The Mental Game
Let’s now turn to the mental games that everyone plays when moving towards a vegan diet. Becoming vegan obviously involves changing what you eat, but that’s only half the challenge. The other half is the mental component: cultivating thoughts and strategies that will make you increasingly confident and happy about embracing a vegan lifestyle.
We live in a meat-based culture, and so it’s only natural to pick up ideas and beliefs during your lifetime that will complicate the task of becoming vegan. Fortunately, there are strategies you can adopt that will overcome your mental obstacles.
Let’s start by addressing your fears head-on, and defining your current limitations in the most productive possible way.
Acknowledging Your Fears
Chances are you have some concerns about what life as a vegan would be like. You might be able to precisely identify your fears, or perhaps you just have a vague sense of dread. Whatever the case, I invite you to stop reading now and ask yourself this helpful question: what specific fears do you have about becoming vegan?
Now would be a great time to write down your vegan-related fears on a scrap of paper, and use it as a bookmark while reading this book. Here are some of the most common fears that people have about becoming vegan:
- I will end up going hungry at social gatherings.
- My health could suffer.
- I won’t eat well when I travel.
- My spouse won’t be supportive.
Whatever your fears, try to articulate them as specifically as possible. Since this book covers all aspects of becoming vegan, any fears you currently have will likely be addressed in the pages that follow. So putting your fears in writing now will provide a big dose of encouragement later on, when you have a chance to compare your initial fears to the things that you’ve learned from this book.
Most people who have decided to become vegan feel some anxiety about making the change. And that’s totally understandable. After all, becoming vegan typically requires jettisoning many of the foods you grew up with, and putting a whole bunch of unfamiliar foods in their place.
It’s OK to feel some anxiety at first—in fact, it would be strange if you weren’t at least a little nervous. So to start out, let’s compare becoming vegan to some things you have already accomplished. I want you to think of some skill that you learned recently or long ago—perhaps riding a bicycle, hitting a baseball, or learning to knit. These are all skills that anyone can learn given a little time and attention. Becoming vegan is very similar. Like taking up yoga or playing guitar, successful vegan eating is basically a learned skill. And, compared to other skills you’ve doubtless already mastered, switching to a satisfying vegan diet is surprisingly easy. With the effort required to become an atrocious guitar player, you could instead gracefully and healthfully transition to a vegan diet.
It’s interesting to hear non-vegans speculate about what life as a vegan must be like. Very often, you’ll hear them use the tiniest of issues put forward as a blanket statement about why a person could never become vegan. Let’s look at how people articulate their limitations in ways that make a vegan lifestyle appear far harder than it actually is.
Narrowly Define Your Limits
Assuming you’re not ready to switch to a 100 percent vegan diet overnight, it makes sense to figure out the areas that are holding you back. I suggest you spend a couple minutes right now thinking about the main obstacles you have.
The reason I recommend that you spend time thinking about your limits is because, by doing so, you can avoid a couple of traps that people fall into. The first trap has to do with language. A lot of people use words like “can’t,” or worse, “I could never” when it comes to taking steps toward a vegan diet. Language like that is terribly counterproductive. A better way to phrase matters is to use the words, “I’m not yet ready to… ”
Please put this book down for a few minutes and write up your list of “I’m not yet ready to…” items.
Once you’ve got this list in hand, I want to help you avoid the other big trap that people fall into regarding how they set their limitations. In many cases, people set their limitations far too broadly. I was once guilty of doing this too, so I want to show you how I dealt with one of my limits.
When I first started thinking about going vegan, I knew that giving up dairy products was going to be my most significant challenge. I had grown up eating these foods with practically every meal, and so I couldn’t dream of going dairy-free overnight. My initial thoughts concerning quitting milk and dairy products could be phrased like this:
I’m not yet ready to give up dairy products.
It’s hard to travel far down the vegan path with such a broadly worded limitation. So I had to ask myself: did I like all dairy products equally? On any given day, I might drink milk, eat ice cream, or have cheese on a sandwich. How did I feel about these foods?
The truth was I never liked the taste of milk. On the other hand, I was fond of ice cream but hardly ever craved it. So parting with milk would be easy, while ice cream would be a bit tougher but still doable. But cheese was another thing entirely. I adored cheese. Realizing this, it made sense to reword my limitation as:
I’m not yet ready to give up cheese.
Now, I was making headway! What a difference between being unready to give up all dairy products, and being unready to give up cheese. But could I go even further? I next asked myself: “Well, do I love all cheese equally?”
Once again, the answer was simple: absolutely not. I loved mozzarella cheese on pizzas. Swiss cheese was OK on sandwiches. Kraft American cheese slices sucked. And Brie was just too revolting for me to contemplate eating. I decided that I could cheerfully give up all cheese except when I ate pizza.
Upon making that decision, I was again ready to further refine my limitation, this time to:
I’m not yet ready to give up cheese pizzas.
You can already see what a long way I’d gone from being unready to give up dairy products, to being merely unready to give up cheese pizzas. But I wasn’t done yet. I thought about the cheese pizzas I could get locally (I was living in Santa Cruz, California.) In my town, I could get Round Table pizza, which was very good. I could get pizza from Domino’s, which was mediocre. Or, I could visit Pizza-My-Heart, which was a locally-owned pizzeria that baked the best pies I’d ever eaten. I decided that I could happily give up Domino’s and Round Table pizza if I could still be allowed to eat the occasional slice of cheese pizza at Pizza-My-Heart. So my limitation was once again narrowed:
I am not yet ready to give up cheese pizza from Pizza-My-Heart.
As the months went by, having that occasional slice of cheese pizza seemed less and less special. I was discovering all sorts of vegan foods that tasted every bit as wonderful as the cheese pizzas at Pizza-My-Heart. In short order, I decided I no longer wanted to eat cheese pizza—and this decision was so effortless as to be anticlimactic.
Thanks to my setting clear and narrowly defined limits during my transition to a vegan diet, dairy products did not conquer me; I conquered dairy products.
I hope my pizza story shows how helpful it is to put your limitations in writing, and to spend time getting them as clear and narrow as possible.
In your effort to become vegan, you may find that you have limits related to specific foods, to travel, or to social situations. The broader and fuzzier your limitations, the more difficulties you’ll face in going vegan. It really doesn’t matter how many limits you have at first: by working through the process of defining each limitation in the narrowest possible terms, you’ll be preventing these limits from needlessly impeding your progress. Just by doing this simple exercise, you’ll likely take several giant steps toward becoming vegan.
Making New Commitments
One happy consequence of narrowly defining what you’re not ready for is that you’ll automatically discover the commitments you are ready to make. You might be at the point where you’re able to contemplate making commitments like these:
- I’m ready to give up eggs.
- I’m ready to give up all dairy products except for cream in my coffee.
- I’m ready to purchase only non-leather shoes.
Let’s end this chapter with one final possible commitment that I personally found enormously helpful. During my junior year of college, I was vegetarian but not yet vegan. I didn’t feel ready to be all vegan, all the time. But I had just moved into a new house, and I decided that I was ready to be vegan at home. What this commitment accomplished is that suddenly all the groceries I brought into my house became vegan. My vegan cooking skills therefore began improving by leaps and bounds.
This in turn led to me trying more and more vegan foods, and to become increasingly comfortable being vegan 90 percent of the time. Within just a few months, I realized I could easily be vegan outside my house as well. And with that insight, my transition to being vegan was complete.
Next Chapter: Celebrating Your Progress
Return to: Table of Contents
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