Did you make a vow to go vegan January 1 and now it’s looking like it’s do-or-die time? Having been there myself the first year of my veganism and having talked to countless people who have faced a lot of challenges despite their intention to make it work, I have some ideas on how to break your vegan resolution. I finally figured out that the biggest difficulties we face that jeopardize our desire to be vegan come from within us: they are the ways in which we inadvertently sabotage ours best intentions. I know what they are because I’ve been there, people. I also have some ideas on how to make your veganism successfully stick. I’m hoping that you’ll choose the latter. Read on…
How to Break Your Vegan Resolution
1. Have no fun ever.
One of the most surefire ways to break your vegan resolution is to have no fun ever. Never ever. Often for new (and even not-so-new) vegans, there is a mindset that anything that you once enjoyed – dancing, amusement parks, pottery class – is off-limits now because it feels selfish to enjoy life as you once did now that you are aware of so much suffering in the world. Not only that, with this mentality, you also become allergic to humor, laughter and that facial expression that occurs when the corners of your mouth curve upward. If you want to break your vegan resolution, be sure to strip your life of all fun and enjoyment.
Or…you could remind yourself that you can never take on pain to relieve someone else’s burden. Just as your pleasure does not need to compound anyone’s pain, withholding enjoyment from your life cannot lessen someone else’s real misery. We are not proxies. However, if, in fact, you allow yourself to enjoy life now and then, you could actually serve to help diminish another’s suffering by modeling to the world that vegans aren’t all doom and gloom, which encourages other people to be positively influenced and inspired by you. It’s that whole “I’ll have what she’s having” phenomenon and it works.
The reversal of this resolution for a successful long-term integration of veganism: Remember that your enjoyment does not need to compound anyone else’s suffering and, in fact, living a life with pleasure allows people to be more positively influenced by you.
2. Cultivate an all-or-nothing attitude. (Alternatively but related: animal products are present nearly everywhere, thus perfect veganism is futile.)
You ate a potato chip before you noticed that it had honey in it. You discovered too late that your smoothie had whey in it. You were so hungry when visiting your family over break and you didn’t plan well so you ate your mother’s casserole without asking questions about the broth. Whatever happened, it happened, and now you are wracked with guilt and a feeling of being both a fraud and a failure. You cannot do this. Veganism is impossible. Not to mention that, there are animal products in virtually everything, from the bicycle tires that take you to the grocery store to the glue that holds your bed together. It’s hopeless. You shouldn’t even try anymore because no one can be a true vegan, least of all flawed you. If you want to break your vegan resolution, be sure to have an all-or-nothing mentality.
Or…you could remember that we live in a profoundly non-vegan world and while we try to do our best to avoid contributing to harm, veganism is ultimately not about our egos but about moving closer to our ideals all the time. A wise and apt proverb comes to mind: “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.” Veganism is a practice and you know what practice makes: perfect. Or ultimately imperfect but still doing our best. Those who manage to maintain a vegan practice over the long-term understand that it is essential to remain committed despite the obstacles, blunders and bruises to the ego that will inevitably come up. Here’s an analogy: You’re going to college and you’re so excited about your education but you just got your bad grade. This was not how you were imagining your future. Does getting a bad grade mean that you should drop out of college – because clearly you are a failure and a fraud – or should you instead chalk it up as a learning experience to deepen your education in the long run? Life is full of bumps and disappointments; it’s about how we respond to these challenges that matters for our evolution in the long run. The simple solution is to dust yourself off, learn from your mistakes, resolve to do better and be thankful of how you are progressing.
The reversal of this resolution for a successful long-term integration of veganism: Accept that you will make mistakes in this deeply non-vegan world. Don’t take this as a reason for either self-flagellation or giving up: Resolve to do your best. (And remember that it does get easier.)
3. Isolate yourself.
If you want to guarantee that you’ll fail at your vegan resolution, be sure to isolate yourself. Stop communicating with your pre-vegan friends – this is a given because they are evil, right? (see next point) – and top that off by not making an effort to create community for yourself with other vegans. Feel misunderstood. Feel rejected. Feel alone. Steep in those feelings of isolation regularly. If you want to break your vegan resolution, be sure to isolate yourself.
Or…you could be mindful that humans are a social species whether we are introverted or extroverted and we need some interpersonal connection to thrive optimally. Especially with adopting a fairly big lifestyle change that swims against the current, if you don’t nurture and create a support network for yourself, you will feel alone and your veganism will be at stake
The reversal of this resolution for a successful long-term integration of veganism: Maintain and cultivate the community you need for yourself, online and in person.
4. Decide that you despise everyone who is not vegan.
They are all wretched, cold-hearted sadists, right? Now that you’re vegan, it’s best to be really clear that non-vegans are The Enemy just so there is no confusion about that. If you want to add another layer of doom to the clouds of gloom perpetually hanging over your head, remind yourself that you are surrounded by billions of bloodthirsty barbarians. If you want to break your vegan resolution, be sure to hate all non-vegans.
Or…you could remember that at one time, you were a “bloodthirsty barbarian” as well and, honestly, if you are trying to get omnivores to listen to you, it’s probably best to not think of them in this way. You do want to be a positive influence on them moving away from eating animals, right? This isn’t to say that you need to tone down your message but that treating people like you think they are despicable might make you feel superior in the short term but is probably not going to create a lot of meaningful long term change for the animals. Also, walking around hating 97% of the world pretty much guarantees an increasingly bitter and lonely existence and we all know how appealing that sounds. My own experience is that very angry vegans don’t last very long because hate takes too much energy to maintain.
