Thursday, August 06, 2009

just how fast should we be making change?

I tend to make changes more rapidly than my wife. It's not that she's always right and jumping in with both feet is always a bad idea. Sometimes I am more successful at making changes if I make them more rapidly because I begin to enjoy the benefits of change more rapidly than if I'd taken the "baby steps" approach. This was certainly true when I started riding a bike as my primary means of around town transportation. I quickly became addicted to the exercise and the fresh air and the wonderful rush of endorphins. I'm not sure I would have stuck with it if I'd only started out riding a little each week. Instead I started riding to work everyday. I went from zero miles per week to 120 miles per week- big change and I did it really fast.

But there is a back story to this change that I want to share not only to please my wife but because making big life changes and making them quickly isn't always the best strategy.

First of all, different people are comfortable with different paces of change. One of the biggest challenges I've had in adapting my life and my family for resource depletion, energy descent and climate changes has been marital. I might be comfortable making big changes rapidly but my wife is not and this has caused us considerable friction. There was a point at which we weren't sure we were going to make it. That point has pasted but I know now that I have to adjust the speed of my families adaptation so that it is comfortable for everyone involved.

I love my wife and I want to stay married to her and that means factoring in the speed at which she is comfortable making changes. This doesn't mean that we're not acting with haste in some circumstances. I don't think we have decades to make some of these changes. Sometimes big, rapid change is called for and my wife sees the need to go along with them sometimes. But we communicate now not only about what to do but when and how fast to adapt and this is key to success for more than one reason.

The old saying that 'haste makes waste' has truth to it and we really don't have time to waste. Slowing down and making some of these changes more gradually might be best in certain circumstances. And getting it right the first time might mean moving more slowly. As people discover that the future is going to be very different from the past and that we're probably in for some rough times ahead there's a tendency to to say, "OH CRAP! We have to grow more of our own food, insulate the house, learn to shoot a gun, begin making our own soap, etc. and we have to start doing it all right now because the world might come to a screeching halt tomorrow!!!" This happened to me.

I remember years ago when the true implications of peak oil set in; I mean the actual afternoon when it really hit me. I was on my way to visit friends and I stopped to eat at Taco Bell and I remember thinking, "This might be the last time I ever eat fast food because industrial agriculture might stop working this evening and the trucks might stop rolling into town tomorrow." And of course they didn't and Taco Bell still exists even if I don't eat there any more for other reasons ;-) I was overwhelmed though and I began to cast about for ways to adapt.

And what was one of my first attempted adaptations? I started collecting waste vegetable oil and learned how to brew biodiesel. I didn't have a vehicle that ran on diesel. This was one of several inconvenient flaws in my hastily made plan, but I charged ahead and soon had upwards of fifty gallons of waste vegetable oil in my crowded garage. In fact, I still have a considerable amount of it in my garage and talk about a sore spot with my wife. It turns out that the plan to begin brewing biodiesel wasn't my best alternative option for transportation. A bicycle was. Yup, it was much easier to outfit a bike and start riding. I had been in too much of a hurry to make change and I initially made the wrong one. I annoyed my wife and I wasted time.

I can think of at least one more reason we might want to make some of our adaptations more slow and that is motivation. When I talk to people with big peak oil preparation plans they tend to have something in common, they are motivated by fear. This is not unjustified. We are facing some pretty daunting challenges. I still get scared on a regular basis. But here's the thing about fear. It's a really good short term motivator.

If you find yourself face to face with a tiger fear tells your body, run like hell! And this is a good thing because it keeps us from getting eaten by tigers, if we can run fast. But fear is a pretty crappy long term motivator. In _A Nation of Farmers_ Sharon and I talk about this. We refer to the fact that even when people are told by a doctor that they must make a particular life change or they will die, only 10% of people are able to make that change and stick with it for a year. We do need to act with haste but fear alone will not be a consistent motivator for the duration of time it will take your family to adapt. We must develop other motivations for making these changes and the great news is there are plenty of them.

If any of you are in panic mode about making post carbon adaptations as quickly as possible because you are afraid of what we're facing, I do suggest you slow down a bit and catch your breath. We need to act quickly but there are some pitfalls we would do well to avoid.

