In this episode you’ll hear Anisa sharing openly a lot of what other people don’t. This exercise brought out her behaviors that went against her values but she doesn’t hide them. In most other people including myself before the food packaging and when I flew but didn’t really want to know how much pollution the flying was causing, it’s denial. It reminds me the show’s Secret Eaters. It’s a British TV show and there are free episodes on YouTube so you can just watch it. It’s people who are overweight and they don’t want to be and as far as they know they’re eating very healthily. But then in the show you see that with they have secret cameras and stuff and they find out that the people are eating a lot more than they think. Anisa jumps past all of this and she openly shares you know this is what I’m doing. But she does something about it. I think she likes that this exercise shows what she’s doing and enables her to do something about it. And that is self-awareness, a key component of leadership. This episode is about choices and making them conscious. She talks a lot about the difference between conscious and unconscious behaviors and trying versus giving up but not letting go of forgiving herself. You’ll hear that she’s forgives herself and I think that’s a big part of it. I don’t really talk about forgiveness that much so I’m glad that she does because I think that will connect with a lot of people beyond what I normally do. So let’s listen to Anisa.
Joshua: As much as I’m interested in great audio, I’m also interested in plastic. Or the opposite of it.
Anisa: Me too. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, this past week was hard.
Joshua: How so? I hope you don’t mind if I just jump in and ask the details of it because I have a feeling a lot will come out and I think that might be a good place to start.
Anisa: Yes, sure. That sounds good to me.
Joshua: OK. So what are the facts of what happened? What did you do? What did you not do? What was the plan?
Anisa: Yeah. I tried to do my normal week. So I didn’t want to choose to go or not go to the grocery store or take or not take my lunch or you know things like that. I tried to do sort of my normal routine for the week and there were a number of times where I just sort of forgot because it’s really easy to get into the habit of doing something and forgetting what comes along with ordering food from a certain restaurant or ordering things online all of which come with an enormous amount of packaging, including plastic packaging. You know I live in a city, I do a lot of shopping online just because it’s hard to get around here to you know haul things from store to my house without a car and that kind of thing. So yeah. And there’s a lot of plastic involved in that.
Joshua: This is a totally standard is that… Of the people I’ve spoken to when they take on the challenge they think, “Alright. I know what I’m preparing.” And then when it happens it’s not… You know you foresee a certain amount and as a ton you don’t foresee which is the modern world which is what is creating the mess that we’re in. I mean I think it’s a mess.
Anisa: Yeah, yeah, absolutely, absolutely. And the other thing that I found really interesting was that I became very grateful for the vendors and restaurants here in D.C. who have made an effort because I did forget once or twice that I was headed to a restaurant for lunch that I needed to pick up to bring back to the office and I just like forgot that I needed to watch out for plastic. And I got like at the cash register and I realized that what they had handed me was compostable or what they handed me was you know like a paperboard container instead of like Styrofoam or plastic that would be a one-time use and that was not my doing, that was theirs. And I was just really grateful for that. That was like made me realize that there is some effort happening without me. And then I realized you know all the times that I messed up that there were a lot of times when you know that was totally on me.
Joshua: All right. So despite what I also said about there’s community and so forth there’s a part of me that also says, “a taco package here, a taco package there”. That’s not going to add up too much more than a bunch taco packages. And meanwhile you know there’s a ship out at sea right now that’s got this sludge in the bottom of it that’s like putting millions of cars with the pollution. So what do we say about that? Sorry to put you on the spot. Or rather let me put it this way. I can tell by the way you’re reacting this is not something that new to you, that you’ve heard people talk this way before. Has your experience of the past week changed that?
