This year everything will be different, right? Or not everything, but at least you will be a better version of yourself. Or maybe not your entire self, but at least you will get rid of a few stubborn habits…Recognizable? Most of us are planning a bunch of resolutions when the new year rolls around. If we stick to them, is another story. Perhaps it is what makes us human: the desire to do better tomorrow. A fresh start. With less screen time, more books, less waste and more time spent outdoors.
Each year it happens again: at the end of December, we are fully motivated to do just a little better in the new year. And barely a week later, a quarter of us have already given up. What makes it so difficult to stick to our resolutions?
First of all, many companies do well if people stick to their old habits. Why do we keep on buying polluting cars? Because car manufacturers spend up to $4,000 on advertisements for every vehicle they sell. The same goes for soft drinks and why do we keep shopping online while we know all that ‘free’ shipping isn’t really free of charge.
But it’s also a matter of how we are wired as human beings. No matter how eager we are to change deeply ingrained habits, that’s also the thing we are the very worst at. Or to put it more accurately: we perform so well because we have developed certain patterns that we repeat over and over again. As much as 43% of everything we do during the day, we do on auto-pilot. That’s good, because it saves the tiny amount of control and willpower we have to make decisions that really matter.
So should we accept the fact that everything will remain as is? Preferably not, because after almost two years of living ‘on pause’, we are yearning for a new start more than ever. Even planet Earth is crying out for change. If we want to combat climate change, doing nothing is simply not an option. Is it hopeless to try to change? We’re happy to say that no, it is not. There are a few things you can do to help you stick to your new year’s resolutions. And the lessons come from an unexpected source.
Willpower or perseverance won’t help you make better decisions. It is wiser to know yourself and to recognize you cannot rely on your own willpower or perseverance to become a better version of yourself. Think of the legendary Greek hero Odysseus sailing past the Sirens on his long quest back home. He knows he won’t be able to resist their lure, so he gets himself tied to the ship’s mast and urges his crew not to untie him under any circumstances, no matter how hard he’s begging for it. Weak? No, Odysseus already understood that we need others to turn our intentions into actions. And that sometimes not doing something is the hardest part.
Social pressure is responsible for some of the darkest pages in human history. People are group animals, and we care an awful lot about what others think of us. But you can also use that peer pressure to your own advantage. Do you really want to go vegan this year or start exercising more? Try doing it with others. Accountability and competition are very powerful motivators.
Many Dutchies were already slowly giving up plastic shopping bags for their groceries, yet things only really changed when the Dutch government banned free disposable bags in 2016. And that change was spectacular. In just one year, the average Dutch person no longer used 175 bags, but only 35 bags. A complete ban on non-biodegradable plastic bags (as Mauritius introduced in 2004) could easily reduce that figure even further.
To change the world, it is best not to start with yourself. Usually, it works better the other way around: if your environment changes, you can adopt new habits more easily. You notice this when you change jobs, have a baby or you move to a new home. After such radical life changes, there’s a window of opportunity of about three months in which you can pick up new habits more easily. Collective changes can also be such a turning point. Think of a sudden increase in energy prices or a financial crisis. This can prompt us to be more mindful of our energy consumption and implement money-saving strategies.
Political pressure is often the most effective method to make a change. Voting for someone who wants to ensure 100% green energy? Good start: it will make it so much easier for you and millions of others to stop using fossil fuels. And of course, you can do more than that. Support action groups that make political ground. Or use the legal system to demand justice for the planet and future generations.
Odysseus can also teach us something about the little things we do at home: sometimes you have to make it harder on yourself to make it easy on yourself. Do you find it hard to bike short distances? Then consider car-sharing. Cooperative car-sharing means you will have to make a reservation for each ride. This added hassle might make grabbing your bike a lot more appealing. Bonus: other users contribute to the insurance and maintenance of your car.
Are you ready to start the new year? With these tips, we guarantee you can have a positive impact on the climate. Don’t worry if you can’t stick to them all the time, the important thing is making moves in the right direction. Good luck!