I decided a few weeks ago to focus on one of the things on my zero waste “hard” list: lunch at work. There’s no canteen in any of the offices I work in and so I had been buying a sandwich from a local café or supermarket and often also getting breakfast or snack while travelling to or from work as well. I hated the amount of packaging waste I was creating but I had a mental block about changing it. I already got up at 6am every day to go to work, had the morning routine down to 40 minutes to get out the door and couldn’t imagine fitting anything else in or getting up any earlier. I was also worried about what to eat – I’m trying to cut down on dairy and my homemade sandwich of choice for years has been cheese and pickle. If I’m buying from a café then I can pick a vegan option but at home, what do you put in a vegan sandwich?!
I decided though really I was just avoiding the issue. It couldn’t be that hard to change and I just needed to incorporate it into my morning routine, make it a habit. Habits are our brains’ way of creating short cuts, doing regular things on auto pilot that become hard wired so we don’t have to expend a lot of mental energy on them. That’s good for saving mental energy but it does make it hard to change habits once they are set. Common wisdom used to be that it takes 21 days of repeatedly doing something new to make it into a habit. However, research in recent years suggests that it’s variable depending on the type of new thing and the individual, and the average is 66 days. Which seems like a long time! I’d have to make a sandwich every weekday morning for 2 months and then it would become automatic. James Clear has an interesting perspective that you become what you regularly do and therefore your habits shape who you become. To help with motivation to build a new habit, he suggests that you work out what sort of person you want to be and match your habits with that.
Despite all that advice, I did what any sensible person would do and found an app. The one I picked (pretty much at random) is pleasingly called “done” and gives you lots of options to track whether you’re regularly doing your new thing or not. That was the extent of my planning. In the first week I had cheese and pickle sandwiches for 3 days and missed 2 days. I missed Wednesday that week because I ran out of ingredients at home and I missed Friday because I was working in London rather than my usual office and it didn’t occur to me that I’d still need to take lunch. And I wasn’t doing well at avoiding dairy. I realised then that some more planning was needed!
That weekend I investigated vegan sandwich options and found teriyaki jackfruit. Turns out I like teriyaki jackfruit and humus sandwiches! A bit weird maybe, but I’m enjoying them so far. I also remembered a Happy Pear recipe for nut and seed power loaf, which is a great snack. This is now working pretty well – at the weekends I make nut and seed loaf and teriyaki jackfruit. I also make sure that I’ve got enough ingredients for sandwiches. It doesn’t take much time in the morning and I fit it in around eating breakfast and sorting out the cat. There have also been a couple of side effects that I wasn’t expecting. On the negative side, I now have no reason to leave the office at lunchtime and so I found to start with that I wasn’t seeing the sky during the day and doing even fewer steps than in a usual office day. Latterly I’m making myself take a short walk at lunchtime so I at least leave the building! On a more positive note, I’m eating fewer unhealthy snacks and I’m saving money.
So far I’m 25 days into forming my new habit and it’s going well. I don’t think it’s totally stuck yet though, despite getting past that 21 days number – I could still imagine forgetting to prepare anything at the weekend or not planning properly when I’m going somewhere different to normal. Having the app has helped, it’s pleasing to track progress and see how long my streak is, a bit like a star chart from primary school! The main thing that has struck me is James Clear’s assertion that you need to link the habit to your intent, to the type of person you want to be. I aspire to create no waste in how I live and so of course I have a zero waste lunch at work.