4 psychological reasons why turning vegan is hard (and what you can do about it)

Have you ever wanted to change a habit, but found it hard? And wondered – is it me? Why is it so challenging? Why doesn’t it stick?

I will not bore you too much with psychology, but it is what I do for a living so I thought it would be fun to show you some of the reasons why it is not a walk in the dog park to change.

And just so you know – you are not alone and change is possible with the right insights and life hacks. 🙂

The popularity of eating plant based is growing worldwide – and so is the population who wants to, but don’t do it. I struggle too sometimes, because of all the temptations and limited availability. But that is not all.

Some of the most powerful human emotions are in action – and those little suckers are manipulating my brain – yours too.

4 powerful brain farts that make it hard to turn vegan, save money for the future, lose weight or stop smoking

The reasons why it is hard to become a vegan are the same reasons why change is hard in general.

The human brain is incredible and handles a million pieces of information everyday – so most of the time we act on autopilot. Which is good. Would be annoying if you consciously needed to think every time you put one foot in front of the other. But this autopilot is not always perfect – welcome to human nature:

1. Status quo bias (…this is too complex – I’m just going to ignore it!)

You prefer the things you are familiar with. It is that simple. One of my favorite quotes from Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman says:

“Thinking is to humans as swimming is to cats; they can do it but they’d prefer not to.” – Daniel Kahneman

We prefer to ignore complex information and stick to what we know – so the brain doesn’t have to tire itself.

Another factor that affects our status quo preference is the concept of loss aversion. A change in a person’s life has to be double as good as the usual behavior to be preferable. And if we don’t even know what we will achieve the brain says ‘NO WAY’ even before you get started.

That is why learning anything new is a struggle – like learning a new language. It takes time and effort.

2. Confirmation bias (…this is what I know and believe – that probably makes it true!)

The brain has a tendency to recall information in a way that confirms what you already believe. Again, it is easier than using cognitive effort to explore other options.

A good tip is to always challenge your own beliefs and listen to people who don’t necessarily share your opinion.

3. Optimism bias (…life is going to turn out way better for me than my neighbor!)

Optimism bias is a funny thing. A survival instinct I guess from waaaay back in time. People always think that the future will look brighter than the present – and that is despite of all the negativity in the media.

For example – if you ask people if they think they are better drivers than average 80 percent will tell you that they are. Which is impossible. And if you ask people about their economy they will tell you that they believe their economy will improve continuously throughout a lifetime – which is not a given.

This is also one of the reasons why smokers don’t quit smoking – all the bad things are probably going to happen to someone else. And for people wanting to eat healthier the optimism bias is a real barrier – because everything is probably going to turn out fiiiiine.

4. Present bias (…I should not eat this – but I REALLY want that ice cream now!)

When you ask people to imagine themselves in the future they feel disconnected. Like it is another person they are talking about. And why should you save money or change your habits to benefit another person?

That is why temptation is so hard – you want something right now and you can’t really connect to the consequences. And again, it requires cognitive effort to resist something in the heat of the moment – so you often need to plan ahead if you want to kick your present bias in the a**.

How to vegan – even when it is hard

The most important thing to remember: Changing a habit is hard for anyone. It is like learning a new language. Don’t ever be disappointed in yourself – be proud because you are trying to change. Many never will.

Here are my best tips to make plant based eating easier and overcome your biases:

  • Don’t change everything at once – try to bring 1 new vegetable into your diet every week. For example, week 1 you try to make two easy recipes with broccoli. The next week you try to use plant based milk instead of regular milk and so on.
  • Don’t make decisions about food when you are hungry. Plan ahead: Your present bias will win if you buy food while hungry. Every Sunday I try to plan my meals the upcoming week. In the beginning try to make 1-2 plant based recipes a week and when you are confident with these recipes you move on to new ones. Again, like learning a language one step at a time. Some day you will be fluent.
  • Make a big bowl of rice and/or quinoa in the weekend. Cut different veggies and put them in boxes. Then you can mix and match during the week without making an effort.
  • Follow people who inspire you and who make it easy to eat plant based. Often some of the biggest bloggers write newsletters every week with easy meal plans for the whole family. Follow your favorites. My favorites at the moment are The FeedFeed Vegan and Minimalist Baker.
  • Make a public commitment like joining a community. This helps me a lot. I am a part of several plant based Facebook groups where you can ask all sorts of questions and find people who share your values.
  • Download plant based recipe apps. My favorites right now are Deliciously Ella and FOK (Forks over Knives).
  • Invite friends and family for a vegan dinner instead of eating out. It is such a great way to challenge yourself and not get tempted by restaurant favorites. And it doesn’t have to be boring. Try this vegan lasagna – it is honestly better than a regular lasagna.

All right. Wasn’t that interesting? I kind of feel like Ross from Friends talking about dinosaurs. But I hope you liked it. If you have questions or want more tips and brain hacks write me a message.

Love, Nikoline

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