits are formed by the brain when it converts a series of actions into an automatic routine.
This can be most easily described by the Habit Loop: Cue → Routine → Reward
In this loop, a cue triggers your brain to go into automatic mode and tells it which habit to use, and you then play out your routine. Next comes a reward which your brain uses to determine if this habit loop is valuable to remember.
This is an effort-saving adaptation and great from an evolutionary perspective, but means that our brains stop actively participating in decision making during this process.
What does all this mean?
If you change your routine, you change your habits.
So, how do you create eco-friendly habits?
If your New Year’s resolution is to stop forgetting your reusable bags when you grocery shop you can use the Habit Loop to help with this lifestyle change.
Let’s say your current cue is finishing unpacking your groceries.
The routine that follows might be to put your reusable grocery bags into a drawer to store them until you need them next.
Your reward at the end of this routine is feeling accomplished that the bags are out of the way and your kitchen is clutter-free.
Fast forward to the next time you’re grocery shopping and you realize they’ve been left in that drawer, and now you’re feeling bad that you need to use plastic ones.
You can use the habit loop here to interrupt this!
Your cue remains the same, finishing unpacking your groceries.
What you change is the routine that follows. Instead of putting your reusable grocery bags into a drawer, you put them directly into your car.
Your reward remains the same, feeling accomplished that the bags are out of the way and your kitchen is clutter-free.
Only next time you are grocery shopping you get the added reward of having them with you and avoiding the plastic ones. This makes you feel good, and our planet healthier.
What else can you do to make your eco-friendly New Year’s resolutions stick?
There’s nothing wrong with taking things slow or needing training wheels when you start out on this adventure of eco-friendly, plastic-free, and zero waste.
Using the following tips will help make your eco-friendly New Year’s resolutions stick.
Focus on one area of life first
Trying to overhaul your life all at once to become more sustainable can be overwhelming!
Take a look at the different areas of your life and choose just one place to start.
This could be what you use in your house, how you grocery shop, where you purchase clothing and how often, the products you use day to day for self-care, or something entirely different.
Then, when you’ve created a new routine in this area of your life, choose another area to tackle. There’s no perfect timeline and what works for one person may or may not work for you.
If you’re still having trouble deciding where to start, consider starting with whatever you run out of first.
For example, if you run out of toothpaste, do a quick search online for eco-friendly alternatives and swap to a tooth powder. Then, when it’s time for a new toothbrush, search again and make the switch to a bamboo toothbrush.
It’s easy to slip back into old habits when you're building new ones.
Repurpose, donate, or recycle things that might entice you to go back to your old ways.
Make sure they find a good home though to prevent waste!
Know your weak spots
We all have times where we simply forget or when it’s harder than normal to stick to our resolutions.
Identify where these show up in your life and consider putting something in place to help you avoid this in the future.
Are you the person who like clockwork knows they need an afternoon pick-me-up coffee every day but consistently forget your reusable travel mug?
Keep one at the office, in your purse or backpack, or in your car so that all your bases are covered.
Building a new habit is work, and having a plan for your resolutions can help.
When we’re tired, busy, stressed, or hungry we tend to slip back into old habits because they’re easier and more familiar.
To overcome this, be mindful of times you know will be challenging and plan ahead to keep your future self on track.
Lean on those around you
At life UNpacked one of our values is Build Community.
Who says you have to tackle going eco-friendly alone? We don’t think so!
Tell the people closest to you what you’re committed to and why. Sometimes we feel more accountable to others than ourselves, so sharing this can make sticking with it easier.
Ask these people to remind you of your resolution if they see you slipping and encourage you to keep working on it.
Plus, you taking steps towards a more sustainable lifestyle may just inspire them too!
We hope our tips help support you with your eco-friendly New Year’s resolutions and would love to hear your best practices for keeping up with a zero waste lifestyle in the comments.
Is your New Year’s resolution to make your self-care routine more eco-friendly?