Going vegan can put you on a fast track to transformation in every other area of your life as well. By opting out of a cruel but culturally sanctioned way of eating, we’ve proven to ourselves that we can change, which makes further changes feel way more achievable than they ever did before. We shift into what Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset. We learn to catch ourselves should we begin a declarative statement with “I can’t” or “I could never.” After all, you’re the person who gets to decide what you can and can’t do, what you are and are not capable of.
While some changes do happen immediately—when I decided to go vegan I did it 100% (apart from using up the wool in my knitting stash)—most change happens incrementally, and slow and steady often proves the more sustainable route. When I look back over how my attitudes and opinions have evolved over time, I see my veganism wasn’t such a light-switch decision after all:
1980-2000: What is “vegan”? (Cheese pizza! Mac-and-cheese! Cheese cheese CHEEEEEEESE!)
2001-2010: I don’t eat animals, but I could never go vegan. I love cheese too much.
2011: Hold up: I’m addicted to dairy cheese! For the animals’ sake and for my own health, I don’t want to eat it anymore.
2012: Cheese? Nope. Still not missing it.
2013: Tree-nut “cheese”? Tell me more!
2014: I can make my own vegan cheese from scratch? I am intrigued!
2015: Miyoko Schinner is my hero. But I have good friends with nut allergies! Can I make cheese for them too?
2016: Nut-free vegan cheese FTW!
As you can see from this little timeline, I’ve been vegan four years but I am still evolving. The alternative—as Carol Dweck presents it—is a fixed mindset. This is a worldview in which traits and abilities are innate; if you’re not capable now, then you never will be. When feeling uneasy about something new and strange, someone with a fixed mindset takes that discomfort as a sign that they should not continue. Of course, this is also the attitude that results in premature aging and loss of mobility, not to mention joie de vivre.
Someone with a growth mindset, on the other hand, understands that not being capable of X today doesn’t preclude them from achieving X at some point in the future. Someone with a growth mindset knows that all change entails risk—above all the risk of proving yourself wrong, just as you did when you decided to stop eating animals and their secretions. As Einstein famously said, “I must be willing to give up what I am in order to become what I will be.” Someone with a growth mindset approaches any goal with a trifold motto of process, practice, and patience.
For the growth minded, X may represent the unknown, but the unknown is cause for excitement rather than fear! So here’s my parting question for you, whether you are vegan or future-vegan:
What’s your X?
Camille DeAngelis (VLCE ’13) is the author, most recently, of Bones & All, a novel about cannibals aimed at getting readers to rethink the practice of flesh eating. She lives in Somerville, Massachusetts. Visit her at www.cometparty.com or get in touch via Twitter at @cometparty.