It is so easy to get discouraged when you base your idea of what it means to live a sustainable lifestyle on YouTubers, or Instagram influencers, who seemingly live the perfect aesthetic zero-waste lifestyle.
But if they are honest with you, many of these influencers will tell you that they too still have their fair share of challenges and bad days.
If you want to live a more sustainable lifestyle or are struggling to live one, here are a few great tips for getting started and staying on the journey.
1. Connect with the WHY…Why are you choosing to live a sustainable lifestyle?
What and How questions are Functional, Why is Inspirational
Before you can begin to think about ‘HOW’ you can make a difference to the environment, the climate, animal welfare, health, humanity, or your lifestyle in general, you must first figure out the ‘WHY’.
People who start with what needs to be done, how things need to be done, and who needs to get it done are short-sighted. They miss the overall purpose and goal.
Asking why is inspirational, as it brings you to the very core – why are you seeking a solution in the first place.
Choosing a sustainable lifestyle is a journey, and the first step of that journey is asking yourself why.
Why are you choosing to change, on whose behalf are you changing? – is it guilt management i.e., cognitive dissonance, fear/anxiety peer pressure, moral reasons, health-related, social norms (because it’s what’s trending on social media), or simply personal preference?
Asking yourself why is the beginning of your journey, and will give your endeavor purpose.
Think about it like this. If someone gave you the coordinates to a random location on a map, before you made the journey you would want to know why.
So why should this be any different?
Remember a sustainable lifestyle is not a sprint but a journey and knowing why you are on it will give you the strength to press forward in challenging times when you feel like giving up.
2. Make gradual changes – You can’t change everything at once
Do not let your passion, overpower your patience.
Changing too much, too fast will get in the way of establishing real lifelong changes. Do not expect a total revamp overnight.
The way we as humans change is by slowly changing old habits, and gradually forming new ones.
If you want real change that will stick in your life, be prepared to make small, modest changes that will allow you to adjust mentally, physically, and emotionally.
If you try to change everything all at once, you are probably not going to stick with it for more than a few weeks, before you revert back to your old lifestyle, thinking “well at least I gave it go”.
It is important to just take one small step at a time. Then another, and another, and before you know it, your consumption and waste habits are completely different from when you started.
Don’t do anything drastic, to begin with, remember this is a journey and not a sprint. For example, you don’t have to completely change your own diet or your family’s overnight and wake up vegan.
For instance, many of the changes required to attain a sustainable lifestyle also involve you having to learn how to cope and handle yourself in social situations i.e., with friends and family, learning new recipes, and all the things that come with living a sustainable lifestyle.
3. Stop guilt-tripping yourself
Stop guilt-tripping yourself – you are not the one solely responsible for the climate crisis, and any other major global problems, yet, some people seem adamant about making others feel guilty.
We often hear “ Stop driving”,” Stop flying” Stop eating meat!” And, “If you do any of these things, you are labeled as a bad person, responsible for the environmental crisis.
Yes, climate change is happening, and yes, human activity is contributing to the climate heating up faster than ever before. But climate change isn’t your fault. It’s capitalism. A broken economy. Self-blame isn’t going to fix anything.
Environmental guilt (also known as eco-guilt, or eco-anxiety) is becoming a more common phenomenon, especially among millennials.
Environmental guilt refers to an individual feeling that they should be doing more to help the environment, and ultimately save the planet.
So, while changing your individual lifestyle might help towards reducing some emissions, a body of research shows that individuals are essentially blameless for the large scale of climate change that we are experiencing.
It is the multinational companies, and the governmental and economic structures that support and a times fund them that is to blame – so, be easy on yourself, you’re not the problem, the system is. According to a historic report published by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) – voted as the number one climate change research provider by institutional investors – in conjunction with the Climate Accountability Institute, there are 100 fossil fuel producing companies responsible for more than 70% of all global greenhouse gas emissions since 1988.
4. Making mistakes is part of the Journey
If you are making mistakes it means that you are at least trying, you might not get it right the first week, month, or year. And even then, you might still falter along the way from time to time.
