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Responsible Consumption: Week 4 of Family Practice
Submitted by Jonathan Kaplan on Mon, 4/23/2012, 3:50pm
Ever wonder how to change your consumption karma? Or perhaps you're more concerned with how to motivate other people? Read this post to learn the psychological principles behind behavior change! But first, an update...
We’re still truckin’ along! For the month, my family has been focused on conserving water, growing seeds, and throwing away less material in the garbage.
We’ve been able to maintain our commitment to less baths and shorter showers. Last week, I provided information to calculate your own water usage, and I recommend that you check it out when you have some time.
The seeds have sprouted! We’ve got 9 pumpkin vines, 3 bean plants, and some tender flower shoots. We're still waiting for the cucumbers and lettuce to sprout. At the current rate, I'm ready to bring the pumpkins, if IDP has a fall harvest festival.
Generating less garbage
This area has been a bit of a solo effort, over the past week. I continue to compost our food scraps, but I seem to be the only one. Ambika’s posts have inspired me to reuse the plastic bags that come with packaged food (e.g., bag in the cereal box). They’re perfectly good for packing lunch, snacks, or even compost! I’ve also been recycling more paper (e.g., used envelopes and junk mail), which might typically have gone into the garbage.
As I mentioned, I’ve also recognized that others at home haven’t been pursuing this commitment as attentively as me. It prompted me to recall some fundamental psychological principles relative to changing one’s unwholesome karma.
Stages of karma change
Changing relative to well-established habits can be quite difficult, especially when you’re trying to motivate other people to do so. Within psychology, a well-established model for behavior change was posited by Prochaska and DiClemente several years ago. Initially, they studied people trying to quit smoking, but their model has been applied to other addictive behaviors, too. The model outlines 5 stages of change:
The first stage, Pre-contemplation, is representative of out-right denial; people deny that their behavior is problematic. As it pertains to this challenge, for example, one might not believe that his/her actions have any substantive impact on the environment. In the second stage (Contemplation), one begins to think that his/her karma (i.e., volitional action) has negative consequences. However, he/she also feels ambivalent about committing to any substantive change in behavior. This might be akin to someone who realizes that food composting is a good idea, but remains unsure if he/she wants to pursue this practice. Preparation--the third stage of change--occurs when a person has decided to change his/her karma, and is setting the stage for it to occur. This might be akin to making a bin for vermicomposting or buying a meditation cushion for home. The Action stage is relatively self-explanatory: one is engaged in wholesome action for change, whether it’s meditation, composting, or quitting smoking. Finally, after one has made a substantive change, it needs to be maintained over time. Usually, this is easier relative to the effort when first starting out. Once a wholesome habit has been established, it often maintains itself with little fuss.
How do we address people with bad karma?
In looking over the Stages of Change, you might be wondering about how to help people with bad karma (or even how to address your own nasty habits). Fortunately, there is some constructive action that you can take, much of which was initially outlined in a book by Miller and Rollnick, Motivational Interviewing (a must-read for therapists!). For people at the Pre-Contemplation stage, you can present information about negative consequences associated with their behavior. Much of the time, what you present will be ignored, however. Expect this dismissive attitude, yet be patient, persistent, and even-tempered. At some point in the future, this person might recognize “the error of his/her ways”, and you simply need to bide your time. At the Contemplation stage, a person is very ambivalent about change. Here, you need to be very careful. If you “push” for change, then you’re likely to get “push back” about how it’s too hard, not the right time, ill-advised, etc. Nothing will change. If you underscore the discomfort of the ambivalence and recognition of the fundamental problem, then you’re more likely to support someone in making a change. Further, you can gently suggest that he/she not change at all. Someone in this stage would argue with you about how it is vitally important for him/her to change after all. Such is the nature of ambivalence. In the Preparation stage, it is necessary to support the commitment to taking the first step in changing. Someone might take a pledge (like the IDP pledge for Responsible Consumption or even the Refuge or Bodhisattva Vows), and you can be sure to give them a “thumbs up” on their blog, twitter account, FB page, or--this shows how old I am--by writing them a note...on paper. Later when one is taking action, considerable cheerleading and support is crucial. It’s often not easy to change our karma. Knowing this truth firsthand allows us to be vocal about our love and support for others. Finally, in the Maintenance stage, it’s important to recognize the difficult--and impressive--change that one has made, and periodically offer props for this radical rerouting of karma. Slips might also occur, so be ready to offer compassion and encouragement, when necessary.
We are on this journey as a community. Read all the Responsible Consumption posts and follow along as we examine our habits.
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