Changing habits or changing the habits

by John Stapel

When trying to save money or become more green the following actions are often suggested.

  • Eat less meat.
  • Turn down the thermostat.
  • Turn off the light when you leave the room.
  • Drive less.
  • Recycle.

All of these are minor corrections of bad choices yet it takes a lot of effort to successfully change a behavior. So says the guy who spent weeks getting his wife to turn of the lights when she left the room when he first met her. The reason it is hard is because habits are deeply ingrained behaviors. Being deeply rooted, they are hard to change, duh! (No that wasn’t circular, just a clarification).

Now don’t get me wrong. I think it would be wonderful if we collectively could reduce a fraction of the waste we produce by adopting these measures. Yet rather than putting a band aid on a bad behavior, I suggest that replacing it with an entirely new behavior will be much less emotionally painful.

  • Don’t eat meat at all. Aside from the fact that meat tastes well to a meat eater (but try not eating meat for a few months!), not eating meat has substantial health benefits e.g. reduced cancer risk, substantially reduced cardiovascular risks, more energy, etc.
  • Turning the thermostat down is a nice gesture, but turning off entire rooms is far more effective. Live in something smaller.
  • Eliminating rooms also means that you don’t have to remember turning the lights on and off as you walk from room to room to get things done.
  • Not getting into the car to drive out to buy every single little thing you just thought off is a much harder habit to break than selling the car and going car less.
  • Using those green containers is grand, but imagine the impact if everything you had was recycled? Buy used! It recycles the entire product. If you are not using something you own, get rid of it so that someone else may use it rather than buying their own new.

These changes would fall under lifestyle changes. I think lifestyle changes are not only more effective but also more pleasant to live with. They are a changes in kind rather than changes in degree. Instead of saying “I drive a car but I try to drive it less”, say “I ride a bike and I ride it anywhere”; instead of saying “I live in a 5 bedroom house but I use CFLs and I keep the thermostat at 60F”, say “I live in a 1 bedroom house and I pay very little to heat it”; Instead of worrying whether you get enough vegetables, eat mainly vegetables. That is what I would do, and I fail if I don’t!

Many thanks go to KF for the “coffee fund” contribution!

Originally posted 2009-01-22 16:22:07.