Choice Change Progress

Don't Tear it Down to Make it Better

By Taylor Gray, Ph.D. on August, 8 2021

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Taylor Gray, Ph.D.

The world is a better place when companies are good corporate citizens. I remain focused on developing meaningful and actionable insights from empirical data in pursuit of a better world.

Change can be difficult. In fact, it can often feel out-right impossible. We live in a perpetually changing world yet (or perhaps because of this) we cling to habits and routines even against our own better judgements or desires. We are one of the most adaptable species in the world...but there is just so much comfort and convenience from familiarity.

Our inclination to familiarity is at the foundation of why so many research and development funds, as well as VC investments, are pouring into industrial-scale renewable energy, carbon capture and storage, and the electrification of just about everything. As the world is coming to terms with the environmental limits and consequences of our development to date, innovative minds are exploring every option to reduce the impact of modern life without requiring us to change anything about modern life.

Even with an imprinted desire to resist change we are nonetheless changing towards greater sustainability...we are just doing so incrementally.
Stepping Stones of Change

Electric vehicles are a much more popular alternative to internal combustion engines than are active, public, or shared transportation because they allow mobility with reduced impact and do not require any changes to our lifestyles, habits, or routines. Just as heat pumps are gaining in popularity as they provide more efficient home heating and cooling without requiring us to actually change anything about what we are actually heating or cooling.

It is easy to be critical about all of this and to point out that for any change to truly make a difference it must be systemic--but I don’t fully agree with that. Yes, we could more readily reduce our impacts and lead more sustainable lifestyles if we systematically revised urban planning, eschewed private vehicles, lived communally in smaller purpose-built establishments, re-imagined the economics of production and consumption, and re-invented the political system. However, such acute and systemic change is both improbable and implausible. From the personal to the cultural to the institutional, all levels are geared toward resisting change of any such magnitude.

This is fine, because even with an imprinted desire to resist change we are nonetheless changing towards greater sustainability...we are just doing so incrementally. Every change we can make for the better which does not require us to break far from familiarity is a change that we are more likely to implement and maintain. Over time, each incremental change that we maintain becomes integrated into newer routines and pushes our familiarity benchmarks ever so gradually so as to be only subtly noticeable at best. It’s the stepping stone approach to change.

It may be fun to dream of idealistic and dramatic change but it is much harder to implement in the real-word, just look at the track record of New Year’s resolutions, dietary plans, the trail of failed ‘intentional communities’, or the longer-term outcomes of revolutions--Success is a minority position. 

 

Being Intentional in Change

Aiming to be intentional in the impacts of our decisions, we should not be critical or ambivalent to the small incremental changes. Throughout history, progress has mostly been born from incremental changes. Eras may be marked by singular dramatic events, but these are notable not only due to their impact but also their rarity. Fighting the personal, cultural, and institutional abhorrence of abrupt change is largely futile, rather we must all learn how to work with it.

Every change we can make for the better which does not require us to break far from familiarity is a change that we are more likely to implement and maintain.

Here’s a simple challenge for you to start working with these incremental changes yourself. For nearly every product we buy and every brand we choose there are alternatives, and some are far more responsible in their impacts on the issues that matter than others. So look around your home and see if there is one product or brand that you buy frequently or that you find yourself supporting more than others. 

Always buy the same toilet paper or paper towel? Is there one fashion brand in your closet more than any other? Always brewing the same coffee? Home décor mostly from the same retailer?

Now go to AskMotive.com and search for that brand and explore how it ranks on its impacts on the issues that matter. Are you surprised--either in a  good or bad way? Does knowing more about the impacts of this brand change how you feel about it?

If you are pleased with what you have learned about this brand then keep using it. Great!--You just reinforced a habit you already had that contributed positively to the issues you care about.

If you are not pleased with what you have learned about this brand check out a few of the comparative brands and see if you can find one that better aligns with what you care about. Even Better!--You just took the first step in an incremental change that will help push the world toward your vision of better, and it is an incremental change that you are likely to actually maintain.

We do not need to tear the world down before we can start making it better. Every choice we make, no matter how small, is an opportunity for progress.

 


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