Blog Action Day: Climate change and personal change

Today is the third-annual Blog Action Day. This year’s theme is climate change, and all participating bloggers are asked to write on the topic from their perspective.

When I first learned about this year’s topic, it was the word change that caught my attention. To make any sort of behavioral change — to help the environment, become uncluttered, stop smoking — is difficult. We’re creatures of habit, and we find ways to rationalize our behavior even when it’s detrimental to ourselves and/or others. Even major life events don’t always motivate us to change our ways.

But, we all know a kid who was a troublemaker in high school who became a law-enforcement officer in adulthood or an alcoholic who is more than 10 years sober. I was a someone who had so much clutter in her home that I had to walk along a pathway of waist-high boxes from my bathroom to my kitchen, and now I’m clutter free and work 40-plus hours a week to help others achieve the same. People can change, but the path to transformation isn’t always easy.

A recent weight-loss study by researchers at the University College London found that it took participants 12 weeks to develop new habits:

… participants gave a figure for how long it had taken to develop habits and the mean was 3.0 months (s.d. 1.8).

The study tracked the participants and discovered that the previously reported statistic that it takes just three weeks to develop a new habit is incorrect. The majority of the participants didn’t even have healthy eating behaviors established by eight weeks, and some of the participants took between 20 and 24 weeks to master the new routines.

In addition to teaching the participants better ways to eat, the study also recommended that people should:

… form ‘implementation intentions’ plans that specify when, where and how the behaviour will be performed because these have been hypothesized to accelerate the habit-formation process.

If changing your behaviors to help save the environment or improve your eating habits or live an uncluttered life is at the top of your priority list, then give yourself time to become accustom to your new routines. Write down your “implementation intentions,” make the changes, and then prepare for it to take 12 weeks before all of your changes start to feel like second nature. For some of you, it may even take twice that amount of time — but it will happen. Change is possible.

15 Comments for “Blog Action Day: Climate change and personal change”

  1. posted by Martin on


  2. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Martin — Oh MAN! The typo is fixed now in the headline but will forever be incorrect in the URL. Hysterical. This reminds me of a twitter message David Allen posted this morning: “Getting right with everything is an elegant possibility; getting everything right is not.”

  3. posted by Vicki K on

    Erin, do you write about your personal previous cluttersome days in your book? Just as it is fun to see before and after weight loss photos and read the stories, I love a good before and after clutter story. (…which is not to imply that either feat is done once and for all…)

  4. posted by chacha1 on

    The old “3 weeks/21 days to a new habit” standard always seemed kind of reasonable to me, but I guess that’s because I’ve never had to face a situation where I wasn’t 100% in control of the habit I wanted to change. I know it’s really hard for mothers to change their own eating habits, for instance, because they typically have to work around their kids (and, sometimes, husbands).

    Climate change is one of those things where I feel guilty about the amount of time our entertainment system is turned on every day, but not guilty enough to turn it off! At least we both drive efficient cars (not optional for us) and use CFLs wherever we can, barely use heat/AC, and don’t leave lights on.

    Our community does not have public recycling pickup; it turned out our public is too lazy to separate its own trash, and the city now does it centrally. We did start collecting cash-deposit bottles, though, and we also faithfully separate our hazardous waste.

    Thanks to two Action Day posts I’ve come across, I am going to get myself a coffee thermos so I don’t use a fresh disposable cup every day here at the office. It’s a little step, but better than nothing, right?

  5. posted by Cindy on

    Like chacha1, I was also indoctrinated over the years with the “21 days to make a habit” idea and I never seemed to be able to get a new habit going in such a relatively short period of time. (Or I was quite possibly not motivated enough to make the change.)

    I’ll have to think on this and figure out what I could change in my life.

  6. posted by Danny on

    It took me well over 12 weeks to get in the habit of taking my reusable grocery bags to the store. I’d arrive at the store, and say “D’oh! Forgot them again.” But it did finally become a habit. Now it’s: “Going to the store? Get the bags!”

  7. posted by Loren on

    Got to remind myself to recreate some of these habits. Used to unplug TV and DVD player every time I turned it off, and shut down the computer every night. I keep forgetting to do these things.

  8. posted by Michele Connolly, Get Organized Wizard on

    Seems 66 days might be a better aim for habit change for the average person.

    BTW, I kinda like climage as a neologism for the phenomenon. Erin, maybe you should coin this term. 🙂

  9. posted by Malcolm on

    How irritating to see my favourite blog (Unclutterer) associated with a piece of nonsense like the worldwide hysteria about the climate (or is it climage now). Of course the climate is changing – always has and always will. The idea that humans have enough understanding of the world’s weather systems to control it is laughable. As always, any changes will be good for some people, bad for others – the challenge is to adapt. Being adaptable will certainly involve changes in energy use and so on, but let’s not get sucked in to wrecking our current economies for a will-o’-the-wisp chase in search of control we do not have!

  10. posted by Anita on

    Thank you for this post, Erin. And also, thank you for using “climate change” instead of “global warming”. Up here in my corner of Canada, where winter seems to come earlier and leave later every year, and 2009 has had about 2 weeks of summer, it feels more like the beginnings of an ice age 😛

    As for how long it takes for form a habit, I think it obviously depends on the habit and on the person, so it’s hard to come up with a universal formula — just as it’s hard to come up with a universal formula for uncluttering. But if you stay motivated and you keep up the effort until the new habit takes hold, nothing’s impossible to achieve.

  11. posted by Barbara Tako | Clutter Clearing Choices LLC on

    I agree with Anita. Some things can be changed instantly if we are motivated enough. Some habits take longer. With clutter, or weight loss, or anything else, I think we might do better if we beat ourselves up less for backslides when they happen and simply recommit. As I learned in Weight Watchers, it doesn’t really matter how many times you slip up. What matters is that you recommit and get back on track each time.

  12. posted by Jennifer J. on

    I made a commitment about a year ago to stop using plastic bags. I turned some old T-shirts into bags by sewing the bottom hem closed and cutting off the arms, and enlarging the neck opening (a la Martha Stewart). I keep a few in the trunk of my car, so that I don’t forget them at home when I shop.

    It was fairly easy to incorporate this change. Harder is figuring out what else to do. We have solar panels, we harvest water from our roof, etc.

    Thanks for the nudge to start thinking!

  13. posted by Todd Peterson on

    There is of course no “climate change”. As we all know (or don’t you pay attention?), the temperature of the globe has gone down the last 11 yrs.

  14. posted by Blog Action Day: Climate change and personal change on

    […] I thought the Blog Action Day post at Unclutterer was interesting as it deals with personal change and CREATING NEW HABITS – this could apply to anything, including being environmentally-aware, but it could also be losing weight, starting a new hobby, etc. Worth a read: HERE. […]

  15. posted by Some thoughts on Change « Couch trip on

    […] also read an interesting take on personal and climate change as part of this year’s Blog Action Day (the theme of which is Climate Change). I’ll be […]

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