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New Year's Resolutions

Behaving in line with our values

I'm a big believer in New Year's resolutions. They prompt us to be mindful: to think about our values and our ideal selves, and to set behavioral goals rather than drifting along in our habitual patterns of living. Given that most of us care for the natural environment and want to live more meaningful lives, behaving more sustainably should be one of our New Year's resolutions.

But given that so many New Year's resolutions fall by the wayside within the first couple of weeks, what does psychology teach us about behavior change that can help us to achieve this goal? Here are five simple tips:

1. Be specific. Don't just say "I'm going to be more sustainable." Pick a few specific behaviors, and set manageable goals rather than trying to change everything at once. Walking instead of driving, replacing incandescent lightbulbs with CFCs or LEDs, and eating less meat are some behavioral changes that will help your physical or economic well-being as well as that of the planet. To kick off your new sustainable regime, try a one-time activity like a home energy audit, or replace an inefficient appliance or (if you can afford it!) gas-guzzling car.

2. Make a public commitment. Let your friends and family know. Post it on your Facebook account.

3. Get social support. Some of your friends and family may want to make a similar effort. You can work together to come up with creative new ways to reduce your environmental footprint. You can find, or create, an on-line group.

4. Examine the context. Are there things that make it difficult for you to make the changes you want to make? Lack of access to recycling bins, lack of the proper footwear for doing errands on foot, your bicycle needs repair? Address these things first. You want to make your own good behavior as easy as possible.

5. Make it rewarding. Give yourself a treat for sticking to your plan. If you walk all week instead of driving, enjoy a fine meal at a local restaurant! If you save money through energy efficiency, buy that new sweater you've been wanting! Have a weekly or monthly get-together with your like-minded friends. Just make sure that your rewards don't undermine the goal you're trying to achieve.

Most important, remember you're doing this for yourself -- to protect something that is important to you. Recognizing that you're working toward a larger goal, one that you've defined for yourself rather than based on corporate advertising, can give your life a greater sense of meaning. And that's priceless.

Have more tips to share? Post them in the comments!