In our move to a more sustainable way of living and working, we know that we need to change how we act and also how we think. Our actions, after all, stem from our thoughts and, unless we change our approach to how we think, we will not manage to simplify or to sustain the changes that we make. If we do not modify our mindset in a resilient way, then as soon as we hit a moment of stress, it is likely that we’ll revert to old habitual thought patterns and behaviours.
Environmentalists frequently talk about finding alternative energy sources to fossil fuels. We now regard fossil fuels as very efficient and relatively low cost sources of energy, from a financial point of view, but high cost in terms of their polluting effect on the planet.
What about the fuels we use personally, to drive our thoughts and ideas and to motivate us on an emotional and intellectual level? Which are the polluting mind fuels that we use? What can we replace them with in order to fuel our minds sustainably and so minimise the longer term costs to our wellbeing?
Unsustainable Mental Fuels
The unsustainable mental fuels that we are apt to reach for when we feel we need a mental boost are substances such as alcohol, drugs, nicotine and caffeine. We might also use foods that are high in fat and sugar as a way of comforting ourselves. At times of stress we might attempt to nourish ourselves by indulging in distractions or ways of spacing out so that we don’t have to directly face the less attractive areas of our lives. These unsustainable human fuels, like using fossil fuels, can seem very effective in the short term, but they pollute our whole being over the longer term and they do not help us find solutions to the problems in our lives.
Fortunately there are sustainable, enjoyable and effective alternatives.
We can view mental nourishment as being in one of three forms:
- Sensory experiences
Some foods, we know, are particularly beneficial to the mind, essential fatty acids for example. You might like to experiment with observing how you feel mentally after meals and noticing which foods lead to you feeling more alert and energised mentally. These may change with the time of day and even the time of year if you live in a temperate climate.
Associations are the people you mix with, at home, at work and in your leisure activities. You may know of some people around whom you feel happy and light and others whose company is likely to have a gloomy and deadening effect on you.
Sensory experiences are sights, sounds, tastes, smells and physical experiences. Think of the differences in your sensory experiences when you are sitting somewhere beautiful in nature compared to being stuck in traffic congestion on a motorway. One set of experiences will motivate and inspire you. The other is likely to leave you feeling dull and drained.
Jennifer approached me for coaching because she had started to simplify her life and yet felt that she was drifting into poverty through overspending. Her shift in lifestyle had begun when the department where she worked had been moved to a new location near the centre of town. Suddenly she felt lethargic in her job and was finding herself de-motivated in her efforts at home to simplify her life and to live more sustainably.
We looked at which personal fuels she was using. Whereas before the changes in her job, Jennifer had taken a packed lunch into work, since the move in location she had become tempted by a fast food outlet within 50 metres of her office. She had also abandoned her customary lunchtime walk in the park in favour of sitting at her desk to eat. Sadly, coupled with that, she had recently lost 2 close friends to cancer and had been feeling too lonely to socialise outside of work.
During coaching, Jennifer decided to regain the balance in her mental fuel by:
- Starting to make healthy packed lunches for herself each day.
- Joining a book club after work where she could meet like-minded friends with a shared interest.
- Finding another park within walking distance of the office where she could stroll and have a break in her day, enjoying the fresh air and some natural surroundings.
These might sound like some very straightforward choices to make and yet their effect was quite profound. Jennifer started to feel motivated again at home and at work. At home, she was able to take steps to reduce her costs and find the time and energy to organise her finances and her material possessions. As a result of this, she was no longer spending more than she was earning. What’s more, she created a plan for moving into retirement 3 years earlier than she had anticipated. At work, she found the courage to initiate a new project that had been on her mind for 3 years but which she had feared she would not be capable of managing.
By reviewing the three keys to fuelling our minds – food, associations and sensory impressions – we can often find ways to improve our motivation, creativity and energy levels by switching to sustainable mental fuels.
(Image courtesy of Erich Ferdinand on Flikr Creative Commons)