Anisa: That’s an interesting question. I think I sort of came back a couple of times during the week to the part of our conversation last time where we talked about the choices that we all make in our day-to-day lives and how you know instead of doing things better for the environment as a burden or as something you’re giving up, it’s more of just like a choice one thing over another. And the blue socks instead of the red socks. I shouldn’t have used Red Sox. I’m sure there are sports fans. Blue socks instead of green socks. And I think this week kind of highlighted that for me. It’s not you are not solving everything by making better decisions. But if I see them as just a choice better versus worse, then it’s not like a burden to make choices that are better for the Earth. And if enough people see them as choices, then you know the that group of us make some amount of difference.
Joshua: The choices are always there anyway. Whether you choose to act on them or not is up to you. And if you don’t, it feels to me like you would be abdicating responsibility whereas if you do, then you’re actively choosing how to live your life. I mean that’s my language. Is that how you put it? Does that fairly represent what you said?
Anisa: Yeah, yeah, I think so.
Joshua: I don’t want to put you on the spot. Well, this whole thing puts you on the spot. Before this challenge were you not taking responsibility or did this highlight something for you? Was it a different character what you did as a result of this week?
Anisa: Yeah, absolutely. I mean it’s kind of like when you try to change any behavior like a behavior that you’ve been doing that might be destructive or if you’ve ever tried to like change the way you interact with people around you consciously like you have to notice the behavior before you can change it. That’s like that’s what we teach children. That’s what we teach ourselves when we change a behavior. And so this week I noticed it and I… There are times a time when I just don’t notice that I have made a choice that just made it easier for me to use plastic. I think the first step to changing your behavior is actually noticing that you’re doing it and it’s very hard to notice that you’re doing it unless you cut some focus time into you know being conscious about it. And so that’s what last week did it sort of.
Joshua: Life is easier when you don’t have to pay attention to these things.
Anisa: Sort of.
Joshua: I just have to comment. I just came from the dentist like a couple of hours ago and as I walked out they hand me the bag and reflexively without thinking about it I hand back the bag. You know inside it’s like a toothbrush, toothpaste and some floss, and I hand back the bag and hand back the floss because the floss I’m looking at like… I use these little [unintelligible] plastic these little fork type things, I don’t know what you call it. And so I don’t want the other one and I don’t want the bag because I give back bags and I’m leaving. I’m like, “Something’s up, something’s up.” I’m like, “Well, the toothpaste.” Like I’m probably going to move to you know you can make this stuff at home without even buying the toothpaste. I’ve just been reading like toothpaste it’s like not particularly healthy and the toothbrush I was like… I tried a non-plastic toothbrush and it was terrible. It didn’t work for me so I didn’t mind the toothbrush. But I still walked out with something I didn’t want. Like I was like overload. I think when I went to the dentist like also they give me cup to swish out with. And I was like, “Oh, plastic cup.” And then they moved me to another room after the X-rays, no, after the polishing and they gave me another cup. I was like, “Damn, another one” and it was in a bag. How much do I want to put up with these guys?
Anisa: Yeah, I just think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves when we do… We talked about this a little bit last time actually, when we do something we want to do it all or we give up. There were a couple of times last week where I was like ah like I can’t figure out how to purchase meat or tofu at the grocery store or anywhere else.
Joshua: Oh, I want to hear you figured it out.
Anisa: No, I didn’t. There’s like, ah, butcher shop somewhere across town that like I might be able to do it. You know it’s like how can I get protein without plastic? And I was having a really hard time figuring out and I’m still going to try to you know track it down somehow. But I had the instinct at one point just like well, I just can’t do this because it’s if I can’t eliminate it, then it’s just not worth doing. And I think that’s really like it’s not a good instinct for us to stay motivated and like trying to do things better because you’re not going be able to find everything. You’re not going be able to do everything but you should try to do as much as possible. And by trying to do everything last week I was able to realize like I said some of those choices that I was making unconsciously and I don’t think you can discover that unless you like really try to push yourself. So, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t push ourselves. I’m just saying I think you know it’s OK to be forgiving with yourself. The feeling of guilt is not really very helpful.
