The power of habit is incredible. Many of us act, dress and interact the way we did in grade school, well into adulthood. In fact, most of our habits, both good and bad, are instilled in us by age 9. Once we’ve developed those habits, it can be very difficult to break the bad ones and replace them with good ones. While it’s best to develop good habits early on, it’s not impossible to make changes further down the road.
With the right effort and know-how, sustainable behavior change is possible at any age. Once we understand the basics, there are simple steps we can take to make the process much easier. While changing our habits isn’t always necessary, there are benefits of doing so. There are also consequences that can come from resisting change.
Consequences of Sticking with the Status Quo
A negative reaction to the idea of behavior change is a common one. We live in a society where everyone has been made to feel unique and special. While this isn’t a bad thing, creating an environment where we feel all our behaviors are justified can lead to unnecessary struggles.
While it’s always okay to be yourself, if your behavior is harmful to yourself, others or the environment, consequences will arise. When a behavior is deemed offensive, people may not want to work with you. If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best. Sound familiar? A negative outcome may be that people won’t really want you at your best after putting up with your worst. A social behavior change would be in order.
When a behavior is detrimental to the environment, it can lead to a number of negative consequences as well. Many will be attributed to pollution and climate change. When we refuse to use reusable utensils in place of the single use variety, it’s often out of fear of change. That’s the way we’ve always done things, and who is anyone to tell us that’s wrong?
The key is not to think of it as fundamentally changing ourselves, but changing the simple behaviors that cause us trouble. Making small changes can lead to big impacts. Here are a couple tricks to help you achieve sustainable behavior change.
Strategies for Sustainable Behavior Change
The best way to go into anything new is with a well thought out plan, so make stages of behavior change. Making sustainable behavior changes is no different. Go into it without a plan, and you’ll have to deal with all the missteps that make it harder than it needs to be. Go into your journey with these behavior change strategies in your back pocket, and there’s a good chance you’ll succeed.
Make an Honest Assessment of Current Behaviors
The first step in achieving changes that last is to assess the current behaviors that are causing issues. This kind of deep self exploration can be tough, but it’s an important part of creating sustainable behavior change. If you’re not honest about your current behaviors, it’s difficult to change them.
As emotionally draining as it may feel, connect with the behaviors that are harmful in one way or another. This can involve anything from speaking your mind a little too freely to using a single use cup and straw with every beverage you drink. The things we say can hurt people, and the things we throw in the trash can harm the environment.
Understanding which behaviors are ready to be changed and understanding the reasons why you want to change are powerful drivers. Explore this step well, and you’ll have purpose behind the behavior changes you’re trying to implement.
Identify Good Reasons to Change
If we want to succeed in creating sustainable behavior change, we need good reason to do so. When we make changes for the wrong reasons, it’s easy to backslide. Identifying emotional drivers is the key to finding a purpose for the changes we’re making.
When our drivers are purely logical, those drivers won’t be strong enough to push us through the tough times. If we work out to drop four pounds to hit our ideal scale number, we can easily decide not to work out on any given day. We’re doing it for a number.
On the other hand, when we work out to get healthy and be there for our children and grandchildren when they grow up, it gives us a much stronger sense of purpose. We’ll push through because we’re doing it for our loved ones, rather than the vanity of seeing a more preferable number on the scale. That emotional driver will push us much further than any well-conceived logical argument.
The Little Things Can Deliver Big Impacts
Once we decide to make a change, we often look for big, impactful ways to gain significant ground quickly. It’s natural, and it shows that we’re putting some thought and effort into the journey. However, when we focus too much on making big changes, it can negatively affect our progress. Here’s why.
Whenever I create a “to do” list, I make sure to sprinkle short, simple tasks throughout. This is because those little accomplishments have a big impact on my mindset. When we are able to celebrate the little wins, it keeps us going. It also makes us feel accomplished and contributes greatly to sustainable behavior change.
By doing a few easy things every day, we see what kind of an impact this will have in the grand scheme. If we were to waste a gallon of water per day and throw out two single use straws, that change may feel like a very small win. A gallon of water and two straws is a drop in the ocean. Multiply those numbers across an entire year, and you’ve got a more significant win. All with a simple, sustainable change.
Push Through the Tough Times
Once we get a month or two into any change, many of us hit a wall. The change is now eating up time and energy, and we find it simpler to revert to our old ways. You can witness a perfect example of this principle in action by visiting a gym or supplement store in both January and April. You’ll see a lot less enthusiastic foot traffic when you visit in April.
That’s because continuing the journey can feel downright painful. But, much like exercising until you feel the burn to build muscle, mental pain is an indicator of learning and intellectual growth. When we encounter tough times in our sustainable behavior change journies, it often means we are growing. Pushing through that pain is key to building the brain connections that will help us succeed in the long run. Learning to live with, and to some extent enjoy the pain, can make us smarter and more resilient.
Set Up Support Systems
When the journey gets too difficult to handle, it’s important to have strong support systems in place. When we have people to share our struggles with, we are able to endure more pain than we would otherwise.
Any time we break up with a significant other or otherwise lose a loved one, it can be tempting to become a recluse. We attempt to navigate our emotions by ourselves. That doesn’t always work out as planned. If we’re unaccustomed to working through painful events ourselves, solitude can exacerbate the problem. But, when we share, we are provided with very valuable support and viewpoints we may be missing.
