Written by Heather Murphy, 2017
Lakeside living is a dream that many Canadians aspire to attain at some stage in their lives. By putting in the time with their 9-5 jobs, working hard and saving their money, maybe just maybe, they might be lucky enough to own a little slice of heaven on a lake somewhere. The “Great Canadian Dream”, for some, of owning waterfront has gained massive popularity with retirees looking for a quiet retreat and working professionals trying to escape the perpetual rat race of city life.
This should come as no surprise. Recent studies have confirmed what we all knew to be true; our environment has a direct impact on one’s health. Unpleasant surroundings can contribute feelings of stress, anxiousness, and even depression. These feelings can elevate your blood pressure, heart rate, affect the immune system, and ultimately wreak havoc on our bodies. In contrast, the soothing properties of a natural environment can be a welcome distraction from the daily grind and contributes to one’s overall health by reducing the stresses associated with city living. Being closer to nature helps to reduce depression, makes us feel more connected to life, and gives us an overall sense of calm. It is therefore easy to understand why lakeside living has become increasingly popular over the past few decades.
Popularity, it seems, comes with its own set of problems as the urban lifestyle is very different from what country living is or should I say, used to be. In the past, escaping for a weekend away or a summer holiday to the lake involved a more “laid back” approach, with people appreciating all the benefits that nature had to offer. The peace and quiet, the sights the sounds, all there to be enjoyed without feeling the need to interfere. Unfortunately, a new trend has emerged, where many seasonal residents are now bringing the city to the lake.
This city mentality can perpetuate the idea that nature is a wildness that must be tamed or “tidied up”. So, what do we do? We cut down trees, remove critical wildlife habitat, plant ornamental grass and continue to use chemicals to maintain those “perfect” appearances. We unknowingly change these fragile lake environments, sometimes forever.
So, how does one live in harmony while living on a lake? Well, it starts with a change in attitude. People have to be open to learning new things and begin evaluating their lifestyle and choices, and how both may affect the natural environment. Once learning takes place, one begins to contemplate what they have learned and ultimately decide how to adapt these new ideas and concepts.
The process of one’s attitude towards a certain topic can be evaluated by what is known as the Stages of Change model. The Stages of Change Model (SCM) is based upon the idea that people will deferentially adopt a new behaviours according to their respective knowledge, beliefs, and motivations relative to the specific behaviour (Prochaska, J et al., 1997).
The model assumes that individuals must move through a natural progression of stages before adopting a new practice. The stages of progression involved in the behavioural change model include pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, and relapse. Individuals determine where they are in the model and how they will progress and hopefully succeed.
Using the SCM to evaluate a shoreline property owner’s behavioural disposition toward natural shorelines is very valuable. If a property owner had a manicured lawn, with very little natural vegetation and wildlife habitat, and was asked to consider naturalizing their shoreline property, they would likely go through multiple stages of thoughts.
- Pre-contemplation as outlined in the SCM is the earliest stage in which people do not intend to take action in the near future. In terms of environmental behaviours, people might not take action because they may be unaware, uninformed or under-informed about the consequences of their current behaviour and do not see a need to change.
- During the contemplation phase, people are aware of the pros and cons associated with perhaps naturalizing ones shoreline, however sometimes the cons outweigh the pros and behaviours are not yet altered.
- The Preparation stage involves people who are intending to take action in the immediate future. They understand the importance of maintaining a natural shoreline, but need extra encouragement to do so. For example, government subsidized planting programs, professional advice and ongoing support.
- Within the action stage, people have made specific changes in their lifestyles involving naturalizing their property and often have adopted the change for 6 months or less.
- The maintenance stage involves continuation of the new behaviour of naturalizing ones property, which has been successful for at least 6 months. Residents on a lake may feel empowered by this new change and seek participation from other property owners by promoting the importance of behavioural choices in relation to natural shorelines and lake heath.
- If a resident has naturalized their shoreline and later decides to “tidy” it up for fear of being judged by their peers, this is considered a relapse in behaviour. If individuals do relapse, it is thought that the majority return to contemplation or the preparation phase in hopes to attempt another action. It is therefore imperative that communicators hoping for a change, continue to work with targeted individuals or groups to preserve newly adopted changes in behaviour.
If a resident has naturalized their shoreline and later decides to “tidy” it up for fear of being judged by their peers, this is considered a relapse in behaviour. If individuals do relapse, it is thought that the majority return to contemplation or the preparation phase in hopes to attempt another action. It is therefore imperative that communicators hoping for a change, continue to work with targeted individuals or groups to preserve newly adopted changes in behaviour.
Those lucky enough to own a piece of property on a lake or enjoy spending time on the water, should consider what makes these places so special. Often times it is the natural beauty and serenity that people value about these sacred spaces. Sadly, sometimes people’s actions do not align with their core values for environmental protection and that is where problems arise.
We need to evaluate our behaviours and realize our actions can ultimately affect the state of our environment. Using the Stages of Change model has helped Watersheds Canada understand it involves many stages of thought and changes in behaviour, before actions can be made to benefit the environment. It will take time, but through educational programs and engaging with landowners and lake associations, we can help shift the paradigm closer to what nature intended.
- Prochaska, J. & Velicier, W. (1997). The Transtheoretical Model of health behavior change. Am J Health Promotion., 12: 38–48.
- Shaw B.,Radler B. & Haack (2011, October 20). Exploring the utility of the Stages of Change Model to promote natural shorelines. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/07438141.2011.610916
- University of Minnesota. How does nature impact our wellbeing? (2016). https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/enhance-your-wellbeing/environment/nature-and-us/how-does-nature-impact-our-wellbeing