You know that thing that you keep meaning to do, or try?
July is the month you’re going to make it happen.
Why? Because the more you put it off, the more you’ll never know, and the more you’ll keep on experiencing that shitty, sinking, frustrated feeling that comes as a result of completely ignoring yourself and the things you want to do.
I know that shitty, sinking, frustrated feeling very well. In fact recently, that feeling had become so familiar to me, I’d started to not notice it anymore. It was just a constant buzz in my head – I knew it was there and it was really fucking annoying, but I just let it play on a loop, over-and-over, and here’s why:
Towards the end of 2013, I decided to take my vegetarianism to the next level and become completely vegan. My decision to transition to veganism mostly came down to ethical reasons; I’ve been vegetarian for most of my life, but hadn’t really researched the use of animals beyond the meat industry until late last year. These ethical reasons were very important to me – so much so that while most people were voting the Conservatives or Labour or Green Party in the recent elections, I was putting a tick in the box for the Animal Welfare Party.
Yes, that important.
That is, until I ate cheese. Not all the time, not even once a month, but every now and then. This is how it went: I’d go for a meal, see pizza on the menu, and think “fuck it”, I want pizza, and I’d order it. Simple as that.
Now, for the 10 minutes or so of eating the pizza, I’d really enjoy myself. Cheese tastes good! Cheese is the food of Gods! I love cheese! It’s ok, it’s only a bit of cheese! But slowly and surely, I’d start experiencing that shitty, sinking, frustrated feeling, sometimes before my plate had even been cleared away.
Because I was ignoring myself. I was ignoring that being vegan was actually, deep, deep down, really important to me. As a result, NOT eating cheese, was also important to me.
And I know you feel it too. I know that there is something really important to you that you’re ignoring. It could be the exercise routine that you keep putting off, or the once-weekly blog post you want to write but never do, or the 3-cups of coffee a day that you want to reduce to just 1.
This cycle continued for months. After each cheese-eating situation, I’d vow to myself that I would not do it again, that this time I’d really give being vegan a go, that this time it would be different. And then bam, a Fiorentina pizza would present itself on a menu in all its spinachy, garlicy, olivey, cheesy awesomeness, and I’d be making excuses and gesturing to the waiter that I was ready to order.
At times, I wondered if being a vegan maybe wasn’t that important to me, that I liked the thought of being vegan more than the actual everyday action of being a vegan. But then I’d think about the books I’d read, the documentaries I’d watched on the way animals are treated in the dairy industry – the things I’d seen and couldn’t unsee – and I knew it really was important to me.
So why was it that I’d keep ordering the cheesy pizza?
Because my decision to be vegan was just too big, too overwhelming, too much – there was no end point, just a giant chasm of being vegan forever and ever and ever and ever and ever, and shit, that was SCARY.
Here’s the thing. I’m very much a black and white kind of person – I like to go all-out, give everything I’ve got – but this all-out kind of behaviour and thinking just doesn’t translate to the kind of decisions where forming a habit is the foundation of the actual change. As a runner, I know this. When I first decided to get my ass off the couch and go for a run – as a complete beginner – I did not head out the door and bang out 26.2 miles. I ran to the end of my street and back, because I knew it would take time. Over 4 weeks or so, I slowly but surely increased my distance, and during this period, I had created an almost-daily habit of running, so much so that I barely noticed it happening. It had become ingrained in my routine, in my thinking, in my everyday life. Nowadays, 4 years later, because I continued with this habit, heading out of the door for a run is a very simple action, even on the days when I feel sluggish or it’s raining or I’d rather stay in bed. Not every single time, of course – fuck, I’m not perfect – but 9 times out of 10, I’m tying up my shoelaces and I’m gone before I’ve given it a moments thought.
If you want to make something happen, your habits have to be the foundation of it. It’s almost impossible to just go and get fit, or learn a new language straight away or give up sugar and never look back.
With this in mind, here’s what I did instead:
I made the decision to commit to being vegan for just one month.
Nothing more, nothing less. One month. Instead of declaring, “I am now vegan and I will never ever eat cheese ever again times infinity”, I instead said to myself and those around me, “I am making the decision to be vegan for the month of June”.
Ask Simon Lamb. Recently, for various health reasons, Simon wanted to give up meat (I promise that this blog post isn’t some not-so-subtle attempt at enticing you all into vegetarianism). At the end of May, I told him about my decision to be vegan for the month ahead, and so he decided to go ahead and not eat meat in June. It was actually really great to go through the month with someone else also changing something in their life. I’d often check in with Simon along the way and just the notion of him knowing my decision kept me accountable.
Yesterday, with 7 more days of the month to go, we had lunch together – and over our falafel burgers – we realised just how straightforward this month has been. Every day, we would wake up and re-commit to our respective decisions, taking each day at a time, for the 30 days of June, knowing that there was an end-point ahead.
For me, I already feel that being vegan has become ingrained in everything I do, in the decisions I make and in my routine – this is because a habit has formed. So much so that even after the month of June is up, I’ll continue being vegan for the month of July.
I’ve already written down lots of other things I want to make happen – which of course – I’ll take month-by-month, slowly but surely. They are:
Attending a yoga class twice a week (July).
Foam rolling 3 times a week (August).
Reducing my soya intake, by having my daily coffee with almond milk instead of soya milk (September).
Notice that I’m not doing all of the above in July. I’ve learned how important it is to go slow and not overwhelm myself. Leo Babuata, from Zen Habits, writes about this a lot. In his blog post about how he created the habit of flossing his teeth, he wrote, “Start your habit by just flossing one tooth. It’s so remarkably easy that you won’t be able to say it’s too hard, or you don’t have the time. It will feel a bit ridiculous, but just do it. On day two, floss two teeth. Slowly expand every 1-3 days until you’re flossing all your teeth. Sure, you won’t get the full benefit of flossing all your teeth at first, but the key is not to get the full benefit but to create a habit that lasts”.
I’m aware that after 30 or so days, I might not want to foam roll ever again, or I might be downing soya milk straight from the pack because I missed it so much. But I won’t know until I try. And as I’ve learned so far, by taking it bit-by-bit, a habit will have formed and both of these thing will be automatic to me. By the end of July, I’ll have attended 8 yoga classes in that month, which is 8 times more than zero (and my tired running legs will be thankful for it).
Just think, all those things that you want to do, to try? In just 12 months time, you’ll have made 12 of them happen.
The shitty, sinking, frustrated feeling I used to experience from diving head-first into a cheese pizza?
Gone. I feel healthier than ever, stronger and most importantly, I am doing something for myself that is deep, deep down integral to my overall well-being. It feels good.
And now it’s over to you.
A new month is 6 days away. What’s the one thing you’re going to make happen in July?
Let’s do this.