2020 has already been called by many “the year of climate action”. This month environmental correspondent Lizzy Mace shows how by simply taking a new approach to the same old resolutions, you can do good for the planet and for yourself without even having to come up with a fresh pledge.
Some of the common pitfalls in approaching our resolutions – trying to overcome the natural low energy of mid-winter, trying to go it alone, and focusing on what we’re giving up – reflect broader approaches to modern life that have led us to the environmental crisis in which we find ourselves.
Equally, shifting these three aspects of your approach – working with the cyclical rhythms of nature, joining together in community, and focusing on what we are set to gain – represent the deeper mindset shifts we need to get us out of the climate crisis.
Taking this gentler, more positive approach can even be the key to lasting success. So dust off that old resolution that you left at the back of the cupboard this time last year, and read on to recycle it for the planet.
Wait it out
Firstly, don’t start now. The biggest pitfall we make with resolutions is expecting to start straight away on the first of January and to expect ourselves to change overnight. And then berate ourselves when we can’t keep it up.
Truthfully, we’re still in the middle of winter. And while this is a great time to be considering a new start, it’s not the right time to actually make that start. Winter is a time to rest and regenerate – new starts are for the spring.
Trying to overcome the cycles of nature is one of the biggest contributory factors to the environmental degradation we’re seeing today. Instead, learning to work with them could be our salvation. All the suggestions in this article start in the spring, giving you the rest of winter to, well, rest.
If your resolution is to eat more healthily, the perfect way to get in touch with the seasonal rhythms is to join a local food garden. Planting will start in the spring and by the summer time you will have an abundance of fresh vegetables to eat! Good for you and, with the minimal food miles and zero packaging, good for the planet too.
Join the club
Secondly, don’t go it alone. Creating a new habit is much easier with a community of supportive like-minded people – it adds motivation, gives you accountability, and makes it more fun. All the suggestions in this article involve joining local community groups.
For example, have you resolved to exercise more? The GoodGym meets on Monday evenings in Bethnal Green, running to help out at a local community project and then running back again. Projects are often related to the environment, including planting trees round Parkview Estate, Meath Gardens and bulb planting in Cranbrook Community Food Garden.
The system changes that need to take place to tackle the climate crisis may seem impossibly huge. But just like transforming our personal habits, we can only do it through community – the realisation that we need each other, that we are part of something bigger, and that together we can achieve more.
Give up giving it up
Thirdly, reframe your resolutions from less to more. Resolutions that focus on what you’re giving up – doing or having less of something – rather than what you are set to gain from making the change will always be difficult to carry out.
Want to drink less alcohol? Switch it around and make your resolution to drink more water.
Add that green twist by joining Plastic-free Roman Road’s Refill Tower Hamlets team and help add businesses to the Refill app. The app contains a map showing places you can refill your water bottle for free – local spots already on board include Simply Fresh and the Gallery Cafe.
Want to spend less time on social media? Switch it around and make your resolution about what you want to replace that with.
Want to spend more time outdoors? The Lower Regents Coalition runs regular events, from litter picking on canoes to planting reed beds that enhance the biodiversity of the canal. Join their Facebook page to be notified of the next event in the spring.
Or does your ideal life involve being more creative? The Roman Road Borrow-a-Bag project will be running more sewing workshops in the spring, upcycling donated fabric into reusable bags for local shops to lend to customers who forget their own. Join the Facebook page to be notified of dates.
Maybe you just want to take more time for yourself? Join the “transforming self and world” group at the London Buddhist Centre and see how caring for our inner worlds is vital to enable us to care for the outer. Start slow by attending a few drop-in sessions on Tuesday or Wednesday evenings, and once you’ve learnt the basics of Mindfulness and Metta Bhavana you can join the monthly Transforming Self and World classes.
Similarly, when we think about the changes we have to make in order to avert climate catastrophe, we often think of the things we may have to give up. This makes voluntary change difficult to accept, feeling like a sacrifice, even when we may be fully aware of the far worse, involuntary changes that will be forced upon us by continuing with our old approach.
Instead we can reframe the things we perceive we will be giving up, and focus on the opportunities leaving those things behind will bring.
If tackling the climate crisis feels impossible, shifting your approach to your new year’s resolutions could be just the place to start.
So this new year be kind to yourself, use the final part of winter to reflect and plan – choose one old resolution ripe for recycling, join a local community group by putting their next event in your diary, and then forget about it till spring.
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