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In Praise Of Inconvenience: 4 Reasons It Can Lead To More Sustainable Actions

Bonnie Culbertson
mbg Contributor By Bonnie Culbertson
mbg Contributor
Bonnie Culbertson is an Ohio-based freelance writer and ethical travel consultant. She has a bachelor's in strategic communications from Miami University.
Woman waking up to Sun

A year of life in a pandemic has taught us many things—like how loud our partner speaks on conference calls or how much of our wardrobe is meant for impressing strangers we no longer see. Perhaps the most ubiquitous and confronting of these lessons was the importance of putting down our own convenience in order to prioritize the health of our neighbors.

As days simplified into essential and nonessential activities, it became clear how much meaning "inconvenient" tasks can have on our lives. It may be inconvenient to make dinner at home versus going out to eat, for instance, but it creates space for families to connect over cooking lessons, dinner-table conversation, and shared dish duty. Similarly, it is certainly inconvenient to wear masks everywhere in public, but doing so creates a shared sense of duty and protects those in our communities who are most at risk.

Putting down our daily conveniences in favor of the greater good has also helped focus our attention on the things the word inconvenient is woefully ill-equipped to describe—like the senseless murder of so many Americans at the hands of our police or the single mothers who had to choose between keeping their job or caring for their child during COVID.

As things begin to return to a new normal, it is important to carry this lesson into the future as we tackle the most inconvenient crisis of our time: climate change. The good news is there are many reasons normalizing inconvenience can improve the health of not only our planet but ourselves.

Inconvenience leads to mindfulness.

Convenience is generally defined as the state of being able to do something unthinkingly and with little effort. Basically, it's the opposite of mindfulness. As a marketing strategy, creating convenience is a gold mine because it leads to mindless, even addictive, consumption—but reflecting on how we felt after our last online shopping spree or hours of social media scrolling will reveal how convenience does not lead to contentment. Actually, it does the opposite.

Conversely, embracing a more inconvenient, mindful way of life, through daily meditation, practicing gratitude, and becoming a more conscious consumer, has been repeatedly been shown to improve our quality of life as well as our joy.

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Inconvenience leads to selflessness.

Convenience also tends to keep us focused on ourselves. It causes us to make decisions based on how they will affect our life at that moment, without considering their impact on other people or even our future selves. As a result, we're lulled into decisions that can negatively affect our health and perpetuate planetary problems.

The pandemic put us smack in the middle of the consequences of our actions. Whereas before we could travel, go to bars, or cough on a subway train with abandon, we now owe it to others—our families as well as authorities—to explain this behavior.

Being held accountable for our actions is inconvenient, but it also keeps us hyper-aware of how what we do will affect those around us. Ultimately, this can be empowering: It reconnects us to our power as individuals to effect change in the world.

And when we make decisions from that place of power, fully aligned with the impacts and changes we want to bring about, we become global citizens working toward a more just and selfless society.

Inconvenience is unavoidable.

There's a reason Al Gore chose the title An Inconvenient Truth for his 2006 documentary about the realities of climate change. The truth is, if we don't start making the more inconvenient choices now to help slow climate change and preserve our environment, life will become increasingly inconvenient for us in the years ahead.

We wear masks today to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but in 20 to 30 years, we may need masks simply to avoid breathing air pollutants when we're outside. We choose to drive when it's faster than biking or walking, yet if we don't bring emissions to zero, walking and biking will be a privilege few can tolerate due to extreme heat.

When we're choosing convenience from things like next-day delivery or cheap, fast fashion, we're really just trading immediate gratification for more inconvenience down the road. Let's remember this and adjust our choices accordingly.

Convenience is not king.

For the last 100 years, ever since the Industrial Revolution, societies and economies have achieved incredible advancements predicated on the belief that life should be as convenient as possible. Yet, when we reflect on the sources of the most friction and inconvenience in life—our work, our family, and our religion or spirituality—we realize these are the very things that give our life the most meaning.

We're now beginning to embrace the mantra that convenience is not our king. Going forward, let's continue to trade convenience for mindfulness, selflessness, and service so we can truly start to build back better. 

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