The New York Times recently carried an article on the myths versus facts of keeping New Year’s resolutions.
Much seemed applicable to becoming and staying vegan. Here’s my (Carol’s) interpretation.
1) The Times tells us that “To create or change a habit, you have to think much more about altering your environment and patterns of living than work on steeling your mind.” Quoting Professor Wendy Wood: “behavior is very much a product of environment.”
Create a vegan-friendly environment so that you don’t have to think about what you should be preparing when you are under time pressure.
Stock your pantry with vegan staples (for instance, stock, beans, tomatoes—right there you have a soup base to which you could add veggies).
Keep some vegan foods prepared in your refrigerator
Prep for salads
A luscious soup
Have a few frozen vegan meals in your freezer
Read vegan cookbooks to learn how vegan cooks think about food preparation.
Identify vegan-friendly restaurants to patronize Don’t expect your non-vegan friends to be as supportive you would wish. Develop vegan contacts from online discussion groups or local vegan associations.
2) Good habits persist during times of high anxiety. That’s what the Times says. But sometimes it's being vegan that creates the anxiety because of the way non-vegan friends or family members relate to your decision. So develop some reassuring actions around your veganism:
Remind yourself that your veganism is a positive action, one you can make, in world where there is so much that is negative.
Remind yourself that their reaction, no matter what they say, isn’t really about you. In Living Among Meat Eaters, I attribute their bad behavior to being blocked vegans.
Develop a mantra: “I choose be vegan because [fill in the blank] and I am glad I did. I hope you can support me, but if you can’t, please respect me and our friendship by keeping your opinions to yourself.” Practice saying this and whenever needed, repeat yourself.
3) It takes 18 days to 245 days to make a habit (the average was 66 days). Be kind to yourself as you develop a practice of veganism.
- Crowd out the meat with veggies on the plate.
- Explore new vegetables; perhaps try a new veggie a week.
- Identify what foods you already love are vegan or could be easily veganized.
- Do an internet search to discover all the national chain restaurants that offer vegan choices.
- Learn to cook if you don’t know how and discover how much fun and relaxing cooking can be.
- Give yourself the gift of time to notice how you feel. Learn to notice how veganism can speak to many of your senses—not just taste, but sight, the combination of colors, and smell, (for instance, when you cut up fresh herbs and smell your fingers); and touch: What foods do you eat with your hands? With chopsticks? With a spoon?
4) Develop the ability of “mental contrasting.” This means not just focusing on your optimism for change but acknowledging the hurdles to achieving change. Identify your dream, (being a vegan), but be realistic about the obstacles. In fact, don’t ignore your “weakness” when you hit up against an obstacle, don’t blame yourself for that “weakness,” but get to know it. If a table leg is weak, wouldn’t you study it, figure out what it needs, and then reinforce it?
Figure out where your weakness is: is it wanting to go out for pizza? Find places that carry vegan cheese, or try ordering a pizza with the double the amount of veggies and adding a little red wine vinegar (to give the kind of sharpness that parmesan cheese conveys), or learn to make pizza at home, or buy frozen vegan pizzas. Is it wanting to relax with family who don’t acknowledge your veganism?
Bring something you can really enjoy and share it, meet them at a vegan-friendly restaurant, do activities that don’t involve food, have them to your house and don’t tell them the food is vegan.
Track the obstacles you come up against: friend, friends, co- workers, travel? You won’t be the first vegan experiencing these obstacles. Tons of advice exists from those who overcame it. (And Never Too Late to Go Vegan chimes in on this.)
5) Habits free us up so we can think about other things.
Vegans follow habits all the time. Putting the water on to boil while unloading the groceries; washing lettuce or greens while unpacking the rest of the groceries. Fixing the muesli (see recipe in Never Too Late to Go Vegan) the night before so that you can just grab it for breakfast in the morning without having to stand in front of the fridge and wonder what you should eat.
Finally, people should show compassion for themselves if they lapse. Veganism is a compassionate approach to the world. Certainly you, the aspiring vegan, deserve some of your compassion as you learn how to be the vegan you are meant to be.