The only way I get anything done is to get started. Once I’m started, it’s easier to keep going, build momentum, and reach my goal. Even though I know this, I often like to set huge unattainable goals for myself first, go full steam for a short while, give up completely, and then later circle back to the small steps. It’s the journey, right? Nowhere has this been more evident than my personal sustainable living goals. I want to be good at it all. Yesterday. And it can feel pretty terrible when I doubt that I’m doing enough. I mean, this is our extraordinary planet and our childrens’ childrens’ futures here.
Still, when it comes to sustainability, like everything else in life, I’ve had to use the “snowball” approach to really get anything done. That means I start somewhere – anywhere – and move towards my goal. I learn, adjust, and add new goals and practices as my first ones move from ambition to habit. It can be messy, slow, and frustrating. But much like the story of the tortoise and the hare, I have come to believe it’s actually the fastest possible route to where I want to go.
For example, I’ve been interested in local food and permaculture since I was a kid. I would love to grow, make, or buy every single thing I need and want locally. Not just for earthy reasons (of which there are so many), but for fun. I enjoy it. But getting there is definitely a lifelong journey made up of small and winding steps along the way. I’ve gotten really good at certain things, like growing herbs and flowers, cooking from scratch, and drying and freezing for storage. I am just learning to do things like canning, cooking a whole chicken, and growing my own vegetable garden. Along the way, I’ve thrown away a lot of unused local food and eaten a lot of frozen pizzas. One winter, I had almost nothing stored in my chest freezer for the year. I had to buy dill. Dill!! When I asked myself what the hell my problem was – I remembered. Oh, yeah, I had a new baby. Of course!
Why am I telling you all of this? I guess it’s just to share my journey and encourage you in yours. If you’re interested in living more sustainably and don’t know where to start, don’t worry. Just start. If you’re worried you’re not doing enough, that’s not helping. Just keep going.
Much like Dave Ramsey’s famous “debt snowball” strategy, I recommend you start with your easiest sustainability goals first. Rack up some wins. Feel good. Then keep going. Choose the topics or “arenas” of sustainability that matter most to you and also seem like an easy place to start. Notice your progress, expect imperfection and maintain your focus. Guilt slows your snowball down. Celebration speeds it up.
That seems simple enough. But is it too simple? It’s not always easy to calm our sense of urgency enough to focus and guide mindful change. The world (and we) need major change by yesterday, right? Right. So then why am I advocating for slow and steady steps over quantum leaps? Because it’s the only thing that’s ever really worked for me. Whether I’m taking small steps or big ones, movement is always incremental. When it comes to sustainability or anything new, we have to learn to crawl before we can walk or run. You start slow but you don’t stay slow. You get started, find your groove, and let your sustainability snowball grow and build momentum.
Why does all this matter?
I believe we already have a critical mass of people who want to live more sustainably. We also have an army of people with the skills and passion to pave the way. What we need are better connections and follow through. Learning and changing behavior takes time and persistence. We have to drop our barriers of judgement and defensiveness and get on with the real work (and play) of sustainability. Whether we’re talking about ourselves, our businesses, communities, or anything else: waste bogs us down financially, physically, and emotionally. Freeing ourselves of excess or thoughtless consumption leaves more time and money for the things in life that really matter. The motivation is there. Resources abound. Now it’s go time.
What does living more sustainably mean to you? Have you given yourself a pat on the back for the things you’re already doing? Clearly, you wouldn’t have read all this way unless you already care. What do you want to do next? Where will you start? Can you feel good about where you are right now and all along the way?
Need encouragement, ideas, or a place to shout out your successes with pride? Comment below. Let’s build this snowball together!
This post was updated/revised on 4/4/18.