A Sustainable Future Requires us to Focus Less on the Problems we Face
What if by thinking about climate change as a problem to solve, we limit our ability to create our desired future?
What’s the first thing we do when we try and solve a problem? We look at the problem. A natural response that can unintentionally take us in the wrong direction. When we focus only on the problem, we limit our neural pathways from envisioning creative solutions. According to Gabriel Grant (2012), “Problem solving is taking action to have something go away — the problem. Creating is taking action to have something come into being — the creation.” When it comes to sustainability, we often think we need to solve the environmental problems we face, but “pursuing sustainability as a problem to be solved falls short of creating sustainability”. In order to undergo the transformation needed to become a sustainable society, it will require creative thinking, innovation, and the courage to try the seemingly impossible.
While we’re naturally wired to focus on the problem, by intentionally shifting our attention toward a desired future, we physiologically open our neural pathways to access our creativity and resourcefulness, while simultaneously evoking a necessary sense of hope. According to Dr. Richard Boyatzis’ research (2013), “one consequence [of future visioning] is the activation of neural circuits that allow [us] to consider possibilities that [we] might otherwise have ignored.” Alternatively, when we’re in a fear state often sparked by focusing on the problem ahead, our neural pathways become restricted, locking us into tunnel vision.
Not only is it important to have a vision for the future of the planet, but it’s also important to have a vision for our future self. If we know the role we’ll be playing in a sustainable future, it can help guide our current actions to start bringing that vision to life. “The ideal self is the driver of intentional change in one’s behaviour, emotions, perceptions, and attitudes…It is manifest as a personal vision, or an image of what kind of person one wishes to be, what the person hopes to accomplish in life and work” (Boyatzis & Akrivou, 2006). Knowing who we are in our best future state creates an intrinsic source of motivation that is enduring. So how do we conjure our ideal self and create an inspiring vision for our future?
Even if we know how important it is to think creatively in how we approach sustainably personally and in our careers, it is often difficult to do so on our own. We’ve found the best way to inspire creative visions for our planet and our ideal self is in the company of others who share a similar intention. So as a way to intentionally hold space for sustainability professionals to come together and do just that, my colleague, Adam Lerner, and I have designed the workshop — Climate Impact 2021: Designing for a New Year — around the neuroscience research of Boyatzis and others. Many of us realize that in spite of the global pandemic, this year represents a critical opportunity to implement drastic changes in our organizations, communities, and lifestyles that positively impact our planet.
We invite you to join us on January 26th & 28th to design your 2021 Climate Impact Plan. Let’s come together to reimagine our roles in global sustainability and ignite the hope necessary to be successful in the biggest achievement humanity will have had to date.
Learn more and register here.