Lasting change doesn’t take place over night – it’s a process that takes time, effort and energy, as well as a lot of patience and love. Sure, there are people who decide to quit smoking or some other unhealthy habit and never look at or think about that vice again. There are others who make a decision and seem to just DO it. But even these seemingly “overnight” changes are almost always longer in the making.
Change is a process that starts with awareness that something in your life isn’t working for you. You’re not going to want to change even the unhealthiest of habits if you don’t recognize it as a problem. This awareness can grow in your subconscious for months or even years before you consciously recognize it, making the process of change a long one indeed. Once you have consciously recognized the problem, you still may not be ready to deal with it. You take in information, and if that information is compelling enough to you, at some point you will attempt to make a change. The actual change may be partial or full, and you may be completely successful, or more likely you will have several attempts that bring you closer and closer to your end goal.
The key is to recognize that it’s a process. It’s a journey, and you should feel good and encouraged by whatever changes you are able to make along that path. Too many people get wrapped up in perfection, and associate failure with setbacks. Then, when they do have setbacks, there is a real danger that they will give up, feeling that they just can’t do it. If you’re intrigued by the process of change, take a look at the book Changing For Good by James O. Prochaska, Ph.D., John C. Norcross, Ph.D., and Carlo C. DiClimente, Ph.D.
In my work supporting people who are trying to move away from eating animals and their products, all too often I see people getting discouraged or down on themselves if they don’t become “vegan” or “plant-based” immediately and perfectly. For many being vegan or vegetarian or plant-based seems to be an “all or nothing” proposition, but the truth is that this too is an ongoing journey that lasts a lifetime.
Shifting away from the consumption of animals and towards a plant-based lifestyle healthfully requires a huge learning curve – what to eat, how to cook/prepare it, where to find recipes, support, information, how to deal with the social aspects of changing your lifestyle, and so on. It’s also a process of growing your awareness around all the reasons (and there are a lot of reasons!) to do so. Many people are first motivated by the compelling health evidence of the benefits of a whole-foods plant-based diet – this is a great initial motivator because the personal benefits are so powerful, and the results are quick to reveal themselves. However, health alone may be a weak motivator in the long run. As people progress along their plant-based journey, when they connect with the deeper ethical reasons – environmental, social and compassion – every bit of information can help to facilitate lasting change.
So if you’re on a plant-based journey, be kind and patient with yourself, no matter where you are at. Arm yourself with information, get involved in social groups in your community that will provide the support you need. Celebrate each step you take, and if you feel discouraged, break it down. Ask yourself “What small change can I make today?” Each step, no matter the size, is a success and will take you closer to a lasting, sustainable end result. Finally, be supportive to those around you, no matter where they are at. Each of us needs encouragement and kindness on this journey – which of course is at the very core of what it means to be vegan.