Don’t carry your mistakes around with you, you need to learn how to embrace the uncertainty of this novel journey you’re taking.
Remember, the world doesn’t yet have the infrastructure, or technology that will allow you to live a full-fledged sustainable lifestyle, so everything is literally working against you.
In fact, you should consider yourself strong and empowered for taking on a journey where you are swimming against the stream.
You will not always get it right on your journey, but at least you are doing your best, and your best is all that can be asked of you, so give yourself permission to make mistakes.
5. Don’t mind the eco-cynics
On your journey to a more sustainable lifestyle, you will undoubtedly, or have already encountered cynics.
Many of these cynics will often claim that any attempt to live a sustainable lifestyle is pointless, and can never be achieved.
Cynics will often point out all the things you are still doing, such as taking the bus, going on holidays, having kids, and other things to make you feel guilty.
Often, eco-cynics will see people that are striving to live a sustainable lifestyle as hypocritical do-gooders, only out to show-off their own supposed virtues.
Some cynics assert that the jury is still out on climate change, and if there is an environmental crisis it is probably too late to fix the problem anyway, so why bother?.
When encountering a cynic, a natural temptation is to try and argue them out of their attitude, and it can sometimess be extremely discouraging.
But once you understand why people are cynical, their cynicism will not get to you or discourage you.
Cynicism is essentially an effective shield against the world to protect us from getting hurt. No one is born a cynic; it is a defense mechanism we pick up to protect ourselves from getting hurt or disappointed.
Cynical people become suspicious of people trying to live a sustainable lifestyle, because they know, or have seen similar people fail in the past – so they are afraid to attempt themselves and discourage others that try to.
In reality, all cynical people want nothing more than to be proven wrong.
“Inside every cynical person is a disappointed idealist.” – George Carlin. Cynical people disappoint themselves before the world or anyone else can do it for them.
6. Don’t label yourself
Are you familiar with people asking, “ so what are you exactly? a vegan or a vegetarian? but you still eat so, and so, are you sure you a vegan?
People love labels, and they love labeling other people. But be careful with being labeled or labeling yourself. it sometimes only adds to the expectation, pressure, and responsibility you might feel on your shoulders.
7. You don’t have to give up everything you love
Most people are discouraged from starting a sustainable lifestyle, for fear of the things that they might have to give up.
The majority of people think that living a sustainable lifestyle means giving up many of the things they love – a complete overhaul of every aspect of their lives.
No, you do not have to give up on buying books, rare collective items, and many of the things that make you happy and make a hard life that much easier to cope with.
Remember point 3, climate change is largely due to overblown multinational companies, so, you are not solely responsible for the environmental crisis, be easy on yourself, this journey should not be approached as a punishment.
You are not out to punish or make yourself suffer and live a miserable life. Find the areas where you can make changes, and make changes there without sacrificing the things that bring you genuine joy.
8. Surround yourself with like-minded people
Surrounding yourself with like-minded people is an extremely important step if you are ever to attain anything that resembles a sustainable lifestyle.
Of course, the criteria for like-minded people are different for everyone. For example, if you are into sustainability and environmentalism, you should make an endeavor to form a network of people, (family, friends, co-workers, etc.) who share your concern for the environment and can inspire, and help you in your journey to a more sustainable lifestyle.
You know you have found the right support system (right group) when you can be yourself around them, and talk openly about your successes and shortcomings without fear of judgment or misunderstanding.,
9. You will get overwhelmed from time to time
No one said that living a sustainable lifestyle was ever going to be easy, especially in a world of capitalism, where there seems to be no end to quenching the desire to consume more and more, and more – It seems endless.
The sheer magnitude of the climate problem can itself overwhelm you and incite despair and hopelessness, as you are sat there thinking whether you are doing enough to live a sustainable life, and how that stacks up against the climate crisis that seems insurmountable.
You will have your good days and your bad days, but if you remember the points discussed in this post, you will have more good days than bad 😊
10. Remember WHY you are on the journey
From time to time, you should remind yourself and reconnect with the things and the motivations that made you want to be on the sustainable lifestyle journey in the first place.
What are you waiting for get started 😊