I often think about the habits that I want to incorporate as permanent changes in the routine of my life. From getting a workout in everyday, to brushing my teeth every evening, to tracking my spending after each purchase. But how do we get from a place of wanting to build a habit, to actually building one? Some are easy. For example, it is very easy for me to read to my son before bedtime. This is both because it is highly enjoyable, and because he actively reminds me about book time and is heartbroken if we miss it. But then there are other habits, deep cleaning the fridge every month, or spending time working on music theory during guitar practice… not just playing the few songs I know over and over again on a loop. Some habits are harder to build than others. I might go through the day with positive intentions, but when I get to the point of execution—that’s when I wobble.
But, before we go too far down this rabbit hole, here’s a bigger question: what the heck does habit building have to do with a blog on litter reduction and recycling?
Simple answer: everything.
Let me expand on that.
According to an article from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, How we Form Habits, Change Existing Ones: “Studies show that about 40 percent of people’s daily activities are performed each day in almost the same situations.” Often, we form habits without much thought. For instance, turning on the TV when we get home after work. If a parent possessed this habit, this might have been ingrained in us during childhood. This is often a habit people state they don't want to have, because it takes up a great deal of time. If we choose our habits, and decide to build positive ones into our lives, then we can take the automated, habit driven 40 percent of our daily lives and make it far more useful and far more goal driven. If we have goals related to litter reduction and recycling, then those goals are something we can build our habits upon. In choosing our habits, we are choosing how we are spending our time.
Here's a few examples of waste reducing habits we can build:
All of these actions help the environment. All of these actions involve building new habits. Something that I’ve learned in my own recent quest to understand how habit building works, is that we humans tend to have a limited amount of willpower. For me, at least, I think of my willpower like my phone battery. I recharge overnight and wake with a full battery (most of the time), throughout the day. So, I tend to make my best choices in the morning. But each choice I make drains a bit of my battery. If I can find ways to make my habits as easy as possible (reducing the number of choices I have to make to accomplish my goals) then they are infinitely more likely to actually happen, instead of ending up on the backburner because I’m too tired to put in the work.
For example, if my goal is to take my son on a litter walk in the evenings, I’m far more likely to accomplish this goal if I make it a habit to leave trash bags and plastic gloves by the front door. If my goal is to use reusable bags at the grocery store, the easiest way to make sure I actually do so is to make sure that the bags “live” in my car. Not my kitchen. Even if it is easier after unloading my groceries to just shove them under the kitchen sink. Basically, I’ve found that to implement and cement new habits into the ritual of my life, the best thing I can do is anticipate my own laziness while taking into account my goals and setting myself up for success. In Gretchin Rubin’s book on habit building, “Better than Before”, she says, “A habit requires no decision from me, because I’ve already decided.” If we can take our positive goals and make our decisions about how we want to accomplish them, and then ingrain those decisions into our lives, that is when we’ve created a habit. Like setting a Roomba to clean our living rooms while we’re away, we can set up our habits to help us accomplish our daily, yearly, and lifelong goals.
Stef Glass is the Education Coordinator for Keep Chadron Beautiful. She graduated from Chadron State College with her BA in English Literature and minors in History and Creative Writing in May of 2018.