The fear alone won't carry you through. And I suggest you slow down, just a bit because if you don't you might make some poor choices. And it's important, I now believe, that you pay attention to the speed at which your loved ones can make the important changes necessary to adapt to the situation we're entering into. If you don't you could end up with fifty gallons of truly wasted vegetable oil in your garage because of a hastily made plan that severely annoys your wife. I've been there and I'm just trying to be helpful.



ebishirl said...

Well said, Aaron! The other thing about fear -- besides being a poor long-term motivator -- is that it's just darned exhausting. Much better to sometimes just stop and smell the roses while you can enjoy them.

Great about the cycling, too! I started using a bike and trailer last year to take my son to school -- only three miles each way, but you're right: I too became addicted to the fresh air, the exercise and enjoying the scenery rather than just seeing it rush by from behind a window.

The bike's also become a life-saver to me, as my car finally completely died (brakes went out) a couple of months ago, and I'd have no other means of transportation during the day when my husband is at work. Where I live, it's not safe to take my bike to the grocery store (on a 45-mph highway -- not doing that with my son), but I can at least ride the mile to my mother-in-law's house to borrow her car (she never complains, bless her!)

While it's frustrating living in a non-urban area without regular access to my own car, it really has given me a taste of what's likely to come and, for that, I guess I have to be grateful. Good practice for the times ahead, right?

Mark said...

Your post is very close to home, thank you. My wife and I are in the process of building a home that is much more “off the grid” than our current home (no pun intended ; ). This house is passively and actively heated and cooled, very well insulated and is off the grid. The power is just across our county road access, but for the cost of buying the power company’s pole and line, we put in a used PV system and a new wind generator. However it has taken my wife some time to get used to the idea that we have a limited supply of energy we can use. The saving grace here is this, this place is our getaway place and my wife relaxes and has a good time and the small inconvenience of having to go to bed early outweighs the stress of the on the grid life we are trying to get away from. One other thing that has impressed my wife, is all the power tools and appliances that have been powered by the RE system, no gas generator for us. Shoot, it impresses me too. There is something about making a pot of coffee with the wind, and going out and cutting a cabin’s worth of boards with it too. I built the place so the wind would not disturb the patio and fire pit. So when we share that bottle of wine at the end of the day, out of the wind on the patio with a camp fire cookin up some home grown sweet corn and pork chops, we just smile at each other. My wife used to hate the wind, but now she knows its building her cabin, making her coffee and lighting her way at night. What I’m trying to say is that its experiential, some have to experience the benefits and feel the results of the positive change, and some of us can experience change by making it happen. Really a nice fit, don’t you think?

Soni said...

I hear you on the spousal speed limit thing. No two people are ever going to move at the same pace across the board. My only suggestion would be to prioritize change issues so that the most important or highest impact changes get made first (like your bike riding - which seems like a little thing, but which is saving you tons of fuel and keeping you fitter so you can better deal with what comes next).

As you point out, it makes no sense to go full steam ahead until you have a well-thought-out destination and map.

Wendy said...

I can really relate to this post, but we're the opposite - I have the lead foot and my husband is the brake. I haven't made any "waste", because he keeps pulling me back.

I think he's acting TOO slowly, and sometimes it drives me bonkers, because I'm sure we're "running out of daylight", but other times, I just bide my time, because eventually, he'll agree to what I've proposed. He just needs time to process it :).

Tina said...

Another thing about the fear motivator is that if the fear gets overwhelming it can lead to frustration and the throwing up of one's hands. That is what I liked so much about the Adapting in Place class and ANOF, you and Sharon made every effort to meet people where they are.

Raye said...


Another "amen" from this corner.

My beloved helps me regularly reassess and avoid knee-jerk projects (for the most part).

Part of adapting, for me, is learning more steadiness, less reliance on inspiration-only for the energy to do what needs to be done. That is quite a task for me.

Thanks for your work in helping us adapt. I tend to be the out-front risk-taker, but my beloved and I agree that taking care of each other is the most important thing we do.



P.S. It really helped me to read that you have also experienced those intense moments of realization. I am getting better at experiencing them without ensuing panic.

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