A few weeks ago, I finally went totally vegetarian. It’s a move
that I have been thinking about for many years, but could never
quite bring myself to do. In this article, although I am
discussing this issue as an example, you can use the ideas here
to move to any goal of your own choosing, i.e. by taking small
incremental steps first.
The fact is that you can achieve almost anything – vegetarianism,
giving up smoking, ending sugar addiction or alcohol addiction,
doubling your income – by taking small steps towards that goal,
and gradually chipping away at the barrier preventing you from
My move to vegetarianism was a very slow one. As I write this, I
am 44. The first two-thirds of my life were spent eating both
meat and fish, and the last third fish. Hence, giving up eating
flesh was not easy for me.
I was brought up from childhood eating meat. Although my mother
is a Buddhist and came from a vegetarian family, she compromised
on this when she married my father. Hence, as a family, we ate
both meat and fish. I remember, as a boy, loving my steaks done
as rare as possible, so that they were juicy and bloody.
Having said this, I have always had a love for animals. However,
this never translated to what I ate. Like most people, I regarded
meat eating as a necessary evil. Besides, I liked the taste and
could not conceive of doing without it. That seems to be the
issue that stops many people.
So what caused me to stop eating meat? It was a television
program revealing the appalling conditions of farm animals.
Without going into the details, it as enough to cause a seed
change in my thinking. I wanted no further participation in that
sort of thing. From that time, I was meat-free.
However, I continued to eat fish. The contradiction was apparent
to me, but the reality was that I could not see myself eating
vegetables alone. How could they taste as good? Where could I
find recipes to make them taste good? It all seemed like too much
There is a pleasure/pain principle at work here, and in so much
of what we do. It is what keeps us stuck in so many situations
that we would like to change for the better. In this instance, we
have the pleasure of eating meat/fish vs. the pain of finding
viable alternatives and the education needed to prepare them in a
palatable fashion. However, this applies to your specific
situation too; whether it be leaving an abusive relationship,
finding a better job, giving up smoking, etc.
The secret is to invert the pleasure/pain principle and make it
more pleasurable to engage in the new behavior and painful to
maintain the old. Then, change can happen very rapidly.
For me, the flip came via my own personal development. It became
increasingly clear to me that many of the major spiritual
traditions support vegetarianism. Buddhism, for instance, teaches
the concept of Harmlessness; not just to human beings, but to
animals as well. Spiritually, there is also believed to be
negative karma that incurs through killing animals for food. All
of this played on my mind for a long time. Finally, I just got
sick of looking at the glassy dead eyes of the fish I was
preparing staring back at me reproachfully, and washing out the
blood. That was the pain side. The pleasure aspect came from
finally developing the will to live consistently with my own
inner desires and beliefs.
Each person has to make their own mind up on this issue. Nobody
can do it for you. Speaking as a former non-vegetarian, I know
how difficult it is to make the change. I was a mental vegetarian
(i.e. in support of it in theory) for years before I became a
practicing one. There are doubtless many people who feel the same
It’s the same for other change issues. Whatever your personal
challenge may be, it’s easy to stay where you are. That takes no
effort. Yet, sometimes the time is not quite right to make the
change either. Your mind is not in full support of what you want
to do. It’s important to develop the will to make the change and
stick with it. That may not be an instant thing. Perhaps some
personal growth will be needed first.
The most surprising thing about the last few weeks is that I have
had NO craving for fish whatsoever. Apart from the very good Soya
substitutes that exist nowadays, if you really want to have the
texture of meat in your mouth, it is also true that proper
preparation of pasta, curry and the like can work extremely with
vegetables alone. I would never have thought so, but it is true.
For instance, I find that a mushroom curry has very much the same
texture to it as would meat or fish prepared in the same way.
Indeed, it has been said that mushrooms are the closest thing to
meat in the vegetable kingdom.
So, if you have been thinking of making this move for a long
time, do think about it once more. Maybe this article will be the
wake-up call for you to finally take action. Even if you have no
empathy with the issue, think how this “stealth” approach to
radical personal change can work for you. You can use it to
undermine the obstacles stopping you from making the changes YOU
desire in your life.
Copyright Asoka Selvarajah 2005. All Rights Reserved.