To Make Your Sustainable and Healthy Habits Stick, Adopt a Positive Outlook
Even in the face of calamitous climate events, having a positive outlook will help you make changes and adopt healthier habits that stick. So while you see rising evidence of climate change all around you, those who make sustainable habits stick feel that their actions are making a difference. That same optimism can also make you personally healthier, according to studies. In a poll of American and Australian citizens, 93% of respondents expressed concern for the environment and indicated that they are ready to act by making positive changes. Sustainable habits that individuals can undertake include recycling, driving less, avoiding single-use plastics, and adopting a plant-based diet.
The food we eat accounts for 20 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, and by giving up meat and dairy and going plant-based, it's possible to lower that significantly, according to Jonathan Safran Foer, who wrote We Are the Weather, about how our food choices affect the current climate change we are now living with, and what happens going forward.
But identifying a problem is just the first step of a much larger project: Changing your lifestyle to incorporate sustainable habits can prove to be a bit more challenging. To better ensure success as you work to incorporate more sustainable habits into your daily life, consider digging a little deeper into the science behind habit formation.
Understand how habits are formed, then trigger better ones
It is generally accepted that habits have three distinct components: Trigger, action, and reward. When you’re working to form a new habit, it’s crucial that you focus on how each component relates to your end goal. Our reward centers primarily fuel change, so you must be sure to reward yourself every time you reach a goal or milestone.
The human body’s rewards center essentially runs on dopamine, a powerful neurotransmitter. There are plenty of ways to give yourself a temporary dopamine boost, most of which have negative repercussions. What’s more, the rewards from smoking a cigarette, drinking alcohol, or overindulging in a rich dessert tend to fade quickly.
Conversely, dopamine cultivated via positive habits such as regular exercise and plant-based eating builds up over time. When it comes to sustainable habits, you’re building a strong reward-based foundation every time you bring along reusable totes, take the bus to work, or choose the meat-free option at lunchtime.
Maintaining an optimistic outlook can also improve your own health
Forming sustainable habits starts with your triggers or cues. In regards to adopting a healthier, more sustainable diet, identify the cues or triggers that cause you to crave unhealthy foods. Triggers are highly individualized and can come from both internal and external sources.
Where sustainable habits can help improve your overall health, triggers typically have the opposite effect and can negatively affect you both mentally and physically. “Physical health can associate significantly with a person’s mental health,” according to a study from Bradley University, and adopting an optimistic outlook has been shown to improve physical health and keep chronic conditions like heart disease from progressing. The good news is that adopting sustainable habits, no matter how small, may induce increased feelings of optimism, life satisfaction, and happiness, as you work to change the world for the better. So by improving your actions, and telling yourself that you're making a difference in your world, you also benefit your own health.
Positivity leads to healthier habits, and eco-friendly consumers are more optimistic
According to the study of Australians and Americans who want to make better choices for the planet, eco-friendly consumers are also more optimistic, which means they are physically healthier as well. The following graphic shows how these groups stack up:
Staying positive is important, but so is finding like-minded people who support your goals. Major lifestyle changes can’t occur in a bubble, nor should you go at it alone. Those pursuing a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle may lean on healthcare professionals or loved ones for support. Sometimes, we need a second voice to give us a much-needed boost on challenging days.
Turn your new positive actions into habits and make them stick
Ultimately, however, successfully building sustainable habits comes down to your motivation and willingness to change. Simply put, if you’re not willing to make the (often difficult) changes to better your life and health, as well as the health of the planet, then you’re unlikely to succeed in the long-term. Further, you need to be the spearhead of your own change, especially if your ultimate goal is to foster a sustainable mindset over the long term. In fact, “progress towards a self-determined behavioral goal supports patients’ sense of autonomy and sustains interest,” U.K. researchers found.
When implementing lasting change, repetition is key: In fact, repeating your actions consistently is key to the promotion of long-term behavioral changes. Start by setting an attainable goal that’s challenging but not overwhelming, and start small. If your goal is to adopt a plant-based diet, for example, choose one or two days per week as “meat-free” days, and be consistent.
Again, make sure not to skip the “reward” step. Every time you achieve your goal, reinforce the behavior with something positive — perhaps treat yourself to a spa day, or reward yourself with a decadent dessert made with locally sourced ingredients.
Maintain a healthy relationship with food, and resolve to eat more plant-based choices
As you work to cultivate sustainable habits, try not to feel as though you’re missing out on something. Positivity is key when you’re working to develop a healthier relationship with food, and in turn, with the natural world. If you primarily look at your evolving habits in a negative light, you’ll likely end up doing more harm than good, and you may even abandon your goals altogether.
To make the habit of sustainability stick, stay positive and tell yourself that your choices are making a difference. Rather than viewing a reduction in single-use plastics or processed foods as deprivation, focus on how your new healthier habits can make your life better. For starters, think of the numerous ways in which sustainable eating makes a positive impact on both the planet and your local community. And don’t be afraid to seek out encouragement from outside parties if you need extra support. Join a Facebook page and share suggestions.
In this way, positive thinking, healthy plant-based eating and sustainability can co-exist in a symbiotic relationship: As you continue to form sustainable heart-healthy habits, you’ll stimulate your brain’s dopamine receptors, reinforcing the myriad positive aspects of cultivating sustainability in every area of your daily life.