Going Vegan and the Importance of Mindset
In today's post and podcast episode, we'll be talking about the importance of mindset when you switch to a vegan diet. For the past year, in which Brownble has really grown, I've been receiving the most incredible comments and emails from you telling me about your motivations, reasons for wanting to make this change, and especially your struggles. It's in that last one where I really love to linger with you and tell you that what you're going through is normal. That it's hard to give up cheese, meat, fish, and eggs. That it's hard to make the change when you're the only vegan you know, and when often times our closest family members and friends don't understand it or support it. That it's hard to go to social situations in the beginning, that it can be a big change trying to assemble meals in a different way than you did before. That it's hard to quiet down that little voice that is second guessing every step of the way, wondering if you're doing it perfectly right.
I get it.
I was in each of those places when I went vegan and I can tell you that everything settles down and will become so normal for you that you won't even have to think about it. The path will start unfolding naturally, and you'll soon find yourself skipping through it like a little kid.
I love to linger in the struggle because I think those emails I get every single day are brave. It's brave to acknowledge the fact that you sometimes don't have all the answers and need help. That's where everything I do comes into play and I get to teach you all the practical tools and tips that helped me and that have helped countless others while they are transitioning to a vegan diet.
In those amazing letters from you, I've heard so many different stories. You would think everyone goes through this in a similar way, that there are plenty of patterns, and sure, as humans, any big changes will entail certain common themes, but the truth is, everyone is different. Your stories are very different and your struggles are different.
We come from different backgrounds, have different belief systems, had different upbringings. Some of us had very open-minded parents who loved to give us incentives to be ourselves and express who we truly were. Others had a more rigid and traditional childhood. Some had parents who made them feel guilty about eating a certain way or having a certain body. Others never paid any attention to food and it was drive-through central all the way. Some of us were raised in a lack-centered environment, others with an abundance mentality. All of these things come into play when making decisions and changes as adults, and I see this so clearly in all of your stories.
I can tell you this though, no matter how different these letters are from the next person's, the topic of mindset is always the blank piece of paper upon which your words and stories are written. It's the elephant in the room that you may not have noticed because it walked in super quietly. It sat down next to you on the couch like a ninja without making a peep. It made popcorn and changed the channel. You're just going about your day feeling something is strange even though everything looks kind of the same, but anyone who walks in the room would immediately say: "what's that freakin' elephant doing sitting on your coffee table?". To me, from an outsider's perspective when I read your emails, mindset is easy to spot. For you, it's a baseline you're often unaware of.
To that end, let me just tell you this: mindset is everything.
I can tell you this because I have seen the success stories, the failures, and I have seen people who are struggling much more than they expected or need to with a change like this, and yes, it was all about the popcorn eating, channel changing, elephant in the room. You don't feel it's there, you might not have awareness of it, but somehow your reality, your perspective, your choices, your reactions, your actions, they're all slightly affected by it.
Mindset influences the way we see and react to the world, and to our topic of today, it affects whether or not we see a big change in our life such as going vegan, as hard, impossible, too rigid, not enough, alienating, or, on the flip side, as an exciting adventure, a new culinary journey, abundance at the table, a challenge in a good way, a way to raise our confidence and assertiveness, and so much more.
The elephant, we assume is unchangeable. Heavy and unmovable. A part of one's personality that we sign off as a given. We're either flexible or we're not, we're open to new things or we're not, we believe we can change or we don't.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Before we talk more in depth about mindset, let me tell you about my mom's monster spray.
Yes, I said monster spray.
When I was little I was obsessed with ballet. Strangely, my mom never sent me to class in spite of the fact that I was so drawn to it! I actually ended up going to my first ballet class when I was 15 (too late for anything professional but just in time to make it the obsessive focus of my early teenage years). Early on though, I would watch old ballets on my mom's Betamax and think they were the bomb. I was disturbingly obsessed with two, one was called "the bat ballet". Yup! A classical ballet about a bat, which ended up saving my mom hundreds of dollars in Halloween costumes since I would only wear my bat costume for every holiday for YEARS! (The proof is in the pudding photo below).
