Focus On New Experiences If You Want Change To Stick

Change is easier if you don’t call it change. I found that out when I changed my diet started eating differently.

photo by QuintanaRoo

Vegan cupcakes (photo by QuintanaRoo)

We all have to eat. Without food, we wouldn’t get far. But when you’re able to choose whatever you want to eat, could you make handle trying something new?

Two Imperial College students did just that and went vegan for a month to raise money for the Multiple Sclerosis Trust.

In that month, Clare Cheng and Hannah Cox found plenty to enjoy, even if it was a challenge.

And that was just a month. If their goal was to become vegan on a permanent basis, they would have found plenty plenty more to explore and discover.

But this was no ethical choice or health-related change. From meat-eating, dairy-loving and egg-devouring human beings, the change to a vegan diet seemed pretty hardcore to them:

“Our preconception of the vegan lifestyle was that of tasteless and unfulfilling meals that satisfied your body, but not your mind. So it was a surprise when we found that actually some parts of being vegan were pretty good.”

I live with a vegan, so I get to eat a lot of vegan meals. Days go by (maybe weeks) and only then I realise that I haven’t eaten any meat in ages. Even dairy products and eggs don’t get a look in for a while. And I’m fine with that, so long as the diet is healthy and doesn’t miss out on any nutrients that are hard to find in a vegan diet. Fortunately, that’s covered too.

But while I’m going so long without the food I was so used to in the past, I don’t feel like much has changed. I’m living differently, but I acknowledge the final choice is still my own. I don’t actively class myself as vegetarian or vegan, even though I’m close to being that anyway.

When I’ve spoken to people who made a choice to go veggie or vegan with an ‘all-or-nothing’ approach, cravings can be an issue. Many vegetarians admit that they miss bacon more than anything else. For vegans, the craving for an occasional egg can be pretty strong at times. Yet I haven’t particularly felt that.

Some thoughts why:

  • I don’t have the stress of feeling it’s a hardcore change – At no stage have I labelled myself with the description ‘vegetarian’ or ‘vegan’. I simply explored what was available and allowed myself to eat anything I wanted. Meat and dairy products have never been off the menu. All that’s changed is that I picked a different meal from the menu. It’s all about my attitude toward change.
  • The more time I put in to new recipes and combinations opens the doors for more, not less – I was asked to bake a cake recently. I have never baked a cake before. And this had to be a vegan cake too!
    One quick flick through a vegan recipe book gave me the confidence to make a chocolate cake. And it was yummy. Like a chocolate brownie. Then I made another, in an attempt to improve the consistency a bit. Two tablespoons of apple sauce later and the second cake was even more presentable. In no time I’d gone from never having baked a cake to finding ways of improving a recipe. [I enjoyed another slice in the middle of writing this. Win!]
  • I’m going in search of new food I haven’t tried, and food I’ve never heard of – Limitations in one area move you to explore other areas for alternatives and workarounds. Cheng and Cox had a lot of soya milk, although my favourite is oat milk. I’ve tried hemp milk, rice milk, and various other concoctions. Some weren’t even on my radar until recently!
  • I’m still learning more about myself – Big changes get you thinking about your current circumstances as well as your future ones. Questions come flying. Why am I doing this? How can I do things better? What are the implications? What are the differences between Point A and Point B?

One of the uncomfortable things about change is that it forces us out of the comfort zone and into new territory. But once you’re there, it’s usually just as comfy, if not better than before.

What can you do when change is afoot?

Firstly, try not to label the change and don’t take an all-or-nothing approach if you want this to be long-term. New Year resolutions and giving stuff up for Lent give an artificial totality to what you’re doing. Altering your lifestyle in such a complete and sudden way is hard to do successfully and happily.

Second, not doing something in the past doesn’t automatically mean you cannot do it at all. It’s easy to say “I can’t” when you really mean “I’ve never tried”. Give yourself a chance, make a few mistakes, and build up the confidence to build bigger and better things.

Third, there is so much choice out there that you have made thousands of unconscious limitations and automatic choices for the sake of ease. That’s fine in itself much of the time. But when you want to change, those limitations and choices seem practically hard-wired! Next time you’re faced with a challenge, sit down and think about what’s limiting you. Then seek out alternatives to help move you along. It’s not always easy, but sometimes all you need to do is to search around.

Finally, all these big questions help your critical thinking, as well as open up your attitudes to change. If the challenge is big enough, you may come out the other side thinking you could do almost anything. The world is out there, waiting for you to make your next move!

Going back to the start of this post, change does require huge effort. Even when everything is in place and you want to rise to the challenge, there’s the question of willpower. As Cheng and Cox explain of going vegan:

“It makes everyday life that little more difficult when you walk down the aisles of delicious Easter Eggs or pass a good ol’ burger bar with that smell of meaty goodness.”

And they are right. When you make such an extreme change, missing out on so much that you’re used to is a threat to your intention. I used to love Creme Eggs and I ate all sorts of meat. But the less I have these things and the more I enjoy the wealth of food that’s still available to me without these options, I realise that I don’t particularly miss the choc and the meat. Not to mention the eggs and dairy products.

My once favourite Creme Eggs are now viewed with hardly any emotion at all. When they went on sale again in January, I didn’t play my usual hand of buying several dozen straight away. I purchased 12 eggs and enjoyed two a day. They were gone in less than a week, but my craving was satisfied. And I haven’t bought any since. Even writing about them here isn’t upping any desire to munch on one.

Why? Because I stepped out of my comfort zone and kept going. It’s certainly easier with someone else by your side who is taking their lifestyle seriously. I’m lucky there. However, if I wasn’t actively embracing the change, nothing could have put me in the right mindset to take on the challenge.

For me, the mindset necessary was to focus less on the change (the hard part) and more on the new experiences (the fun part). The key was not to label myself as ‘vegetarian’ or ‘vegan’. By not formally recognising any barriers around my eating, I’ve found it easier to keep the barriers up.

The next time change is afoot, see how far you can take things without actively calling it ‘change’.

Are you ready to rise to the next challenge?

photo by floridecires

photo by floridecires