Creating New Habits with PlayCleanGo
A serious queer asian man in deep thought. With a cross pendant earring. Outdoor scene.

The Coronavirus pandemic taught us a lot about how humans behave and create new habits. For instance, how quickly were you able to adjust working from home in 2020? Washing your hands more mindfully? Did you see more people hiking at your local nature area than ever before?

These changes might have started off awkward and rocky, but people adapted. Many were surprised by how quickly change occurred.

What does this have to do with PlayCleanGo? Everything! 

Do you want to be the kind of person who doesn’t spread invasive species to the natural places you love? Do you believe collective behavior can make a difference? 

It’s time to make PlayCleanGo so habitual it becomes a natural part of your outdoor lifestyle. Here’s how:

Adjust Your Systems

Author James Clear draws upon biology, neuroscience and psychology to help people increase their odds of success in creating new habits. The major takeaway is that it’s easier to build a new, good habit if you do two things: 

  1. consciously set up your environment for success
  2. connect the new habit you want to do with another good habit that you already do 

Environment matters

handheld boot brush being used on a Merrell hiking boot

The first step to new-habit success? Look around. Your environment (in time and space!) influences what you do. For instance, the bathroom is where we brush our teeth because that’s where we keep our toothbrush. The living room is where many of us relax because the seating is comfortable and the television is ready to be watched. We eat cereal in the morning and dessert in the evening.

To build new habits and break bad ones, change your environment. 

If I wanted to floss every night, I’d keep the floss next to my toothbrush instead of storing it in the medicine cabinet. If I wanted to read more books, I’d set a book on a seat in the living room and store the TV remote in a new, hard-to-reach place. 

If we want to slow the spread invasive species, we might need to adjust where our tools and gear live. Where’s your boot brush right now? Is it in a place where it will actually get used? If you don’t have a brush yet, buy a pack from us—and then put it somewhere obvious! 

Have a Plan

You’ll want to envision not only where, but how and when you’ll use our PlayCleanGo tools. Clear suggests a formula that goes like this:

I will [behavior] at [time] in [location].

If you keep a boot brush in the door of your car, are you going to brush your boots in your driveway, or at the trailhead? Before, or after you go on your hike? The more specific you are, the more likely you are to follow through.

What’s Your Outdoor Routine?

To take your habits to the next level, try a method that Clear calls “habit stacking,” where “each action becomes a cue that triggers the next behavior.” 

What actions do you take when you recreate? When I go for a hike, I make coffee, grab snacks and fill up water bottles in the kitchen, pack it all in a small backpack (except the coffee; that’s up front with me), grab hiking boots in our mud room, wake up my dog, grab her leash that’s next to the back door, load her in the car, drive off to one of Missouri’s fine conservation areas, explore a trail, then come home.

I could set myself up for PlayCleanGo success by stacking good habits around these actions I already do. Here are a few ideas:

  • After I change back into my regular shoes, I will use a brush to clean my hiking boots.
  • Before I take my dog to the car, I will brush her fur and put the comb in my backpack.
  • After I finish packing my vehicle for a road trip, I will wipe down all the wheel wells.
  • When flowers begin blooming in spring, I will cut and treat the first weeds springing up around my house.
  • Whenever I post a picture of my outdoor adventures on Instagram, I’ll add the tag #PlayCleanGo.

Reward Yourself!

“Pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do,” Clear writes. This is a strategy he calls “temptation bundling,” and it will train your brain to look forward to taking even the inconvenient actions. 

My dog is a 110-pound jerk who throws her whole weight into not getting brushed. But, as I say, ”there’s burs in them there furs!” and I know I need to brush her anyway. So I won’t let myself drink my freshly brewed coffee until the brushing task is over. It feels like a silly mind trick, but it’s a silly mind trick that works.

Join—Or Set—the Social Norms

You might have heard that it’s easier to quit smoking if you aren’t spending time around fellow smokers. Or it’s easier to get fit if you join a running club or fitness group. Joining a culture where the habit you want to do is the norm is a great way to support forming your own habits.

However, when it comes to the PlayCleanGo message, often you might be the person setting the social norm. This is a great opportunity to change your local outdoor culture for the better! The more friends and family join you in stopping the spread of invasive species by cleaning your gear, the more likely you are to succeed. 

Our vision here at PlayCleanGo is to make the message so ubiquitous that “everyone is doing it.”

Set it in Stone

Reprogram your brain to enjoy hard habits. Not “I have to,” but “I get to.” It’s a privilege to be aware of the harm invasive species cause and have the time and tools to do something about it.

Don’t think about the extra few minutes it takes to clean your gear or brush off your animals, but rather the benefits. Not only are you not spreading invasive species, but you’ll get to enjoy:

  • Well-maintained gear and equipment
  • Quality time with your dog or horse
  • Clean, comfortable, and prepared stuff for your next outing

It may feel awkward at first to implement new behaviors, but it will get easier over time. Muscle memory will set in, and soon, using a boot brush will become automatic. “Repeating a habit leads to clear physical changes in the brain,” Clear writes. That gray matter is plastic.

So if you want to clean your gear in between every fishing trip, backpacking adventure or ORV experience, I hope this article gives you some ideas for making that more of a habit.

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