By Psychologist, Clare Mann Bsc, MSc, MA, PD Dip Couns, Reg Psych. CPsychol
Clare is a psychologist, bestselling author and co-founder of The Animal Effect Communication Platform.
Clare’s advice for day one:
“CONGRATULATIONS! Your decision to change will positively impact your physical health and psychological and spiritual wellbeing. Irrespective of why you’ve chosen this challenge, you will face new challenges, within yourself and in your communications with other people.
Whenever we change something about ourselves, it impacts on our routines and self-identity and can cause some anxiety. This is normal, as ‘When you have been doing something wrong for a while, doing it right will initially feel wrong!’ When I say ‘wrong’ I mean that ‘It no longer serves you, your values and who you want to be as a person’. Becoming a vegan influences our everyday choices, particularly diet so interactions with other people may sometimes be difficult. You may encounter resistance, defensiveness or people feeling that your choices are undermining or criticising theirs. You may face strong emotional reactions from other people, which can be navigated easily with the right skills. The new skills I will give you may also improve your communications and relationships beyond discussing veganism.
My aim is to give you simple strategies to understand and manage your own emotions, thoughts and self-questioning. Additionally, I’ll provide tips and techniques to have everyday conversations easily and effectively.
All change, it involves changing habits – removing old ones and putting in place ones you wish to adopt. Consider a habit like cleaning your teeth. People who forget to clean their teeth at night often get out of bed to do it. Why? Their teeth are unlikely to drop out over night! It’s such a habit that it seems unnatural not to. ‘When and how does a repeated action become so habitual that it seems natural and easy?’ Psychologists agree that it takes approximately 30 days to create new habits. It varies for different people. Habits, like diet, are so well engrained, that 30 days of consistent, focused effort is needed. That’s why it’s the 30 day challenge. It gives maximum change to make veganism so natural, that it feels unnatural not to do it. Focus and commitment is needed to avoid slipping back into what is familiar.
Tip: Create a daily ritual. e.g. At the same time each day, focus on ‘being a vegan’. This might include a review of what you ate yesterday, challenges you faced, conversations you had and what you learnt. Re-read the daily advice and imagine becoming the person you want to be. Imagine this being so easy and rewarding …Nothing will stand in the way of your success.
Will it be easier for you to tell everyone you know that you are on the challenge or should you keep it to yourself for the time being?
It all depends on how comfortable you are at handling potential conflict, should people question or criticise you. In the early stages of any new change, it can be challenging to deal with any lack of support. Firstly, you just don’t have enough information about being a long-term vegan and it can be difficult to adequately discuss vegan ideology. Also, you won’t have the personal evidence of the improved health, vitality and peace of mind, which you are guaranteed to have within a short time. Imagine how much easier it will be when people ask you about health, energy levels, ethics and social justice to answer them when you are fully informed with information and evidence of how amazing you feel?
If you are someone who is confident to stand your own ground and answer lucidly that this is about your choice and invite them to be open-minded to the increasing knowledge you will be able to share with them, then go ahead. Remember, you are an invitation to other people to try out veganism too.
If you anticipate conflict and would prefer to be better equipped to have those conversations with sceptical people, then hold off. Put all your energies into sticking to the challenge. Learn as much as you can, reflect on your experience and enjoy every day of the challenge.
At any time, you are either moving towards a goal or away from it. The journey towards achieving your goal does not necessarily run in a straight line. At times you may feel you are moving forward easily and at other times, feel you are taking a few steps back. For example, on the Vegan Challenge you may find that you are suddenly caught ‘off guard’ and eat something without checking its content, only to learn that it isn’t vegan. What you do next determines whether you are moving towards your goal or away from it. Having realised that you have mistakenly eaten something that isn’t vegan, you can be negative or positive. You can indulge in self-blame, a sense of defeat and continue eating, thinking ‘Well I have broken my veganism now, I might as well continue eating this and start again tomorrow’. This is rather like a person on a restricted diet who goes over their calorie allowance and says ‘I’ll start the diet tomorrow’. They might have been perfectly satisfied with only one doughnut but eat four of them because ‘Tomorrow they will be back on the diet and will not permit themselves to eat any doughnuts at all’. But the cost is much greater for they are not really choosing what they want to do, instead giving in to an outside rule that says ‘I must be perfect to feel I am achieving my goal’.
TIP: If you mistakenly eat something that isn’t vegan, stop eating it RIGHT AWAY. Push the plate away, forgive yourself and don’t indulge in negative thought patterns or self-blame, instead redirect your energies towards moving forward towards your goal – the Vegan Challenge.
