Better Habits, Better Planet

It is a normal human reaction, for most, to become defensive when made to change a bad habit. Smoking, eating too much, biting your nails all are difficult to do for numerous reasons, but also because it is natural to hold tight to something that has become a bad habit.

 “The chains of habit are too weak to be felt, until they are too strong to be broken.” Samuel Johnson, famous English writer

 Habits can form because it makes our day seem easier. As humans we have habits to speed things up as we always want things done quickly and often. The way we make coffee in the morning, the way we dress, etc. Humans are creatures of habits.

Provided below is a quote from Susan Courtney, professor and chair of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the John Hopkins University on their Health Review website, by Brandon Ambrosino, 2016.

A habit is something that has been learned through repeatedly performing an action. Of course, just performing a behavior doesn’t make it a habit, she adds. “But if you perform that behavior regularly in response to a particular situation, such that whenever you are in that situation you have a tendency to do that behavior as a default, then it is a habit.”

 There’s an old adage, Courtney says. “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” In other words, if the neurons that respond to a particular image or sound frequently fire at the same time as the neurons that cause you to do a particular behavior, the connections between those neurons will become stronger.

These connections strengthen if you receive a reward for performing a behavior. “A reward is the stuff we get that’s good,” she says. “That can be all sorts of things: money, good-tasting food, even the faces of attractive people.”

When we get rewards, Courtney says, our brains release dopamine, which facilitates the building of connections between brain cells.

“Each time you do something and you get a reward and those circuits in the brain become stronger, you’re more likely to do it again the next time you encounter that situation.” Because the brain is continually computing expectations, it can think that if a thing was rewarding in the past, it will be again.

But if you perform any behavior and get rewarded for it often enough, you will eventually come to perform that behavior even if you’re not expecting a reward.

 The problem with the prefrontal cortex, she says, is it’s easily distractible and doesn’t work well when you’re stressed or tired. “When that part of the brain is vulnerable, those habits that are hardwired into the other parts of the brain automatically take over.”

 Any time you can eliminate the stimulus that drives the habit, you’re one step closer to overcoming it.

 So, humans have habits. Some habits are good, they make us more productive. Some habits are bad, they cause us to be lazy and since after the Second World War, have damaged this planet! They have become bad habits. Biting nails, smoking cigarettes, polluting, driving everywhere, buying process food, fast food, bottled water, plastic bags…bad habits.

“The convenience of plastic bags is simply not worth the environmental impact,” New York State Assembly speaker Carl Heastie told the Associated Press. “By reducing our state’s usage, we will see less litter in our communities and less plastic pollution in our waterways.” Business Insider: Aylin Woodward, April 2019

As well as plastic bags, straws have become a big concern. It also may be the simplest plastic to combat and that is why it is in the media headlines. The first largest city in the United States to ban straws was Seattle. Many other cities are following their lead. States like New York, California, and Hawaii are banning single use plastic bags by 2020. That is very ambitious, but very much needed!

Worldwide, we use 500 billion plastic bags every year! In the United States, 500 million straws are used every DAY! 8-14 million tons of plastic enter our oceans every year. 100,000 marine mammals die each year due to pollution. If those numbers don’t bother you, you may have been born without feelings or intelligence, because this pollution is killing this planet. Strung end to end, there is enough plastic waste to circle the earth 4,200 times. We are strangling our world. (Source: National Geographic Article by Sarah Gibbens, January 2019; Business Insider Article by Aylin Woodward April 2019)

This habit of making our lives easier has become a very bad habit. It is time to quit it! Simple changes in your daily life can trigger a better habit. Return reusable bags to your car for the next grocery trip. Bring reusable produce bags for apples, peppers, and other smaller items. Don’t use straws. If you need a straw because of a disability or you like the convenience, purchase a reusable straw and keep it with you. Most people today travel with a purse, backpack, etc. Just add a reusable straw to your bag inventory.

It is time we make better habits to save this planet. It only takes one change to move in the right direction. Better habits, better Planet.