We thought it might be helpful to have a quick look at some of the psychological barriers to becoming more environmentally friendly and provide some simple solutions to overcome these obstacles.
The rate of change can often be frustratingly slow for people interested in sustainable living. Quite often it can be the result of feeling as though society’s many systems and organisations are simply not improving whatsoever, combined with criticisms of their own personal habits and behaviours towards the issue.
The American Psychological Association (APA) recently compiled decades worth of research to examine the ‘Interface Between Psychology and Global Climate Change’ and they found six predominant psychological barriers to real progress. The first three (Uncertainty, Mistrust and Denial) seem to be more of an issue in the US than they are here in Australia but still definitely worth discussing. The perception that there is still debate within the scientific community around whether climate change is real, caused by humanity or even a legitimate threat seems to continually compound inaction. If people don’t Trust the messenger, whether it’s reporting on the science, the scientists or the media itself, it contributes to Uncertainty on the topic which then creates Denial that it’s even an issue at all and inevitably leads to stagnation. I’d love to believe that these barriers have less influence on us here locally but the research shows that they are still fundamentally undermining efforts to create the lasting change required.
The last three barriers identified by the APA are Undervaluing Risks, Lack of Control and Habit. By undervaluing the risk we automatically decrease any associated urgency to act towards reducing the risk or avoiding the negative outcome. The belief that it’s not happening yet or that there is still plenty of time to save the day is probably the most dangerous barrier to overcome. If the weatherman regularly reporting on high temperature records, season after season and year after year isn’t enough who knows what will be, perhaps increased frequency of dramatic weather events. The last two barriers seem to be entwined much like the first three. Humans are somewhat naturally averse to change due to the power of habit. It takes a great deal of effort to change ingrained behaviours, the likelihood of which is reduced by the perception that making small changes to behaviour won’t make much difference overall (lack of control).
So what can we do to help ourselves, our friends and family overcome the disconnect between environmental awareness and contributing to a greener world?
Its simple, just work a few simple principles into your approach and they will help support you on the eco path. By using Prompts, Communication, Incentives and Convenience to your advantage you will be able to make to make more rapid improvements and sustain them for longer.
For example, by communicating what you’re learning throughout the experience to as many people as you can manage you will increase the social incentive for taking action and many of these conversations will help to prompt you to make further improvements. It can also make the whole idea more convenient as you can share the experience with friends and family reducing another important barrier in the process. You can incentive your efforts by calculating how much money you will save by reducing your energy usage or investing in renewables and put that money towards something you’d really love to help prompt you to switch off lights and appliances. You can also prompt yourself using technology to set reminders about certain tasks or ideas so they don’t get lost in your busy lifestyle and become more convenient in turn. Convenience is ultimately about doing a bit of hard work at the start to make the habit easier to maintain. Things like leaving your reusable bags at the front door or in your car make it so much easier to reinforce the new habit and make it the only/easy option. Most how to articles will offer ideas on how to make the new habit more convenient and easier to adopt so do your research first!
Above all I believe that communication is the most important factor. By sharing with people the ideas and potential outcomes of many sustainable practises we enrol ourselves and each other to the cause. It helps to create a social norm towards green living that means people will effectively have some skin in the game and be much more likely to implement the things they are learning about.