Joshua: All right. Now I have another question for you. A challenging question that I’ve been asking anyone this and it’s a question I ask myself a lot. So you’re talking about some changes that you’ve made, my readers that you like them. They’re modest scale. They’re hard. You also work with environment enough that you know the scale of the global problems and so forth. And you said you like what I’m doing. Do you think we got a chance at getting out of this mess? Do you think we got a chance at keeping it below 2 degrees Celsius the global temperature rise? Or do you think that what I’m doing with this podcast, to be more personal, can it effectively move the needle? Because so far I’ve talked to a few dozen people and we’re seeing some changes. A couple of people are getting rid of cars. That seems like a pretty big change because I didn’t ask them to get rid of cars but they are doing it on their own. But even so if even if like dozens or thousands or even tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people get rid of cars, it’s like nothing.
Anisa: It’s a difficult question because it comes to the point of personal motivation. Like I was working in the [unintelligible] environmental movement I have to decide if I am motivated purely by the notion that we’re going to reach that goal of limiting to two degrees and/or if I’m motivated by other changes in society and the environment. And believe me I know the seriousness of the environmental disasters that we’re facing. I also know that it’s sort of unpredictable what we’re going to be able to do and whether we’re going to be able to succeed in doing it. So in the work that I do I try to stay motivated by the community and personal scale changes that we’re able to make with what we’re doing with the next generation and in schools and that sort of thing because I know that we honestly don’t know. We don’t know exactly what kinds of interplay there’s going to be between environmental factors and climate and melting of ice caps and like there’s a lot of things at play and we’re not actually positive what’s going to happen with the things that we’ve done to this earth.
And so the thing that keeps me motivated is that there are changes that we can make as people and as communities on large and small scales that have a whole host of benefits to the environment and also to populations and to people’s well-being and health and all kinds of things. And those all have you know this mix of good benefits and good things that are brought into the world by just trying to make better choices about how we operate buildings, how we build them, how we educate children about the future, how we act in the world, how we make laws, all those things like we can do them better we know how to do them better. And so there’s no reason not to because of the whole host of benefits that they bring to people and the environment. That was a really long answer to your question. Sorry.
Joshua: So to summarize I think what you’re saying, tell me if I got it right, is that with regard to the question of will we make it, we don’t know, like it would be impossible to know and more relevant to you I think is the question how do we motivate ourselves is worth doing and you talked about the motivations.
Anisa: Right. And the impacts. And the known impacts of things that we do that are also good for the environment and also imperative for the environment. So there’s you know like everything we do that’s good for the environment is generally good for people’s health and well-being and prosperity. I mean you know generally speaking like that’s all true. So there’s a lot that can motivate us to do things that are better for the earth.
Joshua: Are you more or less the same motivated now as compared to a week ago?
Anisa: I would say in terms of motivation nothing’s really changed from that perspective because I don’t know I get motivated by the sort of collective action and this one was a very personal look at my own part in that which was helpful. And I’m motivated to be a better part of that community of action. But I didn’t necessarily like paint a bigger picture for me of the kind of impact that…
Joshua: Because I want to go back to the meat. I don’t eat meat so part of me is like well it’s really easy to…When I get the pressure cooker and I could make beans in five minutes or lentils, beans will take like 10-20 minutes. And it’s so quick and so much more delicious than when I get them from a can. They taste bland now in comparison. And the can tastes bland in comparison to the ones that I cook myself. I suspect you’re going to eat less meat and maybe even less tofu and [unintelligible] and stuff like that and go more toward raw you know from the ground stuff. But I think more about the meat. I think there’s a relationship with the, maybe I said this before, but I think that what will happen is that your form a relationship with someone who cares about their product that they’re selling you and that you’ll be glad that you did it, like you’ll find out that you’ll end up with like better-quality meat or something like that. What goes hand in hand with not knowing how is packaged or not really caring how it’s packaged is also like not caring as much what’s in the package. I’m not sure. I haven’t been in the meat market for a long time.
