How to deal with your inability to save the planet

If you have ever cared for the environment, or for people, or for the planet, you probably decided on something you are going to do. Like recycling, flying less, buying sustainable clothes, being nice to others.

And a week later, you throw the plastic bottle in the bin, you book your flight to Sri Lanka, you get socks from H&M, you yell at the person at the counter.

Look, I get it, you are really trying. But let’s get real. We have all these ambitions to do something for a sustainable future, but we are still human beings and acting sustainably can get annoying. The consequence: We kind of hate ourselves.

At first you might find all kinds of excuses (note: just for yourself, nobody else cares very much what you do) and feel fine about it. After you learn more and more about the devastating situation our planet is in, you start to blame yourself for not living up to your values. And after some time, this self blame turns into a subtle hatred towards yourself.

I could tell you now that “It’s ok to fly everywhere you want, it’s ok to eat meat everyday, it’s ok to harm the planet, don’t hate yourself.” I am not. If these things are ok to do or not is a twisted topic by itself and that’s not the point of this article. What this article is about is to stop hating yourself for doing these things. Because hating yourself doesn’t save the planet either.

Some might argue that self-hate is going to push you more into doing good. It doesn’t. The only thing self-hate is pushing is hating yourself and making your life miserable. So stop.

The good news is, self-hate is human and can be handled.

In fact, it’s so human that I dare you to show me one person on this planet who doesn’t hate him- or herself for one reason or the other. If you find one I’ll buy you dinner. The reason is, because they have failed to live up to what they wanted. It’s normal. It’s life.

The way to deal with it might be to ignore it, to numb yourself out by getting really high or drunk, to distract yourself with shopping or to blame everyone else for your shortcomings.

But getting rid of it can’t be the goal. You would have to give up all your goals, ideas, and maybe even your identity. I think sociopaths can do that…

So what I suggest instead is that you learn to reduce your self-hatred, to find ways to deal with it, to turn it into something constructive and to get on with life.

Here are four things that can help.

 1) Awareness

Again? Why is every article you read lately about awareness? Is it just a hype or the real deal?08_think-awareness

Well, from my perspective it’s real. And scientists say the same thing.1)

So what exactly is awareness?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, awareness is

“knowledge that something exists, or understanding of a situation or subject at the present time based on information or experience”

But it can mean something very out of this context as well, as my quick google search spit out:

In the Business Directory, awareness is

“In marketing, measure of how well known a brand, firm, or product is. Companies usually set a target for the degree of awareness they intend to achieve, and then plan a promotional campaign to reach that target.”

Well, when I talk about awareness, I mean the first definition. What I mean is that you get conscious of what you are doing and thinking.

For example:

  • If you meet a guy eating a hamburger and you automatically judge him, because he eats meat and because he got it at McDonalds. Then notice your thoughts. That’s it. Just notice them. Realise they are there.
  • If you “accidently” online-shopped bleached toilet paper at Amazon and you feel an underlying inner trouble. Notice it. Don’t judge.

02_sustainable-super-awareness-hippoThe thing is, once you are aware without judging, you can get your power back and learn to control your thoughts.
(and you could become an awareness-action-hero with the power to be aware of EVERYTHING. If I could make up an action-hero like that it would be a hippo with super-awareness-powers. )

How can you train awareness?

A great way is meditation of course. But I know it’s not everyones cup of tea. So what’s easy to do is to implement a little reminder. Whenever you are reminded, become aware of your thoughts. It doesn’t matter what they are about. A reminder could be an alarm on your cellphone, or a little note sticked to your bathroom mirror, or whenever you touch your necklace.

Try to become aware of your thoughts at least five times daily.

2) Forgive people, including yourself.

08_forgivenessEspecially in the social / eco scene, we often judge others harshly. “How can he eat that Döner, it’s not organic!” And talk an hour with our best friend or colleague how outrages we are, because that other person did something really stupid.

When I started to really getting into this sustainability stuff, I ended up yelling at my parents for flying to an island for vacation. My parents are very down to earth people who never flew anywhere before, whereas I have just came back from half a year of travelling to Africa. Yes, I did get there by bus, and yes it was very inconvenient, so I ended up flying back.

To my parents, I was being an asshole.

I blame myself for whenever I am flying, but I still do it every once in a while. I hate myself for that. So I hate others for doing it. And then they hate me, because I hate them. Hate. Hate. Hate. Hate. Not helping anyone with that.

So forgive yourself and others by recognising that what you are doing is shitty, but you still love yourself and others despite it.

How do you do that exactly?

This takes some practice, but if you don’t want to be a judgmental asshole (towards yourself and others), you have to accept that things are not always as they should be and that’s ok. We are complex creatures and we all have a million reasons for why we do what we do. The sooner you accept that you and the world are not what it should be, life get’s a lot easier and you’ll have a lot more fun.

3) Expose yourself

08_expose-yourself-look-yourself-in-the-faceAsk your best friend what he or she hates most about herself. The odds are pretty high that it’s the same thing you hate about yourself.

Not talking about the subject doesn’t make it any better.

In my peer group this might look a lot like this.

A person joins her friends, wearing a new shirt.

friend A “Nice shirt, where did you get?”

person with the nice new shirt “Thanks.”

friend A “Where did you get it”

person with the nice new shirt mumbling into her scarf “H&M”

friends A, B, C, and D …concerened silence….

person with the nice new shirt turns red and goes to the bathroom.

End of scene.

Friend B and D go to H&M to buy underwear.

We all do “wrong” things (as I said, I am not getting into the discussion, of what’s wrong or right). Talking about it makes it a lot easier to understand that you are not the only one with these issues and that it’s not a reason to beat yourself up because of it.

4) Ask your mum about it and eat some cake

07_mum-and-cakeWhen you talk to your mum about environmental problems and the devastation you feel towards the planetary development, she will most likely nod understandably and subsequently ask you if you want whipped cream with your cake. Her response is totally awesome and appropriate.

Because talking about it is not really going to change anything. Your mum knows that. She has been there. Trying to save the world is not an outstandingly new idea. Many people tried. Many people failed.

I am not trying to be a jerk, but talking about it is not going to help.

You think “How can mum not be interested and listen to the most important topic of our time?”

Your mum thinks “I wonder if there is enough whipped cream for everyone…”

Talking about it usually makes you and people you talk to anxious. Of course, it is very frightening to think about the global challenges we are facing. But research found out, that bad news only rarely get us to change.2)For example does the Neurobiologist Gerald Hüther explain in „Biology of Fear“, that uncontrolled fear basically turns off the limbic system in your brain and the response is to freeze. When a smoker get’s the news that he has lung cancer, one of the first things he wants to do is to smoke a cigarette. People yarn for normality and safety, and no one wants to be reminded of a growing global threat.

The result? People don’t listen to you and you get pissed because they don’t listen to you. You hate them, you hate yourself.

Next time your mum asks you if you want cake, take it and enjoy. 

Because isn’t life, no matter what, about the connections you have to other people.

Your mum get’s that. That’s why she invited you in the first place. So shut up for a minute and eat some cake.

References   [ + ]

2. For example does the Neurobiologist Gerald Hüther explain in „Biology of Fear“, that uncontrolled fear basically turns off the limbic system in your brain and the response is to freeze.

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