Fear not, this isn't a blog about the benefits of going vegetarian! This is about habit change. Changing habits is hard, especially when we have been doing them for a long time. So I wanted to share with you how I went from a regular at Rib Room to loving a veggie burger. Not in the hope that you give up meat, but in the hope that you get inspiration to change some of your engrained habits - especially the ones you think you CANNOT change!
Know Your Habit
This sounds obvious but before you can change a habit you need to know exactly what is happening with your habit. You need to identify three things, the cue, routine and reward. The cue is the trigger for the behaviour, it could be an environmental, emotional or physical trigger. A trigger could be feeling tired mid-afternoon, it could be stress caused by work issues or it could be your alarm clock in the morning. Because habits are often sub conscious you might not always be aware of what the cue is so pay attention to when you do the habit and what happens immediately before. The routine is the habit that you do - it is the behaviour itself. The reward is the immediate pleasure you get from the habit, long term there may be a detrimental impact but short term there will be some benefit (for example, sugar high, nicotine rush, serotonin hit from scrolling social media). Once you know the cue you can be more conscious about your behaviour and choose a different routine.
Habit change tip - Know exactly what causes you to engage in your habitual behaviour.
Reason to Change
To change any habit you have to be really clear on the reason why you want to change. Make that reason as big and as loud as possible in your mind. Tell others what your reasons are. And not in the way that sounds like this, "I should really stop smoking because it is affecting my health." At this stage you need to look at your language and how you talk to yourself about your habits. Saying 'I should' basically means 'I should, but I will carry on doing it anyway.' So think and talk in the affirmative and in the positive. So that sentence becomes, "I will stop smoking because I want to be fit and healthy." My reason for stopping eating meat was primarily health related, but as I looked into it I could identify with lots more 'whys', the animal welfare was an obvious one and the environmental impact was another that connected with me. Find as many 'whys' as you can and they will hopefully start to out-weigh the reasons for your habit.
Habit change tip - Have a clear reason or reasons why you want to change and remind yourself of that reason regularly.
The Cut-Off Point
Identify a date when you will change your habit. It helps if this date coincides with another change in your life or environment change so that your other routines are also different. For me, I set the start of a 3 week Bali trip as my date for cutting out meat. That made it easy because Bali is very vegetarian friendly and I was out of my normal cooking and shopping routines. A friend of mine recently stopped smoking when back home for the summer. Can you look to an upcoming change in your life as an opportunity to start fresh, it might be a move to a new job or a new house. This can also help if you are surrounded by new people such as in a new job, as they will not question your new habit - to them that is how you have always been!
Habit change tip - Set a date when you are going to change your habit.
Your New Habit
Changing a habit takes determination and will power and in many cases weaning yourself off from a physical addiction. It's not just about the behaviour change but key to the change is in our mindset and the way you view yourself. Studies show that when people successfully change a habit they tie the new behaviour into their identity. Your identity is a complete story and picture about who you are and how you want to be seen in the world. Consider some 'I am...' and some 'I am not...' statements that summarise who you want to be. Think about how you want to be perceived by others and what you would want them to think about you. For example - I am someone who exercises daily, I am not someone who wastes my evening in front of the TV.
Habit change tip - Decide who you want to be in the world and what habits you need to live in order to be that person.
You will undoubtedly encounter situations that tempt you back to your old habit. As an ideal, especially in the early days, try to avoid these situations. For me that meant avoiding Rib Room for a while, and other meat heavy places! For you it might mean deleting that social media app off your phone or doing your shopping online to avoid last minute junk food basket additions. As time goes on you will need a strategy to help you maintain your new positive habits. For me with food, this would mean looking at restaurant menus ahead of time and deciding what I was going to eat before getting to the restaurant. This would remove the decision making process once in the restaurant. Reducing or removing decisions (especially when you are tired or stressed) is key to maintaining habits. We make poor decisions when we are in a weaker emotional state so make these decisions in advance when you are in a strong mindset! Plan what you will do and say when you are in that tempting moment. For example, when I am tempted to check my email/news/social media I will revisit my to do list instead and get to work on the most important item on the list.
I do not believe in never again. (unless you have an addictive personality I don't think this is necessary). For me, allowing myself the option to eat meat is an important part of continuing not to eat it. By always leaving it as an option I am choosing to not eat it, which gives me control, rather than it been something which is 'not allowed'; and it leaves the door open if I get a shake shack craving...