Wednesday, June 13, 2007

8 - Guidelines for Individual Action for Individual Behavior Change

Guidelines for Individual Action for Individual Behavior Change
This type of individual action, in the context of a sustainable society and individual sustainable living, includes such actions as: using human-powered transportation whenever possible, eating healthy foods in the best balance and quantity, purchasing products that meet our basic needs and that have been produced respecting the natural environment by businesses that treat all of their employees justly, getting regular and sufficient exercise for good health, relieving stress through the appropriate amount of sleep, through walks in nature, through meditation or some other spiritual practice. While in this section we are talking about individual action, we need to remember that there are also highly relevant structural or institutional factors (e.g., factors related to race or class, to income and wealth distribution) impacting one’s freedom of movement or choice that make it more or less difficult for each of us to take these individual actions.

Also, there seems to be an overwhelming number of people and publications that are eager to tell us what actions to take. This advice comes in the form of publications like “Fifty Easy Steps To _____ (e.g., fill in the blank with: Save the Planet, Get Physically Fit, Save Energy, Have Better Sex, Lose Weight, etc.). Such publications have been available for years. Millions of people have read them. However, woefully little human behavior has changed. This lack of behavior change is the result of inadequate guidance for behavior change or behavior change that was pursued ineffectively usually because too large changes were attempted too quickly.

Behavior change has three essential steps which must be taken in ever-repeating, progressing cycles:
· envisioning a goal,
· defining and taking steps to get there,
· assessing progress made towards the goal.

The opportunities for both success and failure in pursuing behavior change are enormous. To succeed, one must define goals which feel true to oneself (not goals which are adopted because some internal or external judge says that one should) and adopt goals that one truly believes in. The steps defined to get to the goals need to be the right size. For example, if in our enthusiasm we define steps that are too big (e.g., running five days a week when previously we had only been walking three days a week, or losing weight too quickly), we fail to accomplish those steps. So, after one or more failures, we consciously or unconsciously decide that we cannot reach these goals; and, we give up. It is far better to err on the side of setting steps that are smaller than we could accomplish than setting larger ones that we cannot achieve. Surely we would consider this scenario to be both comic and tragic, someone repeatedly trying to leap across a thirty-foot stream only to crash into the rocks and water about half way across while others easily walked across on large and secure stepping stones nicely spaced in the stream. Yet, how many times do we repeatedly choose options that fail to take us across our streams!

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