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8 Principles of Intuitive Sustainable Living

It’s time to make peace with environmentalism. At least, it is for me. I find myself regularly drained by the ongoing crises around the world that impact both people and planet. From climate change to global resource depletion and loss of wildlife and wilderness, I’m often left feeling sad about the state of the world.

But my sadness (and yours, if you can relate) is not going to change the world for the better.

Instead of putting so much pressure on ourselves to be perfectly sustainable, we can work to be more environmental, when possible, without the weight of all the world’s problems on our shoulders. I’m sure Stephen Covey would back up this approach.

The first habit in Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, is to be proactive. It’s about taking responsibility for your own reactions to your experiences, and to respond in a productive manner.

To do that, Covey makes a distinction between one’s circle of influence and circle of concern. Your circle of influence are the things you can control (e.g., what you eat, who you spend time with, what you do with your time) along with your responses to what’s happening around you. Your circle of concern includes things that you care about but are out of your control (e.g., climate change, state of the economy, other people’s behaviours) but regardless of what’s going on the world, you still have control of how you respond to your circle of concern.

The concept gives you a chance to explore how you want to handle all these situations that are out of your control, with an emphasis on responding in a productive and useful way. It also empowers us to focus on what we can influence and control, and to act on those instead of ruminating on what we can’t do anything about.

With all of this in mind, I’ve created 8 Principles of Intuitive Sustainable Living. The point of these principles is to enjoy a more sustainable lifestyle without the pressure, and to follow them in a way that makes the most sense for your life, regardless of your circumstances (because you’ll tailor these lifestyles to your personal situation).

Overview of the 8 Principles of Intuitive Sustainable Living:

  1. Reject the Extreme Approach

  2. Challenge the Status Quo

  3. Honour Your Current Season of Life

  4. Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labour

  5. Make Peace with the State of the World

  6. Respect Where Others Are At

  7. Handle Your Emotions with Kindness

  8. Trust Your Gut

Reject the Extreme Approach

Sustainable living has plenty of extreme examples of how to live more eco-friendly, from specific diets and following zero waste living to a T (no waste) to adopting minimalism to strip away all the excess. It’s easy to either go down a rabbit hole of adopting these extremes (and likely burning out) or avoiding these lifestyles altogether because they seem unrealistic.

These extreme lifestyles make for great sustainable living ideals because they would yield a very low impact lifestyle. Ideals, however, do not accurately reflect reality. As such, striving toward ideals can lead to dissatisfaction when we fall short on expectations. Instead, adopt a level of sustainable living that’s more reasonable for your life.

Challenge the Status Quo

While it’s more productive and realistic to reject the extreme approach to sustainable living, it’s still worth challenging the status quo of excessive consumption and wastefulness. The mainstream society we live in is based in convenience, single-use everything, and waste.

Instead of chugging along as if this is the best option for society, we can challenge the current status quo by contributing to a circular economy. Here are some ways to challenge the status quo of overconsumption and wastefulness:

  • Buy less but better quality

  • Choose reusables when possible

  • Consider ways you can consume less

  • Desire less to consume less

  • Get The Declutter Workbook

Honour Your Current Season of Life

Instead of thinking about your current circumstances in a negative light when it comes to sustainable living, such as:

  • “I can’t afford to be more sustainable, it’s too expensive”

  • “Minimalism is for the rich and privileged”

  • “I have children, I don’t have time to reduce my waste”

be at peace with your season of life (even if you aspire to change it) by embracing your situation and working within your given circumstances. This approach helps to reframe your perspective on the matter that not everything is going to be perfect, but you can take action anyway. The action you take may look different than what someone else would do in a different season of life, and that’s totally okay.

For example, if you want to wash your clothes less frequently to reduce your water consumption and give longevity to your clothes, that’s great. However, parents with small children will constantly be doing laundry (I can say this from experience), and that specific action will be less achievable given all the messes that come with kiddos. Or if you live in a hot climate and start sweating the minute you walk out the door, you may need to wash your clothes after a single wear.

Do what works for you in the context of the season of life that you’re in. Embrace the imperfections because it’ll take a load off your mind!

Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labour

Celebrate all your environmental actions, big or small, to keep the momentum going. Did you use a reusable cup for coffee today? Pat yourself on the back. Did you walk to work instead of driving? Give yourself kudos. Make your actions a big deal to remind yourself that it’s worth making extra time and effort to live more sustainably, when you can.

While you’re at it, don’t beat yourself up over a plastic straw or driving in a car. This is all about progress over perfection.

Make Peace with the State of the World

This one might be difficult to accomplish because the news is constantly bombarding us with dire situations around the world and in our own backyards. This principle isn’t about ignoring the world’s problems. Rather, the purpose of this principle is to encourage us to use Stephen Covey’s approach to acknowledge that much of the world’s ills are out of our sphere of influence.

Once we make peace with the fact that the world’s problems – war, famine, poverty, climate change, etc. – are out of our direct control, we can let go of the heavy burden we carry and take actions that are in our control.

Sure, we might not be able to alleviate every single hungry tummy in the world, but can we contribute to programs in our community that feed people in need? Consider that tactic each time you feel like the world’s problems are just too big for one person to handle. The truth is, they are. Make peace with that and do what you can. While you can’t “fix” climate change, you can plant trees or donate to organizations that work to sequester carbon.

Respect Where Others Are At

When we get wrapped up in the state of the world, we may start to view the world through our specific lens. Then, in that process, we forget that everyone else sees the world through their own lens, informed by their own experiences, knowledge, opinions, cultural views, etc. And because we can get so caught up in our own thoughts and opinions, we start to judge other people’s actions based on our set of values and through our own lens.

Instead of judging someone else’s actions, focus on your own behaviours and remember what’s in your sphere of influence. Perhaps you can inspire others to make more sustainable lifestyle choices, and if so, that’s great, but don’t be the plastic police. Respect where others are at!

Handle Your Emotions with Kindness

Do you get irritated when your politicians make choices that are bad for the planet? Are you sad when a wildfire kills wildlife? Do you feel fearful about climate change, and its associated impacts for people and the planet? Unless we take action on these feelings, they do not serve us.

One way to handle these emotions is with kindness by acknowledging our concerns then letting go of those feelings by remembering what is and what is not in our sphere of influence. Additionally, taking action on what is within our sphere of influence will help us to feel empowered and that we are making a positive difference.

Trust Your Gut

These principles are intended to be based on what’s intuitive to you, rather than following rules set by someone else. Follow your gut when living more sustainably. Do what works for you and enjoy your life! It will be a more authentic experience that way. This principle is about embracing who you are, and living out the actions that are aligned with, and intuitive, to you.


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