The Official Magazine of the Bluewater Cruising Association

Acknowledging Barriers to Making Positive Changes

Barb Peck

Hoku Pa'a
Niagara 35
April 3rd, 2024
text says Change is hard. Acknowledge reaction, then move to action.

Connecting with nature is one of the most rewarding aspects of boating, and yet the very act of cruising can result in harm to the environment. Obstacles to altering our practices are many-fold – they may be physical, practical, economic, and so on. Perhaps less considered are internal barriers. This article presents some thoughts about emotional responses that cruisers may experience when encouraged to follow more sustainable practices. It is too much to address all of the complex things that might affect behaviors and motivation; what I hope to do is encourage individual reflection on what may be preventing us from actively engaging in improving our boating practices. Basically, what’s stopping good people who genuinely care about the planet from getting on with the job of making changes?

I consider myself to be fairly savvy with respect to environmental issues, try to live my life in a way that limits harm to our planet, and have been an advocate and activist in this area. I am not new to this bandwagon – heck, I did a presentation in grade school about not polluting. So, when I recently read a long list of best environmental practices for boaters, there were plenty of things on there that I could feel good (and even smug) about. It was also not a surprise to me that there were many items where I’m just not there yet and I am happy to have some guidance about what else to do.

That all seems straightforward, but I noticed some things within myself:

• a twinge of guilt (“oh, I haven’t been doing those things”),
• some overwhelm (“gosh, there is a lot to consider and to do”) and,
• a feeling of being put out (“sigh, do I really have to do that, too?”).

So, that’s just what came up in that moment, but there are plenty of other emotions that can arise when I get reminded about just how dire the situation is for our planet. Of course I don’t prefer to experience guilt, or any of those other unpleasant emotions, which brings up something else:

• a desire to avoid the whole thing (“la, la, la, I’m not listening”).

At the risk of sounding like my head is too big for my Tilley, I asked myself, if I have these feelings, what might happen for another, less ecologically engaged, boater? I imagine that some might feel those emotions more strongly, or experience additional uncomfortable feelings, and consequently, resistance and other emotional defenses may kick in. One might tune out, deny the need for action, buy into the false idea that only big actions count, discount one’s ability to make a difference, or find any other number of reasons to not act.

Oops, did I just trigger some guilt? Well, that was not my intent. What I hope to do is to acknowledge these responses; I also believe we need to have compassion, both for ourselves and for others. Beating oneself up wastes energy that could go into actually doing something useful, and, of course, being harsh with others doesn’t usually motivate them to go along with what you are saying. It is valid, normal and part of being human to have feelings and they give us a lot of useful information. To use guilt as an example – it let’s us know when we’ve done something wrong or made a mistake, which in turn gives us motivation to fix it or make amends. However, if we deny or don’t recognize the guilt, it is more likely to paralyze us. That is true for other emotions as well. If I am conscious of feeling overwhelmed, I can work on strategies to make things manageable.

Let’s face it, “going green” can be difficult for as many reasons as there used to be fish in the sea, and some of those reasons are emotional. By compassionately acknowledging and validating our feelings, we can deal with them, then move on to the crucial work that needs to be done for our planet.

Notice it, deal with it, and get on with it. I like to think of this approach as turning reaction into action.


  1. David Mitchell says:

    Thank you, Barb! I too find my emotions coming up as we travel through these changes. For me it is important to acknowledge the feelings. And, remind myself that I do not have to take on all of the suggestions at once. Some, I can choose not to take on at all. Little changes can make a huge difference!

    Take care,

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