How often do you think about something you KNOW you shouldn't be doing and then feel bad about the fact that you can't seem to help yourself? Like eating things that aren't good for you, staying up late, having too many drinks, or sitting and watching too much television.  The thought of changing the behaviour feels like deprivation, even though you know that ultimately it will make you feel good.  So you sit there and keep doing what you're doing, and feeling bad about it.

I wasn't feeling great a couple of weeks ago and was thinking about all the things I ought to be doing to help myself feel better.  I was trying to do the right things and succeeding in doing a lot of things that were good for me.  But there is always room for improvement. I was kicking myself for the things I wasn’t doing.  I was not physically feeling well and was blaming myself for it.  I thought myself in circles.  The idea of depriving myself of one more thing was so disheartening that I ultimately threw up my hands and said, "forget it", and promptly went and did all of the things I knew I SHOULDN'T be doing, like staying up late, eating the wrong things, and having a few drinks.   

Of course I felt even worse the next morning.  Its human nature to want to avoid deprivation.  Depriving ourselves of something we enjoy almost never feels good.   In fact many studies demonstrate that we have a deep instinct to avoid loss. Psychologists refer to this instinct as “loss aversion”.

Perhaps I was thinking about it all wrong. 

Rather than avoiding the things I don't want, I could focus on adding more of what I do want.  Just changing the thinking immediately made me feel better. 

Instead of depriving myself of a glass of wine, I added a glass of water before I had the wine. 

Rather than not eating mom's shortbread cookies (my favourite), I added more vegetables at lunch.

Instead of avoiding coffee I chose a green tea latte. 

Rather than not sitting so much I added a walk by the river. 

The shift in perspective made all the difference. It made the difference between feeling small and tired and feeling positive and in control.  There is no need to deprive myself.  I can simply add something to reach the same goal.

The best part is, once I started adding positive steps to my day, I wanted to do more of it.  It became increasingly easy and natural to do the right things for myself.   

So the next time you're thinking about depriving yourself, evolve your thinking and choose to simply add something.

Baby Steps to a Sustainable Lifestyle

Like water dripping on a rock.  That is the basis of my philosophy for making change in my life.  Small changes can have a big impact long term.  I find the idea of making a big change overwhelming.  So I start small.  It doesn't take long for that change to take on a life of its own.  Pretty soon the old way of doing things seems foreign and strange.

Take waste, for example.  It is so pervasive in our society, so normal to use something once and throw it away, that we don't even think about it. Or at least we try not to think about it, because thinking about it makes us feel helpless.  How do you fight something so big?  You take your kids to McDonalds for dinner as a treat.  They want a happy meal.  At the end of the meal, which took all of ten minutes to eat, you see how much garbage is left on the table.  Piles of it.  And the kids have a plastic toy to take home, in which they are interested for about five minutes until it ends up in the garbage because it's broken or underfoot. What can you do? Not go to McDonalds?  Not treat yourself occasionally?  Cook dinner from scratch every night, even though you're tired and busy and overwhelmed?  Tell your kids they can't have the happy meal because the toy is just junk?  Would it really make a difference in light of the millions upon millions of people who eat at McDonalds if you were the only one who abstained?  Why should you be the only one to be 'good' when everyone else is doing it?  And even if you stop going to McDonalds, what about all the other unnecessary waste you participate in throughout your day?   Sure, maybe you could give up McDonalds, but not your daily coffee from the coffee shop.  Or the magazines you have delivered to your house.  Or the plastic bag from the corner store because you forgot to bring your reusable bag.  Or the disposable razors you like to use.  Or, or, or….   you think these thoughts and pretty soon you're down the rabbit hole and have to stop thinking about it because it's too overwhelming and it's making your head hurt.

