I've been contemplating for a while: why did I make some changes this year that I never did before? Why do I feel so open to change right now, rather than any other time? It seems to me that several factors can influence us, and the more that are in play at once, the more likely we are to change.
Factors for change that I've come up with so far:
1. natural changes of life: birth, death, marriage, new job, move
It takes mental and sometimes physical energy to change a habit. When you are already in the mode of change, introducing other new things into your life is much easier. Moving into a new house, a new neighborhood, or a new town can have tremendous impact, and so can having a baby. I've experienced both of these firsthand and have seen how my life changed in more ways than just the initially intended one.
2. influence of friends, family and neighbors
Perhaps the most important factor. It is completely reasonable to me that the more people who are around you doing something, the more comfortable you will be doing that same thing. For instance, in high school I would never ever ride my bike to school, even though I lived fairly close to school and knew that it would be good for me, my bank account, and the environment. There were only one or two students in my whole school who commuted by bike so I would have felt odd, out of place, and uncomfortable. However, in college I started riding my bike more often because I was at a school where it was pretty much the norm to commute by bike. Now, I think, I have matured beyond my high school self and would still do things that I think are right even if they're not common. Hmm, or would I? Riding a bike is seen as pretty cool in Eugene, where I live, and at some parties/functions/locations, it would actually be MORE socially acceptable to pull up on a bike than in a car.
In my experience, this will only influence someone to make a change if they were already leaning towards the change or are frustrated with the status quo (#4, below). There is some research (which I wasn't able to quickly find again, sorry folks) that shows that information nearly always makes people feel more strongly about their current opinion, regardless of whether the information is in agreement with that opinion. For instance, when I was learning about cloth diapers, I pretty much ignored any sources that said that they're not really environmentally superior to disposables because I simply did not believe it, and assumed that those sources were backed by the diaper companies. I am planning an analysis of these sources and studies for a future post, FYI.
4. frustration with "the way things are"
Sometimes just getting annoyed with something is enough to make you change. It may be getting tired of being overweight or sick, it may be a feeling that you're missing out on something. From my experience, paired with this usually has to be some new information or opportunity for change. When I started no-pooing, I had already read and heard a lot about parabens in personal beauty products, and was wanting to avoid them, but tired of spending so much money for the more "natural" shampoos, which didn't always smell nice or seem to work that well. I was ripe for the information and had time to invest in preparing to make the change.
The rare example of making lifestyle changes is someone like "No Impact Man" who made a drastic change to totally eliminate his negative environmental impact, albeit only for one year. This kind of change is worthy of writing a book or making a movie about it, which he did. Most of us however, just make changes as they work for us. Like my friend Abby from New Urban Habitat pointed out in her comment on my green life and ungreen vices post, thriftiness is often a great motivator. So, this recession is possibly quite good for our planet, in addition to being good for our health (I learned this where I learn most things these days: the radio). There are lots of "green challenges" and "health challenges" out there in the blogosphere right now, but I haven't joined any. Maybe they are a good thing because they play on factor number 2, the influence of others, to help motivate members to change.
For me right now, composting, recycling, growing vegetables, no-pooing, cloth diapering, and breastfeeding are all just a normal part of my life, no big thing. However, going car-free, giving up plastic, or eating only local and/or organic would be pretty big changes, and seem quite daunting to me at this point in my life. I'd like to go more in that direction, but I don't have the mental or physical energy to devote to those changes right now. Maybe when my puppy stops chewing everything....
What do you think? How do you decide to make a change for the better? Maybe you wouldn't even consider the things I've listed as "for the better," but are there any changes you've been thinking about but haven't had the drive to get going on yet? What would make a difference?