This personal leadership challenge began with what seemed like a daunting task. That is becoming more sustainable by changing my family’s core behaviors (only that!). I planned to do this through consent and gradual change versus “starting tomorrow we are no longer eating meat!”. Later it took the form of “choice architecture” and that is where the success has been.
Choice architecture is setting up environments to reduce the barriers to better choices. The most discussed example is the school cafeteria; whereas the placement of food choices has a significant impact on what children eat. If snack food is put at the end of the line and healthy food in the front; students consume a lot more fruits and vegetables. By the time they get to the snacks their trays are full. Choice architecture is discussed at length online, in TEDx talks, journal articles and the seminal book, Nudge by Thaler and Sunstein.
However, there is little if any about family dynamics and choice architecture. How can you improve your habits or that of your family through these nudges? We had to blaze our own trail. In our family, the work to develop nudges became what defines this leadership challenge. The impacts of small changes cannot be understated enough.
We started using nudges to reduce the amount of meat we ate. First, we needed consent of the family. This came easily, there had already been enough in the media and school about health, meat and climate to drive interest in change. The next step was a few nudges and small behavior changes.
- Prioritize meatless cookbooks in the kitchen. I often go to cookbooks when I’m preparing a meal. I know where the others (with meat) are but this reminds me of my commitment to less meat. I therefore will exhaust the meatless ones first and through this technique many more meals are meatless.
- Make a meatless day a week. We “joined” the Meatless Monday movement. At first this seemed like a way to just reduce meat. In truth it quickly builds confidence in finding and making tasty vegetarian meals. It introduced me to many more vegetable and fruit options while helping also build confidence in the use of spices. Lastly, I liked that it’s less hassle and I don’t need to worry about meat contamination and cleaning a lot more rigorously.
- Listen to the children. They are quick to point out if we are including meat in a meal. This helps us consider the need for meat in a meal and keep a mental note how often this is happening. As a result most of my days are meat free now.
- Build a community. My church began a Climate Action Team and when asked for committee ideas I proposed a plant-rich diet team. It was no effort to say it. This was quickly accepted; a team formed quickly and the collaboration as impressed all of us. No one is stuck doing all the work – it is a few hours a month for anyone. Our goal is to increase plant vs. meat content in the memberships’ meals. We learned that the congregation deeply supported this agenda and asked primarily for help in finding recipes. So we started a blog of member tested recipes, plant rich potlucks / recipe swaps and more about the impact of plant-rich diets on individual health and COe reduction.
- Apply the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) to test if the change is likely to work. As yourself three questions.
- Do I believe this change will have impact?
- Do I believe I will get support from the family and community?
- Do I believe I have the capacity to make this change happen?
If you don’t like the answer to one of these. See if you can’t change the conditions. If that doesn’t work then you can exit out of this change quickly without a lot of effort wasted.
I feel like the personal challenge has been a real success. I have learned much more about the dynamics of my family and the way I set up my choices. Behavior change usually is not easy yet the timing and environment were key factors. In the future I would investigate those first. This can be done through the Theory of Planned Behavior questions above.
Meatless meals became the front and center of the challenge though there were other efforts. These were food waste and carbon footprint reduction. As to food waste we are not only composting but ensuring our leftovers are eaten. In regards to footprint, it was already low except for my international work travel. Some of those trips are not avoidable but many are and as a result I’m flying much less.
At the end of the challenge I feel much more confident in driving change in other spaces of my life. This is especially true at work. Using the TPB questions as a guide to what may take root; I have successfully developed a new office at my work. We are now a staff of three creating the change we want to see in the international development space.