Anisa: I think that’s probably right. And that actually brings me into another aspect of this past week. So it’s actually, I am not sure, I think it’s been two weeks since we talked last, and so the second week I needed to go to Houston for a resilient schools event and I was speaking there and I was there for two days and staying hotel in airports and also around a lot of people in Houston who are trying so hard to do the best things that they can for the environment and because I was doing this challenge I a) noticed how much plastic is an airport…
Joshua: And now floating out to sea from Houston and Florida.
Anisa: Oh my gosh. Yeah. Well, that’s true. Yeah, but the other thing that I realized is you know I can choose, you can choose, you’re in New York. Like I can choose to go to a butcher in D.C. who probably has some way of packing up the meat for me in not plastic. I actually I’m not positive where you would find that in Houston or where I’m from in Little Rock or you know where I went to college in St. Louis, like I don’t know some of the smaller midsize cities or the cities and places that you know are not known for being that environmentally conscious. I think it’s really hard to find those kinds of solutions.
Joshua: You said a lot there. I think that first of all for me the choices based on delicious, things are delicious especially when I am… Well, at the beginning they weren’t but I had learned how to prepare them. So I had to go through this trial by fire or trial by [unintelligible]. I know this will sustain me but it doesn’t taste very good to eventually finding Oh, I see. If I mix this with that, it’s really good, and if I throw a little bit of this it tastes even better. I mean you can get dried beans anywhere. I think I can imagine dried beans are going to be easier to get than meat. Maybe not. I don’t know.
Anisa: Oh, yeah. I know, that was kind of my point. Yeah, like that part of that solution is easier than trying to go find like a butcher who’s going to wrap your stuff in paper. Like that’s that could be more difficult to actually like look for a provider that’s going to be doing things differently, beans and like… That’s kind of…That becomes the harder choice than the easier choice to go with a different source of protein or a different way of cooking because for me I can find a way around the meat problem, meat and plastic problem. But that might not be the easiest choice for people in other places.
Joshua: Yeah, I guess, I don’t know. I don’t feel spoiled.
Anisa: Yeah, I mean I guess I would say if you remove it from the food sphere, I’m really curious for instance like where are the people that you’re interviewing who are trying to go without cars.
Joshua: Yeah, actually you made me think that I should put an effort into talking to people who don’t live in cities because I think most of the people I’ve talked to have.
Anisa: Yeah, I just like getting rid of a car here in D.C. is actually like pretty easy. I’ve gone without a car for years so you know that’s not like a hard challenge once you want to start thinking through it a bit but you know. Again, go back to Houston, like I don’t think you can do Houston without navigating with cars right now.
Joshua: Yeah, the two cases of people I talked to so far, one of them the guy I spoke to in the couple of months before our conversation, he had met, proposed to and married a woman and when they moved in together they went from two cars to one and then for the challenge they were moving from Houston. I believe it was Houston, definitely Texas, and they were both moving to I think Brussels, Belgium, maybe Antwerp, Belgium. And they were on the fence of whether they should keep a car or go to no car and they used, he used it in concert with her, the personal challenge to choose to go to no car. So I don’t know if this challenge can…You know they were halfway there already but…
The other was a guy who I didn’t ask me if it was only car or second car, I presume it was the second copy. Most of his life aspired to get a Jaguar and he bought a Jaguar and he loved that car. And his personal challenge was to go for a month and put no more than 100 kilometers on it up and I say kilometers because he’s in Canada, Vancouver. And he kept it under a hundred. He was at 90 km for the month and then he’s actually going on a third time and between now and the third time he’s going to decide… He may get rid of the Jaguar which was not part of the challenge. That was his thing that…
Anisa: He just thought, “Well, if I’m only doing it 90 km a month, I should just eliminate it.”