Create Safe Spaces
When we’re working on creating better versions of ourselves, we often encounter resistance from our peers. They see us acting against habits or traditional social norms and that action scares them. They may poke jabs at us or ask why we’re doing it. New behaviors can be hard to sustain in the face of ridicule. Creating safe spaces where we can share our journeys without fear of ridicule drives much more sustainable behavior change. Here’s an example.
Back in 1992, Diane and Gary Heavin created Curves. This chain of women’s healthcare franchises was developed purely to create a safe space for women to work out. The founders knew the importance of a safe space in creating sustainable change. Their idea was a success, and there are now more than 350 franchises across the US. The simple idea of creating a safe space has helped millions of women make sustainable behavior changes that may never have otherwise lasted.
Find the Information You Need
As much help as a support system and safe space will provide, neither will provide all the info you need to succeed. Your sources of information can make or break your journey, so make sure you find quality sources.
The library is good. Online is okay. But if you really want quality information, dealing with organizations that specialize in sustainable behavior change will prove much more useful. Not only will they have the resources to provide valuable information, but they’ll also have the resources to help you along in your journey.
Some Sustainable Behavior Changes to Get You Started
Now that we’ve covered some strategies to change behavior and we’re better equipped to navigate the world of sustainable behavior change, let’s look at some simple changes that you can get started with right away. These techniques can help you break old habits and develop new ones, no matter how old you are or how ingrained those habits are.
Behaviors that Impact Interpersonal Relationships
One of the most popular arenas for making change is that of our interpersonal relationships. Few things drive us to change like hurting the people we care about. These involve not only the behaviors that directly impact others, but also the behaviors that impact our moods.
For example, if we are malnourished and sleep deprived, we may be crabbier than we need to be. That can come out at the wrong time and create hostility within our interpersonal relationships. For this reason, making sustainable behavior changes that improve our wellbeing are very popular. These include things like:
- Eating better – Proper nutrition is an important part of giving our bodies the things they need to function properly. Crash diets tend to fail due to their unsustainable nature. By making small changes and swapping one meal per day with something more healthy is a great way to develop sustainable behaviors that will deliver better nutrition for our bodies.
- Developing a healthier sleep routine – Another thing that we need to function properly is a solid amount of sleep. Unfortunately, the CDC estimates that around 1 in 3 adults don’t get the recommended amount. This not only makes us drowsy throughout the day, but it can also impair our reaction times and make us crabby.
- Engaging in meditation or meditative activities – In our busy, modern lives, one thing that often gets neglected is meditation. Taking some time to quietly center ourselves is an essential part of keeping ourselves calm and clear-headed through our frantic days. Slow down and breathe. You’ll be surprised at how much it helps.
- Mixing more physical activities into our daily routines – Our bodies were made to move. Unfortunately, many of our jobs do not allow for that. If you don’t have time to hit the gym every day, you don’t need to worry. Simple activities like gardening and cleaning can be both meditative and give us a dose of the physical activity that’s missing from our days.
Doing the things our bodies need to be happy and healthy impact nearly every aspect of our lives. When we’re happier with ourselves, we are much more pleasant to be around. Don’t worry about adhering to social norms. Many times they are downright unhealthy. Taking the time to become healthier, happier, and more content with ourselves may just dull the nervous energy that leads to blurting opinions and worrying about what others are doing.
Behaviors that Impact the Environment
Another area where many people choose to focus their improvements is the activities that affect climate change. Many of these are very basic sustainability principles like reducing our water consumption, fossil fuel usage, and remembering to recycle. Some examples of fantastic sustainability behaviors are:
- Avoiding short vehicle trips – We’ve gotten so used to hopping in our cars for every errand that must be run, we may have forgotten that many of the places we’re going aren’t that far away. If we can get all our errands finished without driving, the earth will be incredibly grateful.
- Using public transportation or bicycling when possible – Even when our destinations are a little too far to walk, using public transportation or riding a bike are great alternatives. You’ll save money on gas, help the environment, and possibly add a little physical activity into your day.
- Watching water usage – As many of us have learned over the past few years, running water is not an infinite resource. We have experienced an increase in local droughts recently, which has put a strain on our water supply. Learning to use less will ensure we all have enough to get by.
- Practicing proper recycling habits – A major barrier to our recycling efforts is education. Many people simply do not know how to recycle properly. Learning what is recyclable and what is not, and getting in the habit of placing our refuse in the proper receptacle will keep our landfills at sustainable levels and protect the environment.
There are hundreds of other behavior changes that can help us protect our interpersonal relationships as well as the environment. These lists are just the tip of the iceberg and intended to get you started. Some are simpler than others, but once you get in the groove, they’ll come as naturally as anything else in your life and begin influencing behavior in positive ways.
Once you’ve decided to make a change, you’ll want to prepare yourself to make the most out of your efforts. Be serious about making a change, and let your friends and family hold you accountable. Remind yourself that these changes will have ramifications that echo through every part of your life. That’s why it’s important to start as early as we can.
The earlier we get started, the easier it is to make truly sustainable behavior changes. Our younger minds are like sponges, and making changes can get harder as we age. Learning these behaviors early on can greatly affect our chances of success. To help the young people in your community, sustainability education and environmental awareness programs can provide the support they need.
NTC offers a plethora of programs that can give young people the information they need to adopt sustainable behavior changes that will last a lifetime. The programs are fun and informative, and provide the right balance to make the lessons stick. If you’d like more information on how to set the youth up for success, reach out and see how we can help.