Comfort Zones in the Brave New World
At high school I remember reading Huxley's "Brave New World" and was strongly intrigued by the Savage's statement: "But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”
Back then something resonated in me, and confused me at the same time. I felt it said something aspirational and noble about intrinsic motivation but at the same time I felt it was a grim perspective. I asked myself why would we choose discomfort just for its own sake?
Today - after many years of challenging myself, my community and clients - I see much more than intrinsic value in breaking out of comfort zones - I see it as the path to a better and happier individual and world, both in general, and specifically with regards to our environment. And yes, there is a bit of discomfort to start with but that is very soon greatly outweighed by the benefits.
Our brains are amoral, i.e. they don't distinguish between good and bad habits. They form habits in accordance with what we do and think. Quite obviously there is a lot of benefit in creating habits that serve us and the world - unfortunately a lot of us are trapped in habits that are rather detrimental on an individual and global level. Why else would so many of us be obese, suffer from burn-out and depression, be glued to our gadgets? And why else, if I may boldly suggest, would we as humanity suffer the consquences from global warming, wars, terrorism... ? What we are, we weigh, our level of mindfulness and ambition, our way of viewing the world, and the state of our ecological footprint is the consequence of habits.
It's not just about sheer willpower, as is often suggested, to break bad habits. If we want to create healthier habits, such as jogging every morning, we can help our brain by giving it a very down to earth cue, e.g. by visibly placing our jogging shoes near our bed. If we want to become more loving partners, it may help creating new patterns by introducing the habit of a romantic event every Sunday or writing a loving text every day. Or placing our reusable to-go cup near the keys. In short, break things down into a very concrete action. The good thing is that the mere fact that we step out of comfort zones and get out of auto-pilote mode is in itself very good for our mental and pysical health.
Sustainable Habits and How I Discovered Challenges
Please allow me to share my personal story. In January 2014 Anna Meyer - political scientist- and me started to join our forces within FindingSustainia. We wanted to challenge ourselves for a better footprint. Both academics, part of the Think Tank 30 of the German Club of Rome, our motivation was at first rather intellectual: accomplish a better ecological footprint, through the means of bridging the knowledge-action gap. We wanted to think & do. Our method was to break down sustainable consumption into specific one-month challenges: such as being vegan for one month, one month zero waste, localist etc. It felt easier in terms of motivation to do it with a sparring partner and document our progress by blogging. I remember us both feeling excited and apprehensive at the same time. Little did we know what the process in itself, the mere tool of changing habits, did with our lives and our perspectives.
The Win-Win of Sustainable Behaviour Change
Within days we both already observed ourselves feeling proud and motivated from having a purpose. We went one challenge at a time, creating more awareness and understanding, having a sense of "yes, we can do it!" Understanding and consequently shifting to sustainable alternatives offered relief from the agony of choice, i.e. from the stress of having to choose from too many options. We also realised how much underlying guilt we had stored up in our sub-conscience, and how liberating it felt alleviating this guilt.
- eating mostly local plant-based organic and fair produce
- repairing, swapping, buying second hand and only if necessary new products that are as durably and fairly produced
- travelling by train, taking short trips in our region, and spending money for higher quality time and not products
We reported a higher level of health and easily maintained good weight and skin levels through our new eating habits, and generally reported higher financial ressources through sustainable conscious consumption and travelling. After a while we also observed ourselves having more time available through limiting our choices and cutting shopping alltogether as a hobby, that we in turn re-invested in quality me-, family- and friends-time. Concepts like mindfulness, awareness and minimalism became very real for us. We also very much came to appreciate the we-feeling of a growing community challenging themselves alongside with us, exchanging, and asking for information and experiences with people from different sectors.
For us self-challenges in general and living more sustainably in specific have been and continue to be a great win-win situation for everyone and everything. I can strongly recommend everyone to try it themselves. What is your sustainable behaviour story?