So the 2019 Australian Federal Election just happened.
If the outcome was to your liking, then congratulations 🙂
If it was not, then commiserations 🙁
This post is not about the outcome of the election. I’ll leave that to the political analysts who know much more about the topic than I do.
This post is about the impact the self-analysis that followed the result and my realisation that there is an area of mental fitness I have not considered yet.
The back story
My major area of concern going into the election was climate change. It is a challenge facing humanity that I am not convinced can be addressed with the ‘steady as she goes’, incremental change approach that I think works well in other settings. It needs action of a more robust, ‘fighting for your life’ kinda type.
As a result I voted for the Greens.
When it became clear that the Coalition had won, I knew that such action was unlikely. I don’t believe the Coalition will do nothing about climate change, but I think they’ll treat it like any other economic challenge and try to make incremental changes through actions designed to modify the energy generation and resources market.
At first I was frustrated, and placed the blame at the feet of anyone who had voted them in. Clearly there was a large proportion of the population that just wanted to watch the world burn.
Then I started to think that through. I highly doubt that people voting for the Coalition want to see the planet burn. It makes no sense. No-one looks at their own home and goes ‘it would be really cool to see this destroyed’.
But many people have to weigh up policies that address the planet with the policies that affect their day-to-day living. They know they’ll have to make sacrifices in order to achieve environmental goals but some of those sacrifices are simply too big for their current situation. Asking someone who works in an industry that is likely to disappear under a green agenda (e.g. coal mining) to simply give up their job for the greater good isn’t fair. It isn’t feasible. It isn’t logical. Asking someone whose cost of living is already beyond their means to absorb increased costs is cruel.
So then I turned that annoyed attention back on myself. I started thinking about what sacrifices was I willing to make for a global green agenda. I walk around saying ‘climate change’ is important, but am I really living a life that genuinely shows a willingness to make true sacrifices for it?
One the surface, I am not doing too bad. I recycle. I don’t buy coffee and produce 365 disposable cups every year. I rarely buy bottled water. I attend to my garden and grow a lot of plants. I drive a small car that uses a small amount of petrol. I’ve changed the light bulbs in my house to the long-lasting low energy ones. But all of these have been easy. They haven’t genuinely challenged my quality of life or financial security. None of them require a genuine sacrifice.
I realised at that point that mental fitness has to include the extent to which a person’s attitudes are consistent with their behaviour. We know from the psychological literature that the two aren’t always in line with each other. I believe blood donation is a very good thing. have I ever donated blood? No.
When our attitudes and our behaviour don’t gel, ‘dissonance’ is created – a kind of uncomfortable awareness that we’re a walking contradiction. We do all sorts of mental gymnastics to try and deal with this dissonance. Sometimes we shift our attitudes (‘there’s nothing a single individual can do’). Sometimes we make excuses (‘i’m really busy’). Sometimes we just do our best to ‘not think about it’ and try to avoid the issue altogether.
Last night I couldn’t avoid the realisation that, as far as ‘real action on climate change’ was concerned, I was a contradiction. My attitude and behaviour weren’t aligned.
So what are you going to do Gareth?
I have some uncomfortable choices to make. I have to look at my life and identify where my behaviour is inconsistent with my views of environmentally healthy behaviour.
I think the main things will be:
- Transport – I could use public transport or riding to get to and from work. This would be cheaper and reduce greenhouse emissions, even with my small car. As a household with 2 cars, I think we could feasibly reduce to 1.
- Donation – I do not currently support any environmentally focused organisations. Setting up a regular donation to an organisation dedicated to fighting for action on climate change seems appropriate.
- Investment – I need to think about my investments and whether any of them may be in sectors that, on the whole, take more from the planet than they give.
- Rainwater – exploring options within my existing rental to collect rainwater for use on the garden. This would reduce overall water use AND actually be better for the plants.
- Improved recycling and energy efficiency in the home – I don’t put everything that could be recycled in the right bin. Tidying that up is a no-brainer.
- Minimising – I’ve already done a fair bit of decluttering in my own life, but further steps towards living a more minimalist lifestyle seem appropriate.
Will I actually make these changes or will I just slowly push them to the back of my mind?
I don’t know.
I’m writing this post with the intention that putting this out in public increases my accountability at least a little.
Plus I will follow up this post with an update on which (if any) of the above actions I put in place.
I want to make these changes. I want to be a role model for the kind of self-discipline that is required to put such changes into place, but I am aware of my previous failures.
Why are you telling me this?
This personal narrative of self-reflection after the election is intended to illustrate a key component of mental fitness that I have not articulated previously.
How consistent is your behaviour with the views that you hold? Are you a living example of your beliefs?
These questions don’t just apply to beliefs around climate change and the environment. They can apply to any set of beliefs.
You might have strong beliefs about ‘living a healthy lifestyle’ but frequently give-in to packets of Tim Tams or have let that gym membership lapse.
You might have strong beliefs about the value of your degree but still procrastinate repeatedly.
You might believe that people should engage in ‘self-care’ but work yourself to the bone.
You might (as I do) believe that we need to take drastic action on climate change, but not be making any real sacrifices in your own life in that respect.
Before you get despondent or think I’m attacking you, remember that our behaviour is the product of many different interacting factors, not just our beliefs. It is likely the case that we are all walking around with these kinds of contradictions in full view.
Instead I am inviting you to consider that part of building a rewarding and satisfying life (the ultimate goal of mental fitness) might include making a project of getting your beliefs and behaviours aligned. Make it a gradual project or make drastic changes in one go. I’m not fussed at the speed at which you do it. I suspect it will take me a while to get my climate views and behaviour in line.
But make attitude-behaviour consistency an aspirational goal.