Green Guilt Is Not A Helpful Feeling
Got green guilt? It’s a real thing. It means you are burdened by your communal and personal impact on the environment. You may feel ashamed, taxed, or overwhelmed by how your everyday choices contribute to environmental degradation. You’re definitely not alone. In truth, even the most revolutionary environmentalists and natural lifestyle gurus have footprints of some size if they are engaged in modern society. At one point or another, they probably feel guilty about that.
These days, it’s shoved down our throats that the fate of the planet weighs on each of our shoulders. Unfortunately, there’s a whole lot of truth to that message. (It’s also on the shoulders of large and small corporations, the government, and the whole darn world–so, keep that in mind too). It is indeed, though, so important to be aware of how our individual actions affect the environment, even if that means just our local landfill. Yet, the pressure to go green and the many choices that it entails can make the task feel daunting. It can make people want to give up altogether, sometimes before they even start. It can muddy the process, making it unenjoyable, cumbersome, and above all, less efficient.
Why and How To Start Dealing
When we already care about the earth and want to change, constantly feeling guilty about our shortcomings can make us less productive change-makers. See, that’s why addressing green guilt is a helpful and important task. Ignoring guilt or being unaware of how it’s affecting you can lead to indecision, avoidance, or eventual indifference.
The first step in transforming green guilt is acknowledging that guilt is not a helpful feeling. Instead, we can hold on to what is helpful, which is what’s behind that guilt — genuine concern for the environment. The next step is to take action without overwhelming ourselves and to build upon that action. In order to create real and lasting change, we need to focus on positive motivation and reinforcement. The more we integrate sustainable living into our lives, the more it will become our default way of living.
Yes, we should set out boldly and urgently on the journey toward complete sustainability! But let’s find mindful, healthy, and actionable ways to do so, and then maybe we can actually stick to our plans, without driving ourselves mad. Let’s take care of ourselves, too, people. That way, we can continue to get better at taking care of the planet.
A Few Tips for Taking Action
There’s real meaning behind the saying, “every step counts.” Every plastic bottle you recycle is one that doesn’t end up in the landfill or the ocean, and every time you use a reusable bottle is one plastic bottle saved from having to be recycled. Now think about how many millions of plastic bottles would be eliminated if even just 50% of the country chose to quit them altogether. Every step counts.
Set High, Attainable Standards
This might sound paradoxical and also contradictory to the first tip, but when you combine the two tips, it makes more sense. The cliche behind this one is, “Shoot for the moon–even if you miss, you’ll land among the starts.” If you spend a year trying (and sometimes failing) to go zero waste, you will probably reduce your footprint and your green guilt a lot more than someone who doesn’t have a high goal, set from an informed position. Of course, this is totally counterintuitive if going zero waste (or even just plastic free) sounds so totally unattainable that you get overwhelmed or stuck before making much progress. Set your standards as high as you think you possibly can, and then remember that every step toward reaching them counts.
Follow A Leader
A great way to set your standards high is to follow someone who has already taken the time to figure out exactly what that means and how to get actually make it happen. This may mean asking friends, consulting a book, or leaping into the amazing green blogosphere (I’m obviously biased about that last one). So many great bloggers have free email challenges, courses, and post series that will hold your hand and guide you on your journey to living a sustainable life. These bloggers learn from each other all the time, too. Find a source you really trust, someone who is clear about their goals and their expectations for the strategies, services, and goods they promote. Let them make the planning part of going green easier for you. (At the same time, don’t forget to keep a critical eye, and confirm the things you read, especially when it comes to your internal health).
Plan For Laziness
I often have to remind myself of this one. I’m really trying to get in the habit of meal prepping, for example, because I am so often too tired to cook dinner. When I’m lazy, I’m less healthy and more wasteful. As a result, I feel more green guilt. But laziness happens, man, and we deserve to not feel guilty about that. Our lives can be hectic and exhausting. We’re not always going to be super conscious, purpose-driven beings. When we accept and plan for that ahead of time, we help ourselves make better choices in moments of tiredness or indifference. Planning ahead can mean going nuts with meal prepping or doing little things like remembering to keep a grocery bag in the car. Make going green easier on yourself. Plan for laziness.
Some Little Mindful Reminders
Action May Not Ease Guilt By Itself
I feel like people don’t often say this, perhaps out of fear that it will give others an excuse to not try to change their habits at all. Yet, this is a really important thing to remember, especially if you’re someone who tries to make the greenest choices possible. If you’ve ever dealt with issues like depression or generalized anxiety, you may be familiar with people suggesting actionable solutions like exercise or better organization as cure-alls to mental discomfort. Those things help, for sure, but they will likely not make you feel instantly better. The same logic applies to dealing with green guilt, particularly if you are dealing with mental health issues at the same time. Even if you’re not, taking action may not ease your green guilt. There’s a lot of damage being done to nature. It may feel like you’re never doing enough.
Hold On To Motivation, But Let Your Guilt Go
What do you do if taking action isn’t enough? Remind yourself that guilt isn’t actually a helpful feeling. Maybe you’re scared to let go of your guilt, because you feel like it’s motivating you to change, and your footprint is really big. Climate change is certainly scary, and we all need to know that, but we’re not going to be able to fight it feeling scared or heavy all the time. There are some people who don’t know or want to ignore how real the situation is, and the message to be scared is for them. It’s to wake them up. You’re already woke. So, let go for right now. View your green guilt from afar, and ground yourself in your body, the good things in your life, the physical earth, and the present moment. Take care of your self, so that you can eventually return to taking care of the earth. Remember that the motivation to change is still in you, even though it may not be hanging urgently over your head like a flashing light.
Change Takes Effort, But It Doesn’t Have to Feel Hard
Here’s a mantra that I have to literally say aloud or write down when I get super anxious and feel like that anxiety is justified or required: “Stress Without Strain, Work Without Pain.” There’s such a thing as good pain, I know, “No pain, no gain.” If you’re an athlete and you’ve got to really push yourself through the physical pain to improve, then go for it–push. But if you’re pushing your body in the wrong way or too hard, you might just get hurt and take yourself out of the game. If you feel like going green is adding too much anxiety and strain to your life, maybe it’s time to reassess your strategy for change. Notice that I didn’t say give up forever. I’m saying, take a step back. Maybe there are easier ways to yield the same results. Play with how you can incorporate new habits in your life in a fun way.
Go Green Mindfully
Ditch the green guilt, and go green mindfully. That’s the takeaway message here, folks. It’s the one that works for me. What works for you? Do you think these tips and reminders will help people go green, or let them off the hook? Let’s discuss. Stay sane, greenies.