How our past habits need to change for saving our planet

Nowadays, everywhere that you look you can realize that various phenomena are caused by human activity. Extensive fires, heat waves, draught, ice melting in the earth’s poles are phenomena that highlight the need to take action and to be more radical in mitigating them. Terms such as “sustainability’ and “environmental awareness” have arisen gaining ground and showing that there is a need to do something immediately. It Is universally accepted that all these phenomena derive from the same basis. And that is human behaviour and habits.

But how these “habits” can have this deep and absolute effect on our planet? Well, people make choices always in their lives and based on these choices they act accordingly. But how many choices are conscious? To understand how habits function, we need a definition. According to Verplanken, habits can be defined as “memory-based propensities to respond automatically to specific cues, which are acquired by the repetition of cue-specific behaviour in stable contexts” (2018, p. 4). To put it simply, when you have a specific automatic response/ behaviour in certain circumstances then this a habit. It constitutes a mechanism that functions subconsciously which is based on repetition and learning. When we react in stimuli in the same way, each and every time this reaction is being repeated, is strengthened, thus leading to become a habit.

Having habits does not necessarily mean something bad. In fact, there are good habits (hardworking, honesty, taking exercise) and bad ones (alcoholism, drug addiction, selfishness, dishonesty etc).  One may think that habits have no connection to sustainability and climate change, but is this so? Habits specifically emphasize on how our behaviour is heavily reliant on automatic processes. For instance, if you have learnt from your home that when washing the dishes you don’t turn off the tap leaving tons of water running, well yes! This is a habit that places a significant burden on the environment by wasting water resources.

And the question here is whether we can break old, bad habits or create new habits that promote environmental awareness and contribute to the sustainability of our planet. The good news is that people, if they want to, they can control their behaviour through various ways. In their research, Linder et al (2022) indicate three ways for changing habits:

  1. Implementation- Intention: In other words, people choose intentionally to react in a certain way in certain cases, to achieve specific, desirable goals. By exploiting the mechanism already exists for establishing behaviours through systematic repetition, a new desirable habit is developed.
  2. Self-monitoring and cue identification: To put it simply, if you want to break free from unwanted habits you have to monitor when they take place and change your reaction.
  3. Habit discontinuity hypothesis: Changes in the context may lead to the discontinuity of all habits. This kind of discontinuities may occur in life transitions e.g., from finishing College and starting working, or changing environments by moving to a new place, or country and so on. These transitions constitute a good chance to change our perceptions of our past behaviour and break free from bad habits.

What is made clear from the abovementioned issues, is that habits have the power to change the way we behave towards our planet and its resources. Apart from this, they define who we are, shaping our identity which is based on our actions. Therefore, monitoring our past behaviour and decoding the reasons that led us to specific actions may be the key for creating more environmentally and sustainable aware citizens.

The ACTIVEYOUTH4Life project recognizes this need to learn more about habits and how they shape our self-perception, our values, beliefs, and self-identity and that is why a whole training module is dedicated to them!



Kaaronen, R.O. 2017. Affording sustainability: Adopting a theory of affordances as a guiding heuristic for environmental policy. Frontiers in Psychology 8: 1–13.

Linder, N., Giusti, M., Samuelsson, K. et al. Pro-environmental habits: An underexplored research agenda in sustainability science. Ambio 51, 546–556 (2022).

Verplanken, B. 2018. Introduction. In The psychology of habit: Theory, Mechanisms, Change, And Contexts, ed. B. Verplanken, 1–10. Cham: Springer.

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Project Number: 2021-1-ES02-KA220-YOU-000028702