How many times have you tried to form (or break) a habit and failed? I’ll wait while you count.
If you’re like me, you’ve determined that number is much larger than what you can add up on your fingers and toes. Because forming new habits, even eco-friendly ones, is difficult.
Remembering to actually bring your reusable tote bags with you, making time to cook a plant-based meal, resisting impulse purchases—these are all things we have to train our brains to do. And it’s why you can’t just go zero-waste over night. (Nor should you ever in my opinion because a zero-waste lifestyle is unattainable and anxiety-inducing for most people. Imperfect sustainability FTW! But anyways, I digress).
Developing eco-friendly habits takes time, so start small, set realistic goals, and remember to be kind to yourself every step of the way.
6 Tips for Successfully Forming Eco-Friendly Habits
1. Start with small eco-friendly habits
Every type-A bone in my body cringes thinking about what I’m about to say next, but don’t be too ambitious. It’s a great way to set yourself up for failure. Instead of picking five new planet-friendly habits, pick just one or two. For example, maybe you feel like your paper towel usage is getting out of control. Set a goal to start using reusable rags to clean up messes more regularly. It may seem insignificant, but by setting one small goal instead of five you’re going to increase your likelihood of succeeding. As a result you’ll feel accomplished and motivated to keep going, whereas setting too many goals will leave you feeling overwhelmed and defeated.
2. Set yourself up for success
Once you’ve determined the new habit(s) you’d like to form you need to identify your barriers to success and brainstorm ways to overcome them. Returning to our paper towel example from earlier—maybe the reason you frequently use paper towels is because you consistently forget to wash your rags and therefore don’t have any clean ones at your disposal when you need them.
Create a system that fixes that. Start by making sure you have at least one clean rag for each day of the week (eco-tip: old t-shirts make excellent upcycled rags). You could then put two bins under your kitchen sink—one for clean rags, one for dirty rags. Then set a reminder on your phone to add them to your weekly laundry routine. This reduces the risk of you being left without a clean rag on hand, and as a result increases your chances of succeeding (and soaking in the serotonin of solidifying your eco-friendly habit).
3. Start with what interests you
Habits are easier to form when you actually enjoy doing them. So for instance, if you love fashion, aim to focus your new habits on your wardrobe. If you’re in the habit of buying three new items each month, make a goal to buy them secondhand. Research local thrift shops, look into online secondhand shops. Making this area of your life more environmentally sustainable will come much easier because it’s something you’re excited about. Starting with an area of your life that you don’t have much interest in will make the habit-forming process feel like work, which could deter you from trying to develop eco-friendly habits in other areas of your life.
4. Create a habit tracker
A habit tracker is exactly what it sounds like—a tool that’ll help you track your habits. There are many different ways to make one, but at its core, it’ simply a calendar dedicated to your habits. Every day (or week, or month) that you complete a habit, you check it off. A visual reminder of your progress will help keep you motivated, and let’s be honest, it’s just plain satisfying to check off a box.
5. Create a reward system
According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, solidifying a new habit requires a reward system. For instance, if you want to cook more plant-based meals, allow yourself to listen to your favorite podcast, or watch an episode of your favorite show while cooking. Similarly, if you want to remember to bring your tote bags to the grocery store, you could reward yourself with a piece of chocolate every time you successfully remember.
In these examples, your brain is motivated to perform a routine because it associates it with something positive. This approach, especially in the early phase of habit development, can improve your chance of success and make habit-forming an enjoyable endeavor.
6. Plan for set backs
It’s important to acknowledge that you’ll have slip ups. And that’s okay. As long as you’re prepared for them, you won’t stay off track for long. When you do have a setback, instead of berating yourself for it, remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes and they’re an inevitable part of creating long-term change.
Next, learn from the misstep. Consider why it happened—what were you doing right before the slip up? What were you thinking? How did you feel afterward? And then analyze your answers to help you determine how you can prevent a similar mistake in the future.
Ultimately, forming new habits takes time (an average of 66 days to be specific). So be patient with yourself and know that the planet will appreciate your effort no matter what.
If you enjoyed learning how to form eco-friendly habits and are craving more sustainable living tips, then sign up for The Eco Edit! You’ll be joining hundreds of other pro-planet enthusiasts who are passionate about bettering the world through small, sustainable steps.