The reversal of this resolution for a successful long-term integration of veganism: Remember that humans are flawed, yep, all of us, but omnivores are the ones who can create the most change for the animals and they are the very people we need to be reaching in our outreach.
5. Immerse yourself in watching graphic videos, looking at violent images and reading about animal suffering at every opportunity.
Similar to the first point but rather than simply removing all joy from your life, here is where you actively add as much trauma and sadness into it as possible. You become a virtual sponge for soaking up as much pain as possible as if, by proxy, you could relieve theirs. If you want to break your vegan resolution, be sure to submerge yourself in misery.
Or…you could remember that bearing witness is one thing; drowning oneself in torment is another and it is debilitating. While educating ourselves is critical to our advocacy work, immersing ourselves in pain and violence is a recipe for burn out. It takes a huge toll on our psyches and our morale. If you focus too much on the misery, not only will your worldview become warped, you will lose your confidence about effecting change. Get to know and respect your own limits – have you been dwelling in darkness too much? Are you feeling on the edge? I’ve been there and it still happens today. When it does, I know that it means I need to unplug a bit because I am not being an effective advocate for the animals. Turning away from more graphic videos, images and stories will not amplify the suffering of the animals but if you get burned out as a result of not respecting your own need to have some light and some hope, it is a very sad and preventable loss. Please take care of your tender heart.
The reversal of this resolution for a successful long-term integration of veganism: Educate yourself so you can be a good advocate for the animals but respect your boundaries and aim for balance so you don’t burn out.
6. Be unprepared and fail to meet your needs.
Some examples of how we allow ourselves to be unprepared and fail to meet our needs: When we go to restaurants without options for us just to go along with what the group wants. When we travel without knowing if and where we’ll be able to eat. When we go to parties without knowing if there will be food for us. When we don’t bring our lunch to school or work and we know that there are no decent options near us. If you want to break your vegan resolution, be sure to be unprepared and have our needs unmet.
Or…we could be kind to ourselves and make sure that we will have decent vegan food so we don’t find ourselves feeling good and hangry and eyeballing the questionable protein bar with 5-inch ingredient panel at the 7-11 out of sheer desperation. We need to be allies for ourselves and not leave our needs in the lurch. In other words, don’t do what I did. When I first started out, I said yes to everything to prove that I was not an irritating vegan. I was defiantly not the irritating vegan! Would I be willing to go to the crab house to see relatives? Oh, sure, I could just eat some lemons. They will help me ward off scurvy. Could I go to a steakhouse for the office holiday party and just eat a dry baked potato while everyone else is chowing down for hours? Oh, sure, not a problem! I love dry potatoes! Maybe they’ll even give me some salsa on the side. First of all, is that really fine? Is this the optimal way to showcase veganism, you and your dry baked potato and your little side of maybe-salsa? We let ourselves down when we don’t plan for having our needs met. At a certain point, I decided that I was doing veganism no favors by jumping through hoops to be perceived as “a nice vegan” and not showing the world the fabulous array of gorgeous, appealing plant foods available to us. So here is what I did and it’s infinitely easier today with menus being online and communication being more direct: I called restaurants. I familiarized myself with their menus so I could ask questions about preparing a meal. I had a variety of restaurants at the ready that I could recommend as alternatives when people suggested meeting at establishments that would leave me hungry. If I’d go to parties, I would ask what I could bring. When I traveled, I did some research and planning, something much less easy than today but still doable. I remembered to pack a Lara Bar when I was uncertain if I’d have access to food for the day. In short, I stopped leaving myself in the lurch because if there is one thing I know, a low-blood sugar me is not someone who is going to make the best decisions or model the best example of happy, integrated veganism. Learn from me and don’t make these easily avoidable mistakes.
The reversal of this resolution for a successful long-term integration of veganism: Be prepared and speak up for your needs.
7. Think of your veganism as a resolution.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with the concept of a resolution, we need to look no further than how gyms that are crowded in January and February begin to dramatically clear out by March to see how effective they tend to be as a means for creating lasting change. While I have certainly met some people who made a New Year’s resolution to be vegan and stuck with it, this is the exception to the rule. Perhaps because we associate resolutions with white-knuckling our way to a new, less pleasurable life that we’re trying to will ourselves to live, we can’t help also seeing veganism through a lens of deprivation, hardship and scarcity when we frame it using the language of resolution. As I have observed, a fun-free, all-or-nothing attitude is almost a guarantee that your vegan practice will fail. If you want to break your vegan resolution, think of it as a resolution.
Or…here is what I propose instead: think of your veganism as an evolution toward your goals of living consistently with your compassionate convictions. Think like a marathoner rather than a sprinter. You are in it to win it over the long haul and it is both an honor and a joy. When you catch yourself thinking in a win/fail false binary, unclench, breath, and remember why you are doing this. Not to prove to anyone that you are perfect but to live in harmony with your values and to help usher in a new consciousness that actively rejects the mentality that our pleasures are enough justification for our habits.
The reversal of this resolution for a successful long-term integration of veganism: This is not a resolution. This is a way of living.
Ready to do it right? Yes!