I don’t know about you, but when I set out to tackle a new project or challenge, I begin by feeling pretty excited about what I’m going to achieve. I feel good about making the commitment, I anticipate how great it’s going to be when I get there.
Only… not long after that, the doubt starts to set in. I realise the enormity of what I’m trying to tackle. I hit a stumbling block, and realise that the goal I set myself isn’t going to be such easy sailing.
It’s going to be hard work, and progress isn’t going to be a straight line.
It can be pretty disheartening after the euphoria of the beginning.
Can you relate?
However, progress is never a straight line, and there’s no need to give up just because things get a little tough. It’s all about practice, and chipping away, and bouncing back after we’ve been knocked down.
Time is always on our side.
No-one learns how to play the guitar in a few days, or speaks a language fluently in a week – so why should other habits be any different?
If you’ve set yourself the goal of really trying to live plastic-free and/or embrace zero waste, chances are you started out feeling great about what you want to achieve, only to feel deflated and overwhelmed as the days roll on. Whether you’ve struggled to find a good bulk store, argued with an obstinate customer service assistant who rolled their eyes and refused to let you use your own containers (or insisted on bagging them afterwards) or simply forgot your reusables because you were in a rush and took the single-use packaging without thinking – I promise you, we have all been there.
When that happens, dust yourself off, file it away under “experiences” and keep going.
We all make mistakes. If you’re a beginner on the zero waste journey, here’s 5 more common mistakes that people make, and how you can think differently about them.
Five mistakes that beginners make when going zero waste or plastic free
1. Not starting small.
It’s easy to focus so much on the end result that we forget this: big changes are really lots of small changes added together. Yes, the end goal is important. But the small actions are how we are going to get there.
If we want our expectations to meet our reality, we have to start small and achievable.
It’s much more motivating to pick a small, attainable goal and actually achieve it. That’s what spurs us on to take another action. Picking a wildly ambitious goal and then failing to meet it just makes us feel guilty, miserable and more like giving up.
If you’re new to zero waste and have never done anything to reduce your waste in the past, deciding that you’re going to go straight for the “all-my-waste-fitting-in-a-jam-jar” challenge in week 1 might be a step too far.
Why not start with sourcing a good set of reusables, and work on remembering to take them with you when you head out? Or choose one item that takes up a huge amount of space in your rubbish bin, and decide to find a low waste solution to that?
You’ll find some inspiration for micro actions you can take to reduce your waste here.
2. Feeling bad about the successes of others.
Comparisonitis is very real. We see other people doing things that we want to be doing, possibly better than we could ever do them, and we feel bad about ourselves. Social media makes it worse, as we are much more exposed to what others are doing.
But comparing ourselves to others isn’t helpful, especially when we feel miserable or disheartened as a result.
Rather than feeling bad about the successes of others, we can choose to celebrate with them. People make progress as a result of hard work, determination, and courage. Anyone ahead of us on the journey can share their experiences, help us make progress and shine a light on the path to take.
That’s a good thing, not a bad thing.
Personally, I think that social media is a tool for good, connecting us with great ideas and inspiring people. We can choose to follow people who motivate us and lift us up. People who write kind words, share ideas freely and build supportive communities.
If you find that you follow people who make you feel bad, you can stop that immediately by unfollowing them.
If we find that social media gets a little overwhelming, we can take time out.
If it doesn’t feel good, there is no need to do it. We have the control and the power to change it.
Try to celebrate the success of others. If you find this too difficult, choose to disconnect from it. It’s all a choice.
3. Letting the negative opinions of others influence your journey.
We all try to make the best decisions we can based on the knowledge we have, the time and resources available to us and our experiences. There is rarely a perfect choice, so we do what we think is best in that moment.
That doesn’t mean that our decisions are right for everyone, or are what others would choose.
I think the most important thing is to understand why we make the choices we make: to know why they feel right for us.
Others will have different ideas. Sometimes this feedback can be very useful. We can learn about other (and maybe better) ways of doing things. We can consider new perspectives, and factors we hadn’t considered before.
This can help us make better, and more informed, decisions next time.
Sometimes, although people are well-meaning, these comments can come across as overly critical or negative. It might not be what they say, but the way they say it, or what is implied.
You don’t make your own? I do.
You bought something new when you could have made do/found it second hand? That’s not zero waste.
Do you know it contains palm oil/is made in China/some other thing that’s terrible for the planet? I thought you cared about that.
I believe that most people mean well. Sometimes our passion and excitement for a subject can get in the way of thoughtfulness. Just remembering this fact can help us see past any unintended negativity.
Of course, sometimes people do try to catch us out. To point out our flaws and imperfections. Really, that says more about them than it does about us.
Regardless, there is often (but not always) an element of truth to consider in any negative feedback or comments. It’s worth taking a step back, considering the message and taking any feedback on board for next time.
It’s not worth dwelling on it, though. Or getting upset by it. Or letting it negatively influence our efforts.
Remember, people have no idea about your life. It’s your journey, and you’re figuring it out as best you can.
Negative feedback can be useful. Just don’t let it derail your plans.
4. Not seeing making bad choices as a learning experience.
On any journey we make decisions and choices that, with the benefit of hindsight, we wouldn’t make again. That’s part of the learning experience.
Bad choices are not a reason to give up. We all make them, and we will all continue to make them. Hopefully, the more we progress the less we’ll make, but there are no guarantees!
Making a bad decision, and realising that it was a bad decision, is what helps us make better decisions next time round. I would argue that making a bad decision is better than making no decision – taking action is how we get clarity.
Most decisions will be good, some will be not so good. It doesn’t matter.
5. Making things harder than they need to be.
Going plastic-free or zero waste is not about going without. That said, it can take time to find workable solutions for everything. There has to be balance, and in trying to find that balance we can tip a little too far the other way.
To find balance, we need to push things in order to find out just where the equilibrium lies.
However, if we go too far, we need to recognize that, and bring things back, or we will stress ourselves out and the whole thing will become unsustainable.
There’s plenty of ways that we can unintentionally make things harder for ourselves. Creating an unmanageable amount of work for ourselves by trying to make every single thing from scratch. Trying to ensure our entire family is zero waste or plastic-free rather than just focusing on ourselves. Tackling multiple challenges at once, like going zero waste, plastic-free, vegan, organic and local all together. Forgoing things we love (and that make us happy), or letting our health suffer for the “cause”.
We can only do what we can do. Some things we can maintain in the long-term, some things we can strive for only in the short-term, and other things just won’t work for us at all – at least not in the present.
Zero waste, plastic-free and sustainable living is not meant to feel like a chore. Its not meant to feel like a struggle. If it does, it might be time to take a step back and let some things go. There will be a time to try again.
There’s no benefit to anyone in making things harder than they need to be.
If you have any mistakes you’d like to add to this list, I’d love to hear them so please share! Were there any mistakes that you made when starting out? Are there any mistakes you see others make at the beginning of their journey? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts below!