When I was a kid of around eight to ten years old, one of my favourite games was to pretend to be a spy. I’d go around on my bike with my friend, Angela, and we’d act like we were in pursuit of someone or something and were saving the day.
We pretended we had radios on our bikes, imparting and receiving critical information. We spoke in a different language, an invented language that we had to translate to each other as we spoke! I partly knew it was funny and silly, but I also felt so powerful and accomplished, so essential to the world, with useful and valuable skills, like this was what it felt like to do really important work, like what I did mattered.
And it does feel powerful and accomplished when we act like an agent for good. Although it might not always be saving the world from an evil super villain, what we do each day matters. Whether we choose to let someone in front of us in peak hour traffic on the way to work, or whether we block them and pretend we didn’t even see them, matters. Whether we take a cup to the coffee shop for our take-away cuppa or whether we use a single-use disposable cup, matters. Whether we take a moment to put our waste in the right bin, matters. Whether we are aware of our own impulses and thoughts or not, matters.
Each action ripples through the world. From us, to the person we let in to the traffic flow, or who we left waiting, our action creates an outcome. The other person might feel happy, grateful, and uplifted, or enraged, sad, frustrated, and invisible.
When we put our waste in the right bin at work, other people notice and it affects them. If we put it in the right bin, it shows the way like a light in the darkness. When we don’t, we give them our doubt, our sense of futility, our carelessness and disconnection.
Now I’m not saying I always get it right, but when I don’t get it right, I try to notice. If I miss the signs that a driver wanted to turn across the slowing traffic in front of me, I remind myself to be more attentive. And I don’t know how many times I’ve been out somewhere, maybe at a meeting or an event, and it’s only been when I approach the coffee table or coffee truck that I realise I forgot my Keep Cup. It was becoming really annoying – I had the equipment to avoid single-use waste and I hadn’t brought it with me!! What kind of a super-equipped spy am I?! It just wasn’t in my routine when I left the house and I kept on forgetting most of the time, especially when I was in a rush.
So, how do you make a new thing a habit? We’re so good at acquiring bad habits without even trying, surely acquiring a new good habit can’t be that hard? Turns out it does take time, but it can be done and the moment you ask yourself, ‘How can I make this part of my routine?’ you’ve shifted something in your awareness. You’ve become conscious that there’s something new you want to do and the best way to do that thing, is to create a trigger to help you do it. And the best triggers are placed right by something else you normally do at the same time – habit stacking.
For me and my family, we already had high-need items for leaving the house right by the door: house keys, car keys, hats, sunscreen, shoes. The solution was simple: the Keep Cups need to be near the door too, near these things we see and grab on the way out. And so now they are! It took a few days and a little creativity to work out where exactly to put them and in what, but we soon had a solution that works.
Now our Keep Cups (and a reusable water bottle), are in a bag by the door, near the hats and the shoes, ready to go. And, we’re getting them and taking them with us. They’re visible in a relevant location and are part of our leaving-the-house routine now, part of our conscious planning.
And it does feel powerful and accomplished, like a spy must feel at the successful completion of a mission. It does feel like we’re helping to save the world from evil – because we are. How can you do the same?
© Palitja Moore, text and images, 2019