Journal Entry
The Key to Sustainable Living - Get 1% Better
Written by
Natasha Saxena
Published on
July 26, 2022

“Too often, we convince ourselves that massive success requires massive action.” This is a quote from James Clear’s #1 New York Times bestselling book Atomic Habits. His book talks about how small changes can yield long-lasting, big impacts that we all want to achieve. His methods are science-backed and used by Olympic gold medalists, business leaders, and life-saving physicians. It can also be applied to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

With another year of shockingly high temperatures, species extinction, and a growing number of climate refugees, the desire for massive action makes sense and we absolutely need it. This type of news springs many of us to want change. We follow influencers who live zero waste lifestyles or quit their jobs to live sustainably off the land. However, a vast majority of us feel distressed or have trouble making lasting changes to our lifestyles. So what can we do to make a difference in our everyday lives to tackle the climate crisis? According to James Clear, one of the world’s experts on habit-building, it’s to make a 1% positive change.

Get 1% better every day.

Clear says, “The same way money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habit multiply as you repeat them. They seem to make little difference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over months and years can be enormous.” (James Clear, Atomic Habits). In my personal life, I started with one vegetarian day a week. Now I eat a 70% vegetarian diet, compost, switch to a career in sustainability, and help elect climate-focused leaders. However, it started with one small change.

There is an overwhelming amount of actions you can take to live more sustainably. From eating plant-based one day a week to greening your finances or starting a pollinator garden. The beauty of the 1% is that it asks us to give importance to a tiny change and see its impact over months or years. You can start with one sustainable action and add another over time. 

Here’s how it works. Just a 1% positive difference daily results in being 37 times better after one year. Alternatively, if you spend that 1% in distress – wishing you had a sustainable lifestyle – then you would make 0 changes. 

Source: James Clear, Atomic Habits

Change your identity to change your life.

Shifting from “I want” to “I am” makes a surprising difference. You will always take action that aligns with your identity. So, saying “I am a sustainable person” or “I live sustainably” will naturally allow you to gravitate towards sustainable living. 

Along with identity, author James Clear adds on selecting an outcome and process. So, choose a single action to take and outline the process it takes to achieve that outcome. For example: 

- Outcome: Eat plant-based food one day a week

- Process: I need to learn a few tasty vegetarian recipes and cook them weekly

- Identity: To become someone who eats plant-based meals regularly.

Essentially, you are focusing on who you want to become rather than what you want to achieve. As an experiment, try writing this out now with an action you wish to take and let us know how it worked out for you!

Does lifestyle change really make a difference?

The short answer is “yes, and…”

With the 1% concept you can see how one person skipping a plastic straw one day would not make the biggest difference, but skipping it for an entire year would add up to a lot. Many people skipping the straw, then deciding to take political action together to enact straw bans in their entire state makes a tremendous difference.

The “yes, and…” approach to sustainability is a brilliant way to approach this question. Yes, lifestyle changes make a difference and we also need collective action, political change, and corporations to take responsibility. It’s not an “either/or” it’s a “yes, and.”

Additionally, to really make sure you are making a difference, you can choose high-impact actions. Such as: 

  • Voting and getting involved with your local government to elect leaders who will address climate change.
  • Switching to a renewable energy source.
  • Eating a plant-based diet.
  • Planting a native, pollinator garden.

Don’t be too hard on yourself

Climate action requires more than just lifestyle changes, it’s governments and corporations taking responsibility for their role too. It’s demanding that the 100 companies responsible for 71% of the world’s emissions operate better. While individual change matters, the world does not rest on your shoulders. Go easy on yourself whenever you experience setbacks on your sustainable living journey. Take action from a place of joy, knowing you are already playing a part in moving society towards a healthier future.

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