The other was a very well known ballet called Petroushka. A Russian ballet about three puppets brought to life, one of whom, Petroushka (a very scary looking clown-like character) suffers greatly from an unrequited love and suffers a very bitter end to his life. His dance is volatile, aggressive, sad and downright painful and I could never take my eyes off him. I would watch the ballet over and over again and my mom got me paper dolls with all the characters and a paper puppet theater to play with because I kept dancing like Petroushka across the living room and kept knocking things down.
In spite of this incredibly odd obsession, I developed a few things from this experience: I became terrified of clowns, which then turned into fear of the dark, which then turned into monsters/Petroushka under my bed and in the closet.
Every morning I would play with my paper puppet theater and my scary-looking Petroushka paper doll, and every night I was sure he was under my bed and would grab my feet when I walked to the bathroom.
It was one of those "this makes no sense but how do I explain this to a 5-year-old" kind of situation.
There was only one solution in my mom's eye: anti-clown Petroushka monster spray.
(Meet Petroushka in the video above).
She secretly filled a spray bottle with water, made a label with monsters and clowns drawn all over and a big red X over them, and every night, when I felt terrified to sleep in my room, she would spray my room with anti-clown Petroushka monster spray.
According to my mother, my monster under the bed fears left the building in less than two weeks.
I always remember that story when I think of mindset. The spray helped me feel that I could do something about my fear, it made me feel safe, and soon I was approaching the whole thing from a different perspective. The paper dolls were just paper dolls, monsters simply weren't going to come into the room, and Petroushka became just a character in a story. I had lost my apprehension and things lost the magnified powers I had given them.
Now, my mom didn't just want to put a band-aid on my fears, she then sat down with me to make a new Petroushka paper doll. One that I would draw since I was so afraid of the original. I made my first paper doll, painted a clown suit and face, placed the other one in a box and started playing with my new Petroushka, the one I had designed, from my new perspective. I had eased my fear, and then I had changed my mindset.
Quick side note. As a teen, I found the two paper dolls, original and my own, and I can't even tell you how incredibly scary looking the one I made was (blame my 5-year-old drawing skills)! Much more than the original, but to me, it had lost its power and that was all I needed.
For you, this story might remind you of the placebo effect. You take a sugar pill and start feeling relief from a symptom even if it wasn't the real medication. Or you think a cheap boxed wine is the best you've ever tasted if someone put it in a very expensive bottle from a famous winery.
No matter what you call it, here's the deal:
"What we believe becomes what we experience."
When it comes to making a change that in most cases is contrary to what we've been taught for years (i.e. humans are designed to eat meat, the only source of protein is meat, eating animal products is natural, eating animal products is part of our culture and our family's traditions, etc.), mindset can be your biggest ally or your greatest hindrance.
Remember, it's that big elephant in the middle of your living room that you're not usually aware is there, but you keep wondering why the channel keeps changing on you or the couch cushions aren't where they're supposed to be. If you're eating and he whispers "this is too hard", or "I don't know if I'll be able to do this", or "I won't be able to live without x", or "my family will never come around and accept this new change", or "there is nothing here for me to eat", the elephant will sink its tushie into the couch, and stay put. Beliefs like the ones I just mentioned set up house, difficulties become obsessions, obsessions then become fears, and we eventually decide to go back to old familiar ways, no matter how deep our motivation was in the beginning.
If on the flip side, you decide to face things and change your outlook, your elephant in the room can whisper entirely different things.
You can start having a positive and abundant mindset, through beliefs like these:
- "This is only about what I put on my plate, no biggie in the grand scheme of things!"
- "I don't have to have it figured out right away, I'll learn things as I go".
- "It doesn't matter if I don't share this one thing with the people around me, it is just one aspect of my daily life and it's nobody's business how I fill my plate".
- "There are so many vegan restaurants popping up all over the place".
