The sustainability habit

We’re creatures of habit. In fact almost 50% of our behaviour is habitual. Many of us would already have some pretty awesome sustainable living behaviours. But to really live a sustainable life and sustain it over a lifetime, it has to become a way of thinking. And that way of thinking, a habit.

You might shower in under four minutes every time, but forget to switch off the tv at the power point. Or you might buy free-range eggs at home, but never remember to check if the chook is free-range when eating out.

And that’s just it, when something’s not a habit, before it becomes a habit, there’s a lot of remembering (and forgetting) involved.

The trick then is to turn sustainable living into a habit, as quickly as possible.

Trouble is, habits don’t develop overnight. One study found that it takes on average 66 days for a behaviour to become habitual.

It helps to understand why habits develop. Essentially, they’re formed because our brain wants to do itself a favour and cut out the hard work. The hard work of having to process the same action over and over again the long way around. When an action is performed repeatedly for a long period of time, our brain creates a new improved neurological pathway for it. For improved efficiency, you see. So you don’t have to ‘think’ about it anymore. You just do it.

Ergo, to turn sustainable behaviour (or way of thinking) into a habit, repeat. Over and over again. Until your brain gets fed up with you and builds itself a shortcut.

My day job is all about behaviour change. I’ve learnt some neat little tricks to help foster new habits quickly:

Use the past tense I drive to the local shop. I mean, I used to drive to the local shop. It’s as simple as that. By using the past tense, you’ve created a mental means by which to break free from past behaviour and forge forward.

Make conditions favourable Keep the recycling bin more accessible than the landfill bin, keep a few reusable shopping bags in your bag, move your bike to an easy to access location and keep wet wipes and a hair brush in your bag so you can easily freshen up when you get to your destination (it might seem silly but a big barrier to women riding to work is their fear of bad hair).

Build your ability to live the sustainable life you want. If you’ve been thinking about riding to work, get your bike tuned and look up the best route to get there. If you want to buy Australian-made, develop a list of local producers.

Believe it will produce an outcome You’ll look better, feel better, there’ll be less pollution, you’ll be setting a good example, an orangutan’s home will be saved…

A thing called cognitive dissonance What do you believe in and how do your actions measure up? If you’re saying you want to be sustainable, but your fridge is full of plastic wrap, recognise the discrepancy between your values and your behaviour and say it out loud. People pay more attention to discrepancies when they hear them in their own voice. Then make a public announcement (to your family, your friends, at work) that you’re doing away with plastic wrap for good. You’ll feel like a hypocrite if you use it. You’ll feel accountable.

What neat tricks do you have for building good eco habits?


  1. I "used" to be lazy about taking my recycle bags to the supermarket and dare I admit to accepting plastics!!!! Thanks for creating an awareness on many levels.

  2. Hi Val S, nice use of past tense! Glad to hear you're making the change :)

  3. Some great tips thanks. I agree with ‘Make conditions favourable’. I find that being organised is an important part making change.
    And sticking with a change until it becomes a habit is worthwhile..that’s why I like focussing on only one or two changes at a time. I’ll focus on a change until it becomes a habit and then move onto the next change after that.



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