How to make climate-friendly lifestyle changes; OR, Why we lit a net-zero fire under our own butts

The Waddell-Shankland Household

By The Waddell-Shankland Household

The Challenge of Behaviour Change

Change is hard – just look at the stats around New Years resolutions. We all give up on things that we know rationally we want/need, and then we all tend to blame ourselves (I lack willpower), or find a justification (it was not what I actually wanted).

This dynamic is even worse with climate-related changes, where we often feel panicked/anxious (or at least 75% of Canadians do – Im not sure what the other 25% are thinking about while they watch the worst forest fires ever….) It feels like huge problems we don’t know how to deal with as individuals, and anyways, if we can’t even keep that regular gym visit going, how are we going to be net-zero? As a household with a lot of expired memberships and 2 of 10 sessions completed on online courses, we get it.

However, a lot of thinking and science is going into behavior change now, and here is what is being found: willpower and rational “rightness” are almost NEVER sufficient for lasting behavior change. People need other tools.

So do we give up? No, of course not – the stakes are just too high. Of course, the pressure mostly needs to be on the politicians, scientists, financiers, and industry to lead change. However, we are the consumers of their outputs, and the customer is king.  We WILL change policies and what is on the market and what is in our communities by changing WHAT we do and how we spend.  So rationally we know we need to change and make a better world for us and our kids, but what tools can help us realistically make these changes? 

An Analogy for Approaching the Problem

An analogy we used that might help you as you consider positive behavior change for climate was developed by the psychologist Jonathan Haidt, called the Elephant and the Rider. Imagine someone who needs to get an elephant home.  The person is the rational mind that plans and knows; while the elephant is the emotional system. When these are aligned and there is a clear path to the goal, then everything goes well and the change happens. But if the emotional side (our feelings related to our comfort, our social needs, etc) are not pulling in the same direction, the rational rider will NEVER be able to move that elephant.  And, if the path is not clear or full of obstacles, then the elephant (and eventually the rider) will give up too. 

SO, to make change that sticks, we have to (1) reach into our emotional centers to find what truly motivates us (and honestly, reducing carbon by a few kg/mo, or making our lives poorer and more difficult, is probably not going to do it for most of us); and (2) we have to find simple and easy pathways to ensure that we can keep our motivation up.

How We Approached the Change

Our family knew that we wanted to continue to improve our efficiency and positive environmental impact, but we also looked realistically at what motivates us so that we could keep that in mind as we planned and executed.  For each of us, it is different – for Luke, its a challenge; for Crystal a new beautiful space; for Hugh technical innovation; and for Arthur its making money. So we keep those in mind as we look at the changes we’re making.  That helps us stay motivated, rather than focus on vague things like “being more environmental”.

But we also thought about the advantages of social pressure and having to execute and stick to plans after making a big public announcement like entering this Net Zero competition – we wanted to put that pressure on ourselves to do it NOW, and not later. As Billie Jean King said “pressure is a privilege” (Hope some of you are watching the US Open now! great tennis, but the heat….) 

So, as you think about making changes, we encourage you to start by thinking about what really motivates you, and how you can put pressure on yourself to get where you want to go.

Finding a Path

Finally, make sure you have a clear path. We are motivated and the rationale was clearly there for us, but quickly dampened with our initial research – we were soon overwhelmed with all the rebates, and options, and conflicting advice, and processes, and, well, everything.  HOWEVER, with a bit of work, we are starting to see that it may not really be all that hard to get these changes in, and there are really amazing benefits.

We are really excited to share our learnings and processes with you all over the coming months.  We hope that it helps to guide you on your own path, and makes it easy for you to also find your own net-zero path.

Stay tuned!

Luke and the Waddell/Shankland Family.

Written by The Waddell-Shankland Household

Read more of their stories as they vie with the other seven households to reduce their carbon footprint.

Meet the The Waddell-Shankland Household
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