Joshua: Well, I mean listen to that episode, it’s Dov Baron. I think a big thing was that he knows the value of the car but he also knows the value of not the car, of the absence of the car and I think he’s seen a greater value in not having the car. For example, there’s something practice he has done many times which is that he gives his clients which is when you eat a meal to put all your attention into the meal and really focus on. And listeners who know my stuff, it’s like my three raisins exercise and it’s a very effective mindfulness exercise.
And when he was at 90 kilometers he knew that if he went for another drive, he could easily go over it so he just went out to the car and just sat in the car and did that exercise but with the car. How did the car get here? What were you know all the wood paneling? Where did it come from and what was the network of people that created it? How does the engine work and things like that? And then he got back out of the car and back inside and I think he was like okay. He didn’t need to be driving the car to get the value of what the car meant to him. And then having the car meant pollution and so forth and that wasn’t something he values. I didn’t say [unintelligible] you did.
And actually, so for me I’ve done a few dozen interviews and mostly it’s been people doing, that’s the high-one mark so far of someone taking something on really big but almost everyone takes on something more. And I have to start thinking all of this is prelaunch so people who are… Everyone who I am interviewing has not heard other people being interviewed. So, at some point the team that I hired to make the page is finally going to finish and the stuff is going to go out. I am going to start interviewing people who’ve heard what’s going on and they’ll come in and I want to see if I can amp up this so it’s not just avoiding plastic for a week or you know relatively small-scale stuff. I mean however challenging it is internally, it’s not making that big of a difference.
Anisa: Well, I mean there are a lot of people who are trying to affect sustainability changes in their organizations as part of their job. And it would be really fascinating to hear about one thing that they’re planning on doing and then ask them how it went. Afterwards, I’m thinking of like you know we have a network of sustainability directors around the country who work in school districts and you know collectively their choices impact like over 7 million students. This is not small scale you know impact that they as a collective are making and a lot of them are making really inspiring choices to make big change at school districts. You know like a wholesale purchasing decisions for cafeterias or you know whole curriculum changes like across the entire science curriculum or energy management projects that are going to impact you know 30 percent savings on every building in the whole district.
Those are the kinds of changes that they’re trying to make. It would be really interesting to talk to people who are kind of in that position. It’s part of their job, sure, but like they’re in that position because they really care about it and a lot of times they are trying to make big culture-based changes in a big organization and they confront a lot of the stuff that you confront when you try to make change in any organization like change management 101. A lot of them study a lot of change management techniques because that’s what they have to confront if they’re going to implement sustainability in their school districts.
Joshua: You keep saying “they” but I feel like aren’t you one of these people?
Anisa: I give them what they need but I don’t work for a school district.
Joshua: Do you make decisions that can affect lots of people? Maybe not on that scale but on some smaller scale.
Anisa: You know I did. I started my career in New Orleans doing that kind of work but now I just try to help other people make those decisions. So I’m the one that like you know gives them some language for a purchasing contract for their cafeteria and then I help them try to do that in their school district. That kind of activity.
Joshua: So you influence them?
Joshua: Part of me is like I want to wrap up because it’s been about an hour and I want listeners to feel refreshed and part of me is also like I wonder if there’s a next thing that you want to… That you’ve done x. What’s next?
Anisa: Actually, I want to just get better at this one. I know that’s not quite as refreshing as you might be looking for but like I haven’t figured out the meat thing. I want to figure it out. Like I’m either going to figure it out or I’m going to start eating a lot more beans. So but I also you know there in the airport that was a massive fail for me because I was not anticipating what I would confront there. And so like packing ahead of time or just like preparing a bit more for trips in the airport I could do a lot better there and I want to figure that out. It’s like a puzzle. At this point it’s a puzzle. I want to figure these little pieces out. You know I basically confronted the puzzle, figured out where the sticky spots were and I haven’t really figured out how to solve these sticky spots yet.
Joshua: Well, can I ask you a favor? That when things start…When the sticky spots start getting unstuck that you’d let me know if you’re up for sharing what solution you found for the butcher or for meat or for your diet and what worked for…Like if you found out you’re in some situations like the airport in a future time and you realize that you’ve figured out something that works, would you be up for sharing that again?
