Take it one step at a time

Lately I am still recovering from my recent experience of eco activist’s burn out. I am doing just fine, but I have been reflecting a lot on the experience and what it has taught me. It is so important after difficult periods of life to take stock of was has happened and learn from the experience. I have certainly learned a lot about myself over these past few months.

One of the biggest things that I have learned is the value of taking things one step at a time. When we burn out it is often because we are expended so much energy in the form of stress and overwhelm. We can focus too heavily on what we don’t have, or what we haven’t achieved yet, or the incredibly scary state of the climate that we are lurching into. While some focus on these things can be useful- averting disaster is a powerful motivator for action- however too strong a focus on the long climb ahead can lead to despondency, fear and overwhelm. A little stress and we become motivated, too much stress and we become crippled.

The antidote to overwhelm is to pause, breathe, and focus only on the next step we need to take. Not the million steps it will take to achieve change. The one next step that we can take to make a small positive change in the right direction.

A couple of years ago I made the decision to move toward a zero waste lifestyle. But I found myself expending so much energy worrying about every little piece of plastic that seemed to come into my life. I  worked to reduce my own impact, but took on the responsibility for my whole family of four. With a husband who eats different food to myself, and two little children who seem to need so much, the stress of trying to reduce our waste to zero became too much. I was overwhelmed and unhappy. This is not a healthy way to be.

So I had to step back from the process for a while. I had to restock and remind myself why I was doing this in the first place. I realised that it pointless getting stressed about all plastic plasters that my children seemed to needs for little cuts and scratches (how the hell do you care for children’s ‘boo-boos’ without creating waste!?!?) There was no point stressing if my husband kept buying packaged snacks for himself. There was no point stressing if I got caught out needing lunch and there were no zero waste options. My stress is not going to do anything for the state of the planet!

So I let go. Not on my commitment to the environment. But on my striving for perfection. I let go of the stress, and let go of the overwhelm.

Instead I resolved to simply take it one step at a time. Perfection is not the goal. But always trying to find new ways to grow and improve is. When it comes to my zero waste goal, now I just focus on one new thing I can change. Just one. This month, my just one new thing was inventing a recipe for stock powder. I now have a delicious zero waste plant-based stock powder that is made from bulk foods bought at my local food co-op. One new step, and I avoid creating one piece of packaging each month. It is only one small change, but it is progress in the right direction.

As the Chinese saying goes: a journey of a thousand miles is started with a single step. What is your next step?  Beat the overwhelm by picking just one to start with.

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  • I can identify with that feeling at the start of trying to reduce packaging, especially plastic. My method has been to pick one thing at a time that I use/buy regularly and see if I can find a lesser waste/zero waste swap out for it. So far I’ve done shampoo bars, tried conditioner bars (fail), paper-wrapped toilet paper, heads of lettuce vs bagged greens, tried out solid package-free moisturizer (good but expensive), tried out bulk pasta, wearing my glasses more, making my own soy yogurt, buying bulk beans in a canvas bag, making my own kombucha 99% zero waste, cutting down on car services, keeping a running list of secondhand non-urgent household wants, etc.

    It’s just easier when one thing at a time becomes routine and I don’t need to devote mental energy towards it.

    • I completely agree. We need to be kind to ourselves as we make these changes to our lifestyles. It also worth remembering that we have already made such big changes that are making a difference. It can be easy to forget the contribution that we are already making to the environment and to ethical issues that we are passionate about. When we need this kindness most, it can be worth reflecting back on everything that we have already achieved in this space too

  • Can definitely empathise – recently gone through some activist burnout myself. I still can’t believe we’re both in Canberra and never met! We should change that in 2018!

    • Oh yes Ashlee, let’s!!! Send me an email and we’ll make it happen :)