For many, sustainability is associated with a guilty conscience: I ‘should’, and ‘I ought to’. We are bombarded with images and news about the impending climate catastrophe and how we should have ‘acted yesterday’ and ‘can’t affect the big picture’: resulting in climate anxiety and powerlessness.
Our rational brain is basically working overtime. It does what it can to take in the information and transmit signals to the heart and hands, but for many of us, the sheer volume of info means, that the message doesn’t really sink in. Many of us become so overwhelmed that we shut down and hope for others to solve the problems for us.
So, what if we don’t want to feel this way, but still want to do good? We’ll need to work out a way where doing small green steps feels natural, easy, and part of our everyday lives. We basically need to build a sustainable mindset.
External vs. Internal
Let’s start with the bigger picture – I’ll try to explain with digestible images. Imagine you are sitting on a beach and you are looking at a lot of rocks. These rocks represent the ‘collective’ – that is, when many people come together and talk about regulations, benchmarks, agreements, UN’s sustainable goals, trends, and policies, and all are important for us to maintain a sustainable planet. Now, focus on one rock – this represents the ‘individual’, ie how we personally behave in relation to sustainability with our habits, initiatives, knowledge, and competencies – but still on the EXTERNAL level. Now, despite what we might feel half the time, individual sustainable steps that we take can make a big difference, as we as individuals have a great power collectively!
However, as mentioned earlier, this proves difficult for many. Therefore, we must learn to connect the external with the internal – and this is where our individual values, our beliefs, our mission in life, and our identity come into play. You must therefore take your rock, hold it and give it everything you have from the inside, in order to create a solid platform where you can then stack your personal elements (or rocks if you wish), and shape your very own sustainable mindset.
Connecting to nature
Of course, the big question is – how do we do this?
An exercise to start off with could be: Think about a time when you interact with nature in your daily life or a time in your past that felt special. Now take some time to notice what kind of feeling it gave you.
For example, if I swim in the sea, I feel the water envelop my body, giving me a feeling of being weightless and part of something very big. If I smell flowers, it gives me a feeling of joy, maybe memories from my childhood, etc. You can cultivate your connection to nature further, by meditating in nature – or by following a guided meditation or neuro training. This will help you reach the’ alpha-theta’ stage in your mind (just before you sleep, but where you’re still awake) and sink further into a space or place where you can ground and connect yourself with earth and nature.
Now, why is this so important do you think? Because here, we’re working towards BEING rather than THINKING.
Rational vs. non-rational
When we think and hear about, say, climate change, we take in the data, work with it and make a neurological connection to the data we have already subconsciously stored in the mind (memories, past experiences, past thoughts, recognizable images). When we take in this information, we try to create meaning and basically use our rational brain to think logically and linearly. However, our rational brain only looks at visible short-term elements, omitting the more irrational data, such as emotions, intuition, non-verbal info, the spiritual, etc. So, even though this rational and analytical way of thinking is beneficial in many ways, (technological and scientific development for example), the fact that non-rational information can actually make a big difference in our decisions and the way we behave, has been widely ignored over the years. In fact, research shows that if we only use the rational, intellectual approach to sustainable problems, there is a weaker commitment to do something! Emotional and intuitive wisdom is therefore an underestimated aid in our decision making and our little conscious steps.
So how do we get the climate problems under the skin, and connect the rational to our more non-rational part of the brain without becoming climate anxious at the same time? I’m personally not a fan of having to go to places with droughts or melting glaciers to really feel and ‘be’ the climate change . In fact, I believe we should do the opposite. We need to commit to our healthy, balanced nature – now – before it’s too late. Connecting ourselves to nature, just as we (still) know it, and making the neuroconnection between information and our values, all while doing so.
From nature connection to action
An example: You are watching a documentary about overcrowded pig farms, all while eating a bacon cheeseburger. How does it feel, and how does it relate to your life? Maybe you’ll immediately throw away the burger – or maybe, you prefer to continue to enjoy the taste of bacon – and perhaps fast food fits in well with your busy everyday life. The important thing is not to beat yourself up about whichever decision you make but look for another situation, where you CAN connect to what you see, feel, hear, smell and eat – with a balance that works for you. Connecting the dots, so that your sustainable initiatives fit your values AND a realistic lifestyle.
Now try to think back to the first exercise we did, where you had to think back on an experience in nature. Would there be anything in this experience that could be affected by your own, perhaps less sustainable, actions? Personally, I think that my swim would be less enjoyable if I was to imagine plastic and garbage flowing past me – and I think this image would make me consider my plastic consumption. I know for one, that our unnaturally dry March in Denmark, affected the soil, grass, and spring flowers in my garden, and this impacted the feelings I usually get when I smell flowers and the joy that it gives me. The idea that the fresh scent of flowers will only belong to my childhood and not my children’s, is not something I like to think about.
Therefore. Remember to pause, reflect and explore the habit of connecting the dots. It will give you the added bonus of connecting with your more spiritual intelligence – by asking yourself, “who am I”, “What are my values”, “Who do I want to be” and “How can I be the best version” by myself?”. Connect your neurotransmitters from the rational to the emotional, and you will achieve a more sustainable mindset in the long run.