Using Permaculture Thinking to Keep our New Year Resolutions

Looby Macnamara
Thursday, 1st January 2015

Looby Macnamara shows us how to use permaculture design to help us think differently and therefore keep those New Year resolutions and become more healthy, creative and people.

Traditional for this time of year is the New Year resolutions, a time when we set ourselves new goals and make plans for change in our personal lives. Almost as traditional is the breaking of these new resolutions. There is more to it then just having the desire, obviously. How can we use permaculture design to help us embed new patterns in our lives?

The first thing is to survey our patterns – which ones are regenerative i.e. bring us benefits, and which ones are degenerative i.e. are costly to us in some form such as wasting our time or degenerating our health. Then we can think about how we can enhance our regenerative patterns and keep them active and ways in which we can decrease our degenerative patterns.

We have patterns of how we meet our needs. For any unhealthy activity, think about the need behind it; this then helps us to see other ways of meeting the need. For example, smoking may have the need of breaking up the day, having a stretch and move from the desk, having five minutes to yourself. This can take us into design, where we consciously look for healthy and beneficial ways to meet our needs. Could we find other ways to have a break that bring us other benefits?

All or nothing thinking and behaviour is a common trap to fall into, for example thinking, 'I won't be able to give up smoking entirely so there's no point cutting down and I won't try at all'. Or the moment we break our New Year's resolution to give up on it entirely. Initially it can help to set boundaries within the day or week to try a new pattern, exercising one day a week, or delaying the first cigarette of the day. The edges can be expanded once it feels comfortable to keep to these boundaries.

Another way of expanding the edges is to increase the gap between actions, allowing space for something else to occur. This starts to break the connections between actions. We can create patterns of success in implementing these new routines by starting small and keeping things achievable.

The permaculture design tool of zoning works with relative placement and ease of access. We can use zoning as a way of helping us create or break patterns as described in the following activity.

Activity: Distancing the distraction

Think of two things in your current lifestyle, one that you would like to do more of, and one you would like less of. Now think about where these things are in relation to you and your movements through the day. You may have the answers already, or perhaps you need to observe yourself over a few days.

Whatever you would like less of is a distraction that you can remove or distance. If this isn't possible find some barrier, or way of making it more difficult to get to; this could be as simple as a cloth over the television, or moving the biscuits to a higher shelf. This is a way of breaking our patterns of behaviour.

To test this theory out, move something from one of the cupboards in your kitchen that you use frequently; this could be the oil for cooking, wooden spoons or the tea jar. Over the next few days observe how often you open the cupboard it was in to reach for it without even thinking. (You may want to let your other house members in on the experiment as they will also be reaching into the same cupboards and may get annoyed!)

Now, think about what you would like to encourage in your life, reading, playing music or eating healthy snacks. Where can you place these so you can visit them more easily?

We need support and willpower to establish a new pattern until it has become anchored in our life. We can notice the changes that are occurring and the knock-on effects, and use the momentum of these changes to do more. It might be that initially we do not see the benefits: we might need to find acceptance of the disruption and see this as part of the process, a phase that we need to pass through. Like redecorating, changes can bring about a mess initially. Or perhaps we feel like we are not moving anywhere, just returning to the same point, but if we think of spirals we are slowly moving out, rather than just returning to the same point.

Our eco-footprints are linked to both individual and wider societal patterns. We have habits of how much we put our heating on, how often we wash our clothes and the food we buy and eat. In order to reduce our footprint and create a more life sustaining world we will need to change many of our patterns. What is present in the world today is the outcome of individual and collective patterns – change these and we change the outcomes. With improved patterns we open up alternative ways of seeing and being in the world.

This article was adapted from People and Permaculture. In Looby's second book 7 ways to think differently she explores ways to create new thinking patterns.

Looby is teaching a course in June, with editor Maddy Harland, on 'Empowering Women with Permaculture'. Visit for more information.


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