How Learning The Art Of Saying ‘No’ Helped Me Live A More Sustainable Life.
We’re living in the age of busy. Ask someone how they’ve been, and chances are they’ll respond with an exasperated “so busy!” A little over a year ago, I was one of these people. I was in such a constant frenzy of work, study, volunteering and socialising that I burned out and subsequently fell off the eco-bandwagon.
Every hour of my day was filled with some activity or another, or that’s what it felt like. My relationship was falling to shit and I felt like my arm had physically fused to my laptop. I was volunteering in the marine conservation space, and all of a sudden I just stopped caring about issues that I’d been so previously passionate about.
I was saying ‘yes’ to everything that came my way, rather than stopping to consider what I really wanted to invest my time and energy in. My inability to say no was not only hampering my work productivity, but also significantly reducing the amount of time and effort I could allocate to developing and continuing these sustainable behaviours I deeply cared about.
The bottom line is that we can’t care for the planet and one another if we don’t care for ourselves first. Saying ‘no’ isn’t selfish – it allows us to say ‘yes’ to things we really care about.
I’m all about simple behavioural actions you can take to positively impact the planet. Like anything worthwhile in life though, these actions often take a little time and effort. Majority of us are aware that reducing our meat intake by half is one of the most planet-friendly decisions we can make, but getting habits like these to stick can be easier said than done- that’s where learning the art of saying ‘no’ comes in.
Although it might not feel like it half the time, we are the ones in control of how busy our lives are. Last year, my life was full – but not in the way we all wish our lives to be. Since then, I’ve had a life overhaul to make room for things I truly care about. One of those things is living a life that leaves minimal impact on this big blue planet of ours. Here are my top four tips on how you can do the same.
Pick your battles
Environmental hypocrisy is a thing. Just ask Leo DiCaprio. If you’ve decided to opt for a vegetarian diet, you’ll get asked why you’re not vegan. If you’ve culled disposable coffee cups from your life, someone will demand you explain why you use a plastic lunchbox.
No one’s perfect, and a few positive actions are better than zilch. This is why I believe it’s so important to pick your battles when it comes to creating change. Think about what issues you care about the most. Maybe it’s animal welfare, or gardening to reduce food miles. It could be creating change on a larger scale, like rallying your community to ditch plastic bags.
Whatever it is, pick these actions you care about the most and put your heart and soul into making them happen in your everyday life. Don’t guilt trip yourself for not doing everything, because what you are doing is enough.
Ask yourself: “What do I need to say ‘no’ to, to be able to say ‘yes’ to this?”
We women are notoriously bad at saying ‘no’. I still constantly struggle to say ‘no’, usually because I’m worried I’ll upset someone. When I do utter that little two-letter world, I’m always apologizing and dishing out excuses. There is absolutely nothing wrong with saying ‘no’. Throw that word around like confetti.
We have as many hours in the day as Beyonce. But we’re not all Beyonce (a devastating truth I’ve had to come to terms with). If there’s something in your life you want to create change around, you might have to sacrifice something else to get it off the ground.
The 100% rule changed my life
I recently read about the 100% rule. Essentially, the concept is based around only choosing to commit to tasks you can give your all to. When we only give 99% to something, we are left feeling stressed, unfulfilled and pretty bad about ourselves for not reaching our goals.
Most people apply this rule to personal ambitions, but it easily translates to adopting a more sustainable lifestyle. If you’ve decided to start a totally plant-based diet but continuously find yourself in the dairy section of the supermarket, maybe this isn’t something yyou’reready to give 100% to yet. Start small, by committing to one or two meat-free days a week and then work from there.
Make ‘personal policies’
I learnt this trick from reading, ‘The Life-Changing Magic Of Not Giving A F*ck‘. Creating personal policies is just a different way of saying ‘no’ that allows your life to have more wiggle room. Author Sarah Knight explains how you can adopt ‘personal policies’ in your life to de-clutter it from stuff you quite frankly, don’t give a toss about. If your friend invites you to a hen’s night, and you can’t stand pink fluffy boas and penis straws, you can make your personal policy that you don’t do hen’s nights- period.
After I failed Plastic-Free July my new personal policy was to never buy a coffee unless I had my Keep Cup on me. Not adding to the 500 billion disposable coffee cups that make their way to landfill annually is more important to me than a caffeine hit. Now, a morning devoid of coffee is enough of a reminder for me not to forget my Keep Cup.
Most of us live chaotic lives. Most of us care about treading a little lighter on the planet. Finding a balance between the two can be difficult. By saying ‘no’ to the things you’re not fazed about allows you to say a big, fat ‘yes’ to things you do care deeply about – like living a low-carbon lifestyle.
This article was originally written for 1 Million Women.