E for Emotions

Can emotions inhibit or encourage sustainable behaviour?

I spent some time researching why so many people, who want to make positive changes in their lives and in the world around them, seem incapable of turning their good intentions into actions.

I named this issue paralysis and, right when I felt ready to map out this system – in order to identify the nodes involved – I totally froze.

I texted my mentor. “Oh isn’t it interesting that you’re feeling paralyzed while researching paralysis?” she replied. That was interesting. What was going on? I wondered.

Then, the answer suddenly became clear. Turns out, I was one of the few non-professional designers involved in the Disruptive Design Method Masterclass Program, and the fear that my problem arena may have been “inadequate” or “not good enough” made me feel stuck, unable to move forward.

And that is precisely what happens to many of us when it comes to sustainability.

Some people are ready to act, but the levels of pressure and confusion tied to this particular topic often push them to look away instead of exploring further.

In an episode of Brené Brown’s podcast Unlocking Us, she talks about emotions with Emily and Amelia Nagoski, the authors of Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle.

“People want to believe that we are cognitive rational beings who, on occasion, feel. When the truth is (…) we are emotional beings who, on occasion, think.”

As much as we try to separate our emotions from the rest of our lives, once we start digging, emotions are often at the root of our every response – conscious or not.

Indeed, Brené quotes from the introduction of Emily and Amelia Nagoski’s book, “Just about every system in your body responds to the chemical electrical cascade activated by the sight of a person. That’s emotion. It’s automatic and instantaneous. It happens everywhere, and affects everything.”

Labeling Emotions

Did you ever take the time to truly understand how you feel about sustainability? Did you ever pause to think about your relationship to the topic and what may have led you to feel this way?

Just as regular self check-in questions like, “How am I feeling?” or “What is my intention?” can help us navigate through our days with more clarity; dedicating a moment to recognize the emotions we attach to sustainability is an important starting point.

No matter their nature, emotions carry messages along with them. Labeling and dissecting each emotion at stake, enables us to grow out of the emotion itself and makes us able to then deal with the issues that triggered it. As one of the Nagoski sisters rightly points out:

“Dealing with the feeling is a separate step from dealing with the issue itself.”

Detaching Ourselves from the Emotions

Yoga teaches us that we should treat our emotions as guests; we are the hosts, not the emotions themselves. This allows us to take a step back, doesn’t it? We can start getting curious about our emotions rather than judgemental; we can become observers rather than front line defenders.

The first principle of permaculture Observe and Interact states, By taking the time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.” That is to say, we can design solutions after we’ve taken the time to engage with nature. In other words, we need to observe nature first. Only then, will it become possible to make mindful interventions.

That same concept is applicable at a larger scale: we will only be able to make the world a better place once we will have understood how the world actually works.

Unfortunately, it is important to keep in mind that good intentions don’t necessarily lead to good actions.


Once we’ve gotten curious about ourselves and the world around us, gained certain levels of awareness, identified the various issues at play, and potential areas of disruption – another self check-in is required.

Let me quote the first principle of permaculture again, “we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.” That particular situation should also involve your feelings about the possible solutions. When it comes to sustainability and implementing changes in your life, make some space for yourself.

Create a moment where you can feel centered and focused to ask yourself: “What emotions come up when I think about making this change in my life?” There is no way without will. We need to want to make an intervention in order for the intervention to be sustainable in every sense of term and this means: tapping into our emotions first.

Journaling Questions:

What words, sensations and emotions come up when you think of sustainability?

What conversations or actions related to making changes have you been avoiding? What stopped you?

What do you pride yourself on in relation to sustainability?

How would you like to relate to sustainability in the future?

Bi-weekly exercise:

Observe yourself and get curious about your emotions. Whenever some arise, take a moment to get familiar with your emotions:

If that emotion were a color, texture, or smell, what would it be?

If it were an image, what would it look like?

How does this particular emotion manifest itself in my body? Where is it located?

If you wish to explore this further, join my interactive workshop!

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