People tend to be creatures of habit, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. According to Northwestern Medicine, good habits can lead to behaviors that reduce stress, help you eat and sleep better, and foster better health overall. But because our routines are so ingrained, it can be all too easy to slip into habits that aren’t good for us—or the planet.
Aligning your habits with your values takes time and intentionality, but one way to focus your day is through practicing mindfulness. According to expert Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is described as a “moment to moment non-judgmental awareness.” And regular practice may help improve your health. A 2015 study in the International Multispecialty Journal of Health suggests that meditative-based lifestyles reduce stress and cellular aging.
Practicing mindfulness can also give you the time (and headspace) to reduce your carbon footprint. It isn’t an easy, overnight task, but little habits add up and small tweaks can eventually lead to large changes. To get you started, here are some ideas on how to achieve mental and planetary tranquility in your daily routine.
Nationwide, one-third of air pollution is attributed to our cars. Walking, even if it’s only to the bus stop or metro, can be a big improvement on your personal carbon footprint. Walking also has major health benefits. Simply being outdoors can help improve mental fatigue. Adults should get in at least 150 minutes of mild exercise—such as walking, swimming, or gardening—each week to boost cardiovascular health, according to the American Heart Association.
Walking can also serve as a mindfulness activity. University of California Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center offers some helpful advice on staying present as you walk by focusing your attention: As you lift your back foot off the ground, see and feel it swing forward and lower; see and feel it as it touches the ground, heel first; and feel the weight of your body shift forward with each step. You can also count your steps as you go; this focus ultimately clears your mind.
Mornings can be stressful—if you’re rushing out the door, you can start your day off on the wrong, high-strung foot. Taking a few moments to focus on your inner calm before you leave the house can put you in the right headspace to tackle any challenges that might pop up throughout the day. But you don’t need to get into downward facing dog in your nice work pants to do it. Work moments of peace into small morning tasks for the same impact, while also taking the time to reduce your carbon footprint.
Take 10 minutes before heading out the door and put on a tranquil playlist or practice yoga “Oms,” and unplug electronics and chargers. Walk slowly around each room, unplugging everything from the toaster to your router.
Keeping everything in your house plugged in is a waste of energy—around 50 devices in your home are drawing power even when in sleep or power-save mode. Electricity production accounts for 33 percent of all annual carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. By taking this simple step each morning, you’re conserving energy as well as achieving stillness before heading out into the world.
Food transportation—such as ordering takeout or going out to eat a meal made with ingredients shipped to a restaurant—accounts for approximately 11 percent of carbon emissions associated with the U.S. food production system. But if dining out or getting takeout is your go-to method for relaxation, you might be losing out: The Wall Street Journal says cooking can be used to treat a variety of mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety.
If you’re an experienced cook, carve out time each week to find a relatively complicated recipe, something challenging enough to hold your attention but not so challenging that it intimidates you, and spend some time in the kitchen. You’ll cut down on carbon emissions and unwind. Similar to meditation, when your mind wanders, gently guide it back to the recipe, ingredients, and prepping process—focusing only on the task at hand. Not only is this a form of self-care (as in doing something nice for yourself), it’s also a fantastic way to clear your mind.
If grocery shopping and meal planning aren’t your jam, you’re in luck: Services such as Blue Apron and Hello Fresh may actually have a lower carbon footprint than traditional grocery shopping. And these services guide you through a recipe with multiple steps with ease, so even though your dinner may taste restaurant-quality, it doesn’t require hours of prep.
Pamper your plants
Plants are powerful air purifiers: Research has suggested that indoor plants can decrease toxins in the air, improving respiratory systems. Another study has suggested that air filtration can be especially beneficial among those with asthma. Interacting with indoor plants has also been shown to reduce stress.
If you’re looking for a good excuse to meditate, whether at home or at work, make a ritual out of caring for plants. To ensure that they continue to benefit you and your space, you’ll need to water, prune, clean, and maybe even spritz your indoor jungle. Your plants probably only need the full shebang once a week, but incorporating a few moments a day to run through a variety of tasks to attend to them can provide short, targeted breaks from your work and ultimately help you focus (and breathe!) better in the long run.
Clean out your fridge
It may seem like a pointless chore, but regular fridge organization is an important step to curb our food waste—and we waste a lot. The U.S. food supply chain has a waste rate of 30 to 40 percent, which translates to 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth per year. While that’s (hopefully) not the volume of food your household wastes per year, it’s safe to say we’ve all forgotten that tub of yogurt in the back of the fridge and ended up throwing out food we meant to eat.
Turn on calming instrumental music, light a nontoxic aromatherapy candle, and go through your whole fridge whenever you need a moment to relax. By keeping track of the foods you have, you are much less likely to waste due to expiration or deterioration. Organize jars and condiments in order of expiration date: The stuff that expires soonest should be the first things you see in your fridge. It may seem like a small task, but the potential mood booster of seeing a clean, organized fridge is huge.
These small steps might not seem like the planet-saving strides we need when we’re faced with alarming news about climate change, but making small shifts in your routine and then maintaining those shifts is the first step toward lasting change—for you and for the planet.