Anisa: Yeah. Yes, sure.
Joshua: Ok, cool. So then let’s keep in touch about that and then I guess for the listeners, they’ll just hear at some point, they’ll be like, “Oh, there’s she is again.” I mean I presume some people are looking at like, “Well, obviously there is a third one right after the second one,” so it’s obvious.
Anisa: Well, maybe I mean it depends on what you want to cut out of our conversation but you could just probably put it with this one if you wanted to. I don’t know what your timeline is.
Joshua: I’ve been thinking about, I want to keep things separate conversations so that people can see the change between them. I want to put them between because I think it’s important for people to see something I missed for a long time in trying to share… Like I want these big transformations, I didn’t tell people about the six months or year of having bland food and like as if it was just magical that I just suddenly knew how to cook the way that a cook now. That makes it harder for people as much as I’d like for people to make the switch overnight.
Anisa: Yeah. No. It’s good point.
Joshua: Anything to leave the listeners with? Anything? Any lessons or advice or something to share?
Anisa: I have always considered that I am already a pretty environmentally conscious person but taking on a challenge like this really… It was very eye-opening because I sort of take it for granted that I am probably making good choices and then noticing that I am not. In some cases, it wasn’t depressing, it was like enlightening. I found it enlightening. And so you know if you’re open to noticing your actions and open to the possibility that things can be different or things might not be the way they seem, it’s actually a really cool learning experience.
Joshua: I really appreciate your sharing so openly and I mean I heard some vulnerability there to say I thought it was one way and I wasn’t in addressing that how it could sound but you said enlightening and I think most people like the idea of being more enlightened than they are.
Anisa: Yeah, I certainly did. I mean I’m not all the way there legally. I to work on that meat. But I enjoyed learning something about myself you know and that’s kind of the way that I try to approach this like I was learning about myself and my choices and just sort of trying to notice them. And you know the next step that we’re going to talk about later is a couple more changes choosing to avoid something because it has plastic in it but actually seeking out the alternative which you know takes a little bit of time to seek it out as you said with your bland cooking.
Joshua: Well, right. I think I really like how that ended and so I am going to make a note on my calendar if I haven’t heard from you in a certain time I’ll check in to see how things are going with the butcher and the airport type stuff.
Anisa: All right. That sounds good.
Joshua: I want to thank you for sharing what you shared.
Anisa: Thanks. Thanks for doing this podcast. I appreciate it even more now after doing that.
Joshua: Well, I’ll say you’re welcome because you said thank you. But really I want to thank you.
Anisa: Great. We’ll talk again soon, right?
Joshua: Yes. I look forward to it.
Anisa: Ok. Bye.
I don’t know if I can put things any better than Anisa did. You’ll cripple yourself if you make your goal to fix all the problems all by yourself overnight. It’s simply recognizing that there are choices that you can make in everything that you do and some of these choices are better or worse by your standards. You don’t have to ask other people for their opinions or get some absolute measure. Do you like plastic litter in your environment more or less? You can choose how you act on these things. I feel like that’s her bottom lesson is that you can choose. After that she’s introspective and thoughtful of what comes next. And I really like how she goes beyond just “What am I doing now?” but “What comes next?” and so forth. And this comes back to one of the things that has been a big touchstone for me in making this podcast and acting environmentally is that if you want to improve your life, there are lots of places where you can act. There’s fitness, there’s diet, there’s education, there’s relationships, there’s all sorts of areas, the environment is a pretty effective one to work on. If you’re looking to improve your life, if you’re looking to raise your self-awareness, to change your behaviors and things like that, the environment is a pretty safe place to start and a pretty effective one too. As Anisa showed, once you learn to apply in one area, the environment, you can apply it to other areas and other areas and other areas and next thing you know it improves your life by your standards and having fun along the way.
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