But what if the answer was simple?  Baby steps.  The first step is to open your eyes.  You don't have to change anything.  Just notice.  Notice the waste left after you meal at McDonalds.  Notice the things that you buy, and the amount of packaging they require.  Every time you put something in the garbage, think about how many times it was used.  Was it just once?  Is it recyclable?  Is it compostable?  Is there another option I could buy or make instead?  You don't have to do any more than this.  Take your blinders off,  forever.  Without awareness there can be no change. 

The exciting part is, once you truly open your eyes, you will want to make some changes.  You will start to recognize small changes that you can easily make.  And it will make you feel so good when you do.   You don't have to become perfect and eliminate all waste from your life.  In western society right now that's almost impossible.  Just choose the changes that are easy for you.  Baby steps. 

  • Buy milk in returnable glass bottles

  • Make your own yogurt

  • Buy washable, leak-proof, reusable kitchen garbage bags.  (I use diaper pail liners)

  • Start a compost pile to use in your garden

  • Brew your own perfect cup of coffee at home, and take the time to savour it

  • Make your own popcorn instead of buying potato chips

  • Make your own soda pop or soda water at home

  • Make your own whipped cream at home instead of buying the cans.  I use a stainless steel whipped cream dispenser which keeps the cream fresh longer, and it's fun to use.

  • Make your own tea lights out of olive oil

  • Keep reusable grocery bags in your car

  • Use reusable produce bags

  • Keep a container in your car for take-out in case you have leftovers when you're in a restaurant

  • Recycle as much as you can

  • Take your old light bulbs and batteries to the waste disposal area in your city.  The toxins in these should not end up in the landfill.  I keep a box in my garage for these and drop them off once a year.

  • Replace all the bulbs in your house with LED bulbs.  They last forever and pay for themselves in energy savings.  Our local government often offers coupons to encourage people to switch to LED.  Look for coupons and get the bulbs for half price.

  • Buy vegetables from a local market or from a community share.  There is no packaging, and minimal pollution created in getting it to your table.  Plus it tastes way better.

  • Buy things in bulk and bring your own containers, to eliminate packaging.

  • Replace plastic wrap with reusable beeswax wrap to wrap cheese and other items in your fridge

  • Eliminate repeat offenders like single use coffee pods

  • Instead of throwing out old building supplies or household items that are still useful, give them to a local charity like Habitat for Humanity or Goodwill, where they can sell them and use the money to help others

  • When you are tempted to buy that adorable plastic Halloween decoration, ask yourself if you will keep and reuse it next year.  If not, don't buy it.

  • When giving gifts to children ask yourself, "Will this gift be passed on when they are done with it, or will it likely break and end up in the landfill?"  Try to choose books, toys made out of natural materials like wood, or useful things like a magnifying glass, a flashlight or binoculars.  Don't get the kid-sized mini version, get the full-sized adult version.  It will have a longer useful life, and they’ll like it better anyway.

  • When buying anything, get good quality that won't tear or break in the short term.  Try to find something that will last a long time.  It may cost more up-front, but it will save you in the long run when you don't have to replace it.  Think stainless steel or wood instead of plastic.

  • Buy refillable as much as possible.  Ask yourself if it's possible to buy something refillable rather than one use.  There are lots of things you will realize that are refillable, like pens for example.  You don't have to throw away a whole pen.  You could just buy the pens with replaceable refills.

  • Buy items, such as toilet paper, made with recycled materials.

  • Use bar soap instead of liquid.  Think of the cost of manufacturing the plastic bottle and the pollution created transporting a product that is largely water.  You can buy bar soap in specialty shops without any packaging.  Bar soap lasts a really long time, too.

  • Jar your own fresh, in-season fruit

  • Dehydrate your own food.  Fresh herbs, pineapple as sweet snacks for the kids, bananas chips.  If you get a large dehydrator it can double as a yogurt maker.

Remember, the most important principle is baby steps. I was amazed at how quickly my household garbage was reduced going to the curb each week, after implementing only a few of these changes.   I'd rather see you choose one of these small changes than none.  That's how big change starts.