Many of the world’s leaders recently convened in Glasgow, Scotland at COP26, the UN climate change conference. Companies and individuals are facing growing pressure to make sustainable decisions. Many of these sustainable decisions are NOT easy, and they need to happen on multiple levels. Big corporations have to think through the process of balancing their green commitments with the repercussions for their business and their shareholders. On an individual level, people tend to have all kinds of problems making sustainable decisions. Some may feel dissonance between their own personal beliefs and those held by their employer. Others may have unsustainable habits at work and at home that they just don’t want to give up at work. Regardless of the situation, the coaching perspective on these issues starts with the same step in the process: we need to define our core values. This may sound overly simplistic, but clarifying your values is often an incredibly challenging thing to do. It takes self-reflection and big-picture thinking, which isn’t always fun. Ultimately, you need to make sure that you won’t look back and regret decisions you’ve made.
Some people genuinely do not believe that making compromises in their own life can help stop the environmental crisis. In a USA Today Opinion piece, Michael E. Mann and Jonathan Brockopp argue that too much focus on individual behaviors distracts from the responsibility of corporate polluters. Many people may decide that sustainable behaviors on an individual level are not worth the trade-offs in their daily convenience and comfort. On a larger level, corporations may decide that making green commitments falls outside the scope of their mission. If you think sustainability commitments do not concern you, then there is nothing else to work on from a coaching perspective. You can live your daily life in ways that are congruent with your values.
On the other hand, some people may be clear that they value the environment and want to make sustainable decisions. That’s a great first step, but knowing you have this value doesn’t make the process of making sustainable decisions any easier. You need an action plan. You also need to prepare for the inevitable obstacles that you will face as you try to enact your action plan. This is the second step of coaching: developing an action plan that will help you live in ways that align with your values and preparing yourself to overcome the obstacles that make it difficult for you to do so.
I’ll use myself as an example. I believe there is an environmental crisis, and I want to do my best to make sustainable individual decisions. I want to live in ways that are kind to the planet that my children and their children and their children will inherit. However, I also LOVE using paper towels. I do. I love them. They make my life easier. I rip off a paper towel, clean up a mess, and throw it away. I don’t want to give up that convenience. My love of paper towels clashes with my core value of living sustainably. It may sound like a silly example, but it really causes me stress. I just want to go about my business as usual, but because of my value system, I need to educate myself about alternative paper towel options. I need to work to disengage from old, unhealthy habits and form new, healthier ones that are congruent with my values. I may not like the daily work required, but at the end of the day, I will have an easier time sleeping at night.
Many people I coach fall into this camp of: “I know I need to do something different, but I don’t want to.” This is totally normal, but I think it’s often where regret is born (for more on this, see last week’s blog). If we don’t resolve this conundrum in a manner that we feel good about, regret is almost inevitable down the line. But it’s also not easy to identify your values, wrestle with ambivalence, and make decisions to live a life congruent with your values. This is why I love coaching. I get to provide the support structure that can help people make these challenging but rewarding decisions.
So if you, like me, watch the news from COP26 and feel a mild sense of guilt and stress, it may be time to sit down and explicitly clarify for yourself your values about the environment. Do you feel a sense of responsibility to live more sustainably? If so, what small goals might you set for yourself in your daily life? What obstacles do you anticipate encountering as you attempt to achieve these goals? What strategies might you try using to overcome the obstacles?
And, of course, if you want support and guidance throughout this process, please contact me about the services I can provide to help!