- "If I go to a non-vegan restaurant there's always something creative I can put together to make a meal, or I can ask for what I want."
- "There are so many delicious vegan options around the world and vegan travel is getting easier and more delicious with every passing day".
- "It's ok if one meal isn't perfect, it's just one of thousands I'll have throughout my life".
- "It's ok if I answered a question in a strange way when that person asked me about veganism. I'm still learning."
- "Vegan cooking is not harder, it just requires getting acquainted with new ingredients".
- "I don't have to give up the foods I love, I can have vegan versions of burgers, pizza, lasagna, pancakes, barbecues, etc".
- "It turns out I can live without meat and dairy because I'm adding in delicious foods in their place."
- "I don't need to be 100% perfect all the time. There is no vegan police and if I fall off the wagon, I can just get back on in the next meal and learn from it".
or my personal favorite:
- "A vegan diet is not about removing foods and feeling deprived. It's about swapping a meat-based ingredient for a plant-based ingredient, to make exactly the same dishes I used to love, and new ones too!".
Which of the two elephants do you think will guide you towards making this change stick? Not only stick, but make it fun, doable, exciting, and delicious?
You know which one.... You know it!
The only question you might be asking yourself right now is how do we change our mindset if we feel stuck in negative town? If we're focusing on difficulties and lack, how do we change it?
How do we change it? By becoming an annoying "but why?" 5 year old
The first step is always awareness. You're going to become the most annoying 5 year old version of yourself that always asks "but why?". Whenever you're having a negative thought. Whenever you feel it's being really difficult, you're feeling discouraged, or you're feeling caught in the perfection trap or feeling lonely on this journey.
Ask yourself: "Why am I feeling this way?". "What happened that made me feel this way?". "Is this really what is bothering me or is it something else?. Could there be a flip side to what I'm feeling regarding this situation?". "Is it possible I'm just having an off day in the middle of lots of good days". "Am I judging myself too harshly?". "Am I doing too much too soon?". "Do I need support or to hear the experiences of other people who are also going through this?". "What would I tell a friend, my daughter, my son, or my younger self if they were going through this difficult moment?".
Then take a step back, and try to become the outsider looking at that elephant in the living room, just like I do when I get your lovely letters. Notice that the elephant is there, that is your mindset. It's always there, but you can start viewing life,your current situation, and changes through a new lens. What would that look like?
It's not about a cultish self-brainwashing.
It's not about repeating affirmations until you're blue in the face.
To me that feels like you have to psych yourself up, and it can feel artificial and untrue if you don't believe it is true.
It's not about doing Jedi mind tricks that will convince you.
It's not about ignoring struggles or toughening up. Quite the opposite actually.
When it comes to mindset the truth is this: both realities, the negative mindset and the positive mindset, exist at any given moment. It's why you explain the fact that some people are going through horrible life conditions and still have the most incredible will to live and a smile on their face, and others are so negative when everything seems to be going just fine. Every single aspect of one's life has both the bad and the good. It's not about ignoring one and hypnotizing yourself until you believe the optimistic side of things. It's actually about bringing awareness back to both and trying to re-train yourself to notice the positive, even if there are negatives. With time, seeing both becomes a habit, and focusing on what feels good will start becoming the new default, even if you feel the struggle and the difficulties as well. This can be life-changing, and especially when making such a big change in your diet, it can be the difference between sticking to it and enjoying the ride, or feeling uncomfortable and stopping.
This week I want you to bring as much awareness as possible to the struggles you're having, whether vegan and diet related or not, take a look at it like that annoying little 5 year old and ask yourself some questions. Then take a step back even further, almost as if you were seeing the struggle from the window of a train out into the landscape, and see what other possibilities there are when it comes to that particular situation. What is the flip side? How would someone with a positive mindset look at that same situation. For our mindset to change, we need to look at it head on instead of ignoring it, and we need to take steps to change it, but with awareness. Just like the 5 year old me decided to make her own version of the scary-looking Petroushka doll, from a different perspective, without the excess fear and emotion, and then continued to play.