June 4, 2021
Low Entropy Volunteer Writer James Phan wonders if, by saving the planet, we aren’t also saving ourselves as well.
What if environmental recovery was presented as the surface-level goal of waste reduction, with self-development as its profound depth?
There are two ways to approach our manufactured waste dilemma. It seems the most popular dialogue involves media blaring about environmental impact, because our ecosystem is grand but fragile to human destruction. We are inundated with messages of humanity irreversibly damaging eco-diversity and climate patterns, threatening our food and resource sustainability, as well as our medicinal and technological development, all the while creating uncertain health outcomes.
The alternative dialogue is about you.
What does focusing on becoming the best version of yourself have to do with reducing waste?
Reducing waste challenges the way you think about you and the world. Environmentalists and the heroic alike understand that thinking big is valuable – it’s important to envision greatness – but that’s only part of the equation for achievement. To create sustained progress to save the planet, it’s about starting small with what you have now: this relies on your ability to develop your thinking and align your behavior. Treat the habit of reducing waste as a stepping stone for expanding self-development, for a good cause. Anyone can grow from it.
The billions of us humans are energy-hungry from birth. There are so many factors contributing to our wastefulness that we’ll explore, with the goal of self-improvement on the way to a less wasteful you. You are not to be shamed for having wasteful habits, but we are all responsible for creating positive change.
Listening to yourself in a non-judgmental way is a skill you can pick up anywhere at any point, and it can do wonders to your sense of fulfillment and mental health. Have you heard of emotional eating or emotional shopping? We’re living in a society where addictive activities are increasingly tied to our emotions. This kind of addictive behavior more easily ingrains itself in us when we lose touch with our own emotions, but when we recognize and accept our emotions – thus improving our emotional intelligence – we’re more able to reduce waste through awareness and control of our consumer habits.
- Pause and reflect. The next time you feel a craving to eat or shop, gently ask yourself which emotions are taking jabs at you. Is there more to your hunger or desire, like frustration, despair, inadequacy, sadness or other types of distress? What’s the discomfort level like, where do you think it’s coming from, and why is it coming from there? Take your time with this. Remember, it’s okay to not be okay. Buying and eating may be ways to numb yourself from the emotional truths that feel too shameful to be heard.
- Breathe. Humans love impulse by default. It’s higher-level thinking that takes a bit more effort. With breath control and exercises, you’ll be able to access this level of cognition more smoothly and efficiently. When you feel your next impulsive urge to consume, try taking a minute to focus only on deep breaths, in order to clear your mind and calm the emotions bouncing off of its walls.
- Track your cues. This world is shared, but your perceptions and triggers are uniquely yours. Everyone has their own triggers for emotions which, in extreme cases, relate to trauma and addiction. The moment something excites or provokes you, analyze what might be causing this, such as images, sounds, words or environmental cues. Understanding the sources of your triggers will help you control your exposure to them. After all, willpower isn’t infinite.
You know who knows emotional intelligence really well? Those who manipulate it. Let’s look at consumerism through a marketing lens. As much as I am a nerd for marketing strategies, especially for the beautiful creativity involved, there are established practices that are morally questionable. The innocent definition of marketing is to propagate news of a product or service so that a business generates capital via purchases from, hopefully, loyal customers. Over time, marketing evolved to be science-based for faster and bigger sales. Some marketing targets your emotional vulnerability. Self-development, then, is about increasing your critical thinking to be aware of marketing techniques like the ones below:
- Question the new trend. General Motors CEO Alfred P. Sloan created the concept of planned obsolescence to change the economy. When people had everything they needed, people stopped buying, which meant less revenue. So his marketing team persuaded the masses to always want newer models of his cars by including features that would make the old, still-working ones feel inferior by comparison. These days, it’s still all about the latest phone or fashion, superfood or trend.
- Question the beautiful. If you can’t sell the product, sell the package. For example, sure, Sugarfina confections use higher quality ingredients for their candies, but do you think they would sell at luxury boutiques if it wasn’t for the pretty packaging? Consider what you’re buying: the display or the product.
- Question your impulses. Returning to emotional intelligence, marketing agents know that almost all purchases are emotional purchases. We feel first, and then we justify with a facade of reasoning and logic. Think hard about what ads, packaging and displays are trying to tap into (besides your wallet). If it isn’t something urgent, then you can always delay your purchase and take some time to consider this.
Improving yourself through reducing waste involves being connected to everyone and the planet, including yourself. Many compassionate people practice self-compassion and self-compassion breeds compassionate behavior. Without this foundation in you, it’s easy to be inspired to reduce waste at first, but then revert to wasteful habits. Mind these tips to help you grow spiritually while recalibrating your consumer habits.
- Practice gratitude. The meal you just ate or the awesome new shoes you now sport, what went into their manufacture? The resources involved, the transactions, the lives. The waste. Expressing gratitude to all the effort and energy required to serve you will make you realize how awesome it is to be enjoying some things, yet also how insensitively excessive they might be. Plus, gratitude has been found in research to reduce stress, and improve sleep and overall mood. That’s a win-win.
- Practice consideration. The more we consume, the more factories built, the more pollutants created, it all means more illnesses claiming lives. Check out articles about Cancer Alley, riddled with industrial plants. Read about India’s plastic waste crisis: after monsoon season, plastics in dumps fill with water and become breeding grounds for disease-carrying mosquitoes. Think of the impact you have as a purchaser, and how your decisions may be linked to someone else’s home, their family and their friends.
- Practice self-love and care. By no means should you stop consuming all manufactured products that make you feel great. Definitely reward yourself for your accomplishments. But try seeking experiences rather than products sometimes. Another approach is moderation: to moderate indulgence is like caring for the future version of you. As an economist would think about opportunity cost, focus on what you gain instead of what you’re delaying, be it health, mood, money or time. If you can believe it, I refused an on offer of Vancouver’s wholesome Earnest ice cream one evening; the timing just felt off, even for ice cream.
Your attitude and knowledge empowers you to curb erosions of our home planet, while armed with emotional intelligence, consumer awareness and compassion.
By now you’ve probably noticed that this isn’t your typical article about saving the planet using 20 hands-on eco-friendly tricks. I want this to be a reminder that we’re not just reducing waste for the sake of the planet and our health, as true as that is. In the end, it’s about saving our humanity.
If you were to give up one thing you regularly purchase to help reduce waste, what would it be? Let us know in the comments below, or on any one of our social media platforms!
At Low Entropy, we believe changing the world starts with changing ourselves.
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