We are what we repeat! Human can be defined by the activities they consciously and unconsciously repeatedly do, their routine. The key to change for the better is to break an ill habit and substitute it by a healthier one. But habits as we have seen in our previous post are somewhat tricky to rewire. Here are a compilation of tips to implement in order to power the switch and make your next sustainable habit as easy as your daily 2K morning power walk :)
Make it the Default Option
A first trick is to make the sustainable option the default one. Setting a service as default will tweak your behavior to change effortlessly in no time. The benefit is that you will not have to think further. It is especially handy to start with digital services. Technologies enable us to automate these new habit and put the former one out of sight. We can think of automatically setting your email account to flush the unnecessary email clutter after a pre determined period of time, switch from printed to digital copy of documents in some of your internet accounts: invoices, banking statements, set your dishwasher into eco wash and or your washing machine in cold cycle as default.
Make it the Only Option
Another alternative is to not only making the bad habit invisible but suppressing it altogether. Basically, you will have no other choice. Try to work with convenience in your mind as much as possible, meaning working on the timing (when the behavior occurs) and the space around you (where it happens).
It especially works by swapping from single-use to their most durable counterpart. If the bad option cannot be found anywhere, how can you go back to it?
Switch your trash bags by recyclable or compostable ones. You can even eliminate the bags where not relevant like in your “paper only” bin or the plastic one.
Plastic packaging caring product like shampoo, body gel, shaving cream … can be substituted by their dry bar counterparts.
Create Ready-to-Use Kits, for travel, for daily commute, for grocery shopping. No problem if you do not know what to put in them. Some shops have already been curating them for you with the right size and material for you to enjoy in no time.
Just like the number of clicks you have to do to reach the desired information or do the desired action on a website (eg book a flight), the number of physical actions required to perform a certain task in your direct environment can determined the outcome: the lesser the better. Here the way your space is arranged is also to be considered. So you can think of any space like an Internet home page and see how many click/actions are needed for you to do the right thing. You can remove any possible frictions or guide the desired outcome in a more obvious manner.
You are more likely going to dispose the paper tube of your toilet roll in your all-in bin in your bathroom rather than disposing it in your paper-only bin which would be located in your kitchen (or anywhere else). It would happen most likely because… no paper bins are directly accessible in your toilet. But if you put a small paper box next to your toilet or where the extra rolls supply are located, then you have more chance to put the tube in the right bin.
If you feel you are throwing away food because you cannot seem to manage what is already open in your fridge and go past due date? Do not trust your memory; create a hack by dedicating a space in it just for this. It can be either placing them in a designated box or playing it inventory style: First In First Out, already opened items visible upfront or on the right side of their glass shell.
Remember those Ready-to-Use Kits we talked above? You most likely put your keys at the same spot every time you enter your home, most probably near your entrance door. So let’s apply the same logic by placing those kits where you pass on before accomplishing the desired action. Think of the most obvious spots your eyes cross. It will become the facilitating reminder, eg for your tote grocery bag : your coat hangers, umbrella place, shoe rack…
Focus on Actions over Motion
In order for a new habit to stick you should focus on actions rather than motion. It is all about the number of repetition of the same action rather than the time period over which you implemented this new habit.
So do not think: “It has been 12 days since I adapted this new behavior", but rather focus on the successful streak: “I have done it 26 times in a row”.
Be self-indulging with yourself, breaking habit is very difficult to do so, usually major life changes such as relocating, changing a job… only may create an exception. Entering a new environment wipe out bad habits and it makes people keener to experiment with their former routine.
Level Up Your Game!
Once you redesign your direct environment and your focus with the above, we share three different techniques to sustain your good habits: prompts, feedback and incentives.
It is text messages to remind yourself to engage in the chosen desired behaviors.
What: choose your topic and label it, easy to understand.
Where: displayed the prompt where the behavior takes place.
When: time the prompt when people are motivated or routinely engage in such behavior.
Personal and community-based to fuel competition
How you perform alone: mileage in car savings, tracking your daily / weekly improvement is a good way to get engaged.
How you perform compared to others: energy bills savings, being in a community that share your passion and objective is keys to stay on track.
How you perform towards another person: Get accountable of your actions by committing verbally to another person. Fix a weekly, bi-weekly meeting with her/him and take this time to review your former goals , talk about what you could and couldn't do in order to reach them, and set new ones for the following meeting.
Building rewards to guide a desired outcome. It is however a double-edged tactic.
The desired behavior may disappear once the incentive is removed.
It reduces the intrinsic motive, which is the most powerful of all.
Combining external and internal motives resulted in less preference for a sustainable product than intrinsic alone.
Watch Out: from Green Waterfall to Entitlement
Becoming more sustainable by adapting your behavior for the better will make people ready to develop further and cascade those benefits to create additional eco-friendly habits in the future. People would start with small steps and little by little reach for more meaningful ones.
But there is another effect that good-willing people should at the same time be warned about. It is directed by a feeling of entitlement called "Behavior Licensing". One good action could result in a bad following behavior. The person feels that his/her initial good action grant him/her the right for a unsustainable "free pass" or excess of use.
Using more paper when they know the printed paper is made of recycled fibers,
Decluttering one’s closet and donating to charity some of one’s clothes instead of throwing them away, only to go straight to a fast fashion outlet to replenish one’s garderobe
Driving more km than usual when owning a car model with increased fuel efficiency
Increased use of a energy of a more efficient heating / cooling home system.
White, Katherine, Hardisty, David J., Habib Rishad, The Elusive Green Customer, July-August 2019, HBR
Clear, James, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, 2018, Avery