CONGRATULATIONS! It’s day 5 and if you are reading this, you are still on the path. Today I want to talk about motivation and the reason behind your choice to do the 30 Day Vegan Challenge. The late Vicktor Frankl, the author of Man’s Search for Meaning said that in everything we do in life ‘If we have a big enough WHY, we will take any HOW’. The WHY refers to the reasons we want to do something with all the associated emotions and meanings. The HOW are the things that facilitate or inhibit us sticking to something. If our WHY is strong enough, no circumstances or challenges on the way will stop us from sticking to the path, despite temporary setbacks. He made this statement after being imprisoned in a concentration camp in the Second World War and witnessing the factors that kept people alive under enormous physical constraints. The people that survived had an unwavering belief that they would be released whereas those whose died were those that literally gave up and died, many of whom were probably more physically robust than those that lived. This shows the power of intention and belief in the end goal.
TIP: Think back to what it was that influenced you to enter the 30 Day Vegan Challenge. Was it an image, a fact, an emotional response to injustice or desire to eat food that is nutritious and wholesome and not gained on the backcloth of animal suffering? Whatever it is, bring it into sharp focus now and remind yourself that this is your WHY. When you encounter roadblocks on this journey – whether resistance from others or anxiety that maybe it’s too hard in a non-vegan world to easily pop into a café and eat whatever you fancy on the menu – bring this image of the WHY into sharp focus. When you do this, your energy and intention will be renewed and your health, purse, conscience and the animals will thank you for it!
If it hasn’t happened already, people are going to ask you out for dinner or to a family meal during the Challenge. What’s the best way to respond? What can you say to minimise criticism, ridicule and attempts to get your off the path? How can you maintain rapport and assure them that you can go out to dinner with them (either now or in the future) as long as there are some adjustments to the menu or the choice of restaurant? A conversation is potentially difficult when ‘emotions are high, opinions differ and the stakes are high’. Having difficult conversations with ease is an important life skill. Many people struggle with difficult conversations so tend to avoid them or change their point of view to accommodate others. You don’t want to be swayed from ‘your choice’ to do the Vegan Challenge, yet are new to veganism and are learning a lot of new things. You’re acquiring new habits, learning what foods contain, balancing nutrition, trying new recipes and experiencing physical change. Don’t try to explain everything to others or expect them to be inquisitive about veganism. They are more likely to say ‘But we always eat here!’ or, ‘We’re your family. Don’t spoil it for everyone by getting fussy!’ I’ll help you navigate these conversations easily. For now I suggest put your energies into learning about veganism and adjusting to the new diet/lifestyle. Focus on ‘Your choice to do the challenge’ when answering others rather than having an ideological discussion about veganism. You can do this later when you don’t have to deal with multiple changes at once.
TIP: When invited to dinner, say ‘Thanks for the invite. I saw a film/read a book the other week that really inspired me and after it I chose to do what’s called ‘The 30-Day Vegan Challenge’. So for 30 days I am making changes, particularly to my diet. There’s a lot to learn but I am really enjoying it. So for 30 days, I am not eating certain foods. There are certain restaurants/meals that accommodate this; can I suggest one so we can all be satisfied. I’d really love to come out…’ By saying ‘I am doing this for 30 days’, you avoid a lot of resistance. When you are stronger, more informed and confident, you will be able to say ‘I am a vegan – let me tell you more!’
Yesterday, we looked at making potentially difficult conversations easier by asking people to respect your choice to take the 30 Day Vegan Challenge rather than explaining the ideology behind your choice or focusing on the multitude of information you could share with them (and which you probably don’t have at the moment). Just tell them that you have chosen this challenge and wish to complete it. But what happens when someone undermines your choice? This doesn’t only refer to the 30-Day Vegan Challenge; it refers to any conversations where you tell someone you are doing something and they undermine or ridicule you. For example, someone might say to a person not wanting to drink alcohol for a month, ‘Come on, one drink won’t hurt!’ What do you do if someone says, ‘Surely you can’t just live on that!’ when they observe you eating. This is the time to tell them again that you have committed to the Vegan Challenge to and that you are receiving guidance, support and feedback to ensure you remain healthy and well whilst examining a different way of eating and thinking about things. If they continue to undermine you, ask them to RESPECT YOUR CHOICE, and after you have completed the Vegan Challenge, you will be much more experienced and have more information to answer their concerns more effectively.
TIP: In the early stages of the Vegan Challenge, focus on what you are learning and experiencing. Don’t take on the extra load of defending your choices or trying to convert other people. Tell other people that you are receiving guidance, support and supervision during the Vegan Challenge and at the end of it, you will be more resourced and experienced to answer their questions, rather than having to guess the answers at the moment.