How to Make a Lifestyle Change

Changing things up is good: it lets us shake off the stale routines that no longer serve us. Like a snake shedding its papery skin, we slither on to better things. However, change isn’t usually as effortless as our reptilian friends make it look. We often lose that magical feeling called motivation, which takes the lustre away from the day-to-day grind. This makes us say things like “why am I doing this, again?” and “well, I can always try again next Monday.” But what if we could just stick with it? I’ve been a vegan for over six months now, which is a lot for this former milk-and-meat eating, diet-cycling, food-enthusiast. I don’t believe it was simply a matter of putting my mind to it, either. The following tips are applicable to almost any large-haul lifestyle change.

1. Get Educated
The most important aspect to consider when we make a big change is whether that change is going to be healthy for us. Diets that claim we can eat anything if we follow “one weird tip” or that involve eliminating one or more of the basic food groups are usually a red-flag for unsustainability at best, and serious health hazards, at worst. This step that takes us on a grand tour of the Internet, our local library, and the doctor’s office. Doctors are helpful when assessing a patient’s current wellbeing and letting them know which exercises are okay to begin (and let’s be honest, sometimes it’s nice to have a doctor-approved excuse not to do hot yoga.) One must be a little picky when it comes to consulting Internet and even library sources; checking for scientific studies and sources becomes important. (Though this can feel like writing a college research paper.)

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Pictured here: solid knowledge. 

2. Be Realistic
Let’s get this one out of the way, since it’s fairly unpleasant to get yanked down to reality while imagining all the neat changes we could be making. This step has everything to do with goals. For instance, if we want to get super fit, it might be more attainable if we train for a specific event or milestone, be it a 5 kilometre walk, a triathlon, or an all-night video gaming session. (Goals are very personal things.)

calendar
Get a nice calendar that you won’t dread looking at.

3. Say “Nah” to Nay-Sayers
Isn’t it strange how when we tell someone we’re making a change, they suddenly become the world’s foremost health and fitness expert? While some friends and family will have legitimate concerns, it’s often the case that when we make a change for ourselves, it causes others to question their own life choices. This is something that can be uncomfortable for people. For instance, if someone decides to stop drinking, many of their friends may be supportive, while others, most likely their drinking buddies, will say things like “Well, everything in moderation” in an effort to justify their behaviours. However, being armed with the confidence brought to us by the rigorous studies of Step One, we can now shut nay-sayers down gently, (or aggressively, if appropriate.)

nah
Write it on your hand when you get sick of repeating it.

4. Have an Emotional Connection to the Change
Whether we want to ride our bikes more, stop smoking, or change our food habits, it helps to be emotionally connected to our cause. While, “I want to look hot” is as good a reason as any, often it doesn’t provide that lasting conviction to get us through the hard days. (Especially when we realize, damn, I’m already hot anyways.) Similarly, “I want to lose weight” can be tricky, since often the emotional connection we have to this cause is propelled by guilt and frustration. Similarly, if we do lose that 10, 30, or 50 pounds, we now have no reason to maintain our lifestyle change, making it easy for old habits to creep up. It is therefore more effective to identify with an emotional cause such as, “I want to ride my bike more often because I care about the degradation of our environment and feel moved to do what I can to stop it.” Or, “I want to stop smoking because children whose parents smoke are much more likely to smoke themselves, and I don’t want mine to start.” My reason for change, with regards to adopting a vegan lifestyle, was tied to my concern for the wellbeing of animals. When I conjure up the idea of an animal’s suffering, I don’t need resist having a hamburger, I just don’t want it.

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It helps having a cute dog to remind you why you love animals.

5. Get Support
If our friends and family are too busy playing our health-concerned doctors to be supportive of us, then it’s lucky we live in a time with such amazing online communities. Being able to share recipes, swap training goals, brag about milestones, or just plain talk to someone with a similar outlook can be life-change-saving.

computer
Pinterest can be a wealth of recipes and distractions.

6. Have Fun
Reward milestones with experiences that bring joy. A new cookbook, a course, new running shoes, a trip, or a night out at a favourite restaurant can be great ways to express pride and gratitude in our efforts. For those of us who are daring, we can choose to commemorate our success with a tattoo or new haircut. These are not simply rewards for being good, rather, they act as little nudges towards an unknowable, albeit exciting, destination.

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I made my milestones weekly so I could eat this more often.

If we take the time to do our homework first, we will have the knowledge and the tools to make any lifestyle change we see fit. By making an emotional connection to the cause of our change, we are assuring a long-term commitment and a passion that will re-new itself every time we read, hear or talk about it. A much more effective fuel than motivation.

Settle

stare from window sill at streets
made narrow, strangled by the jagged
angles — concrete towers stab
through cloud or cloak of smog

they rise as you rise
from itchy bare mattress
(cheap sheets forgotten
at a former address)

wade through clutter
shudder at the boxes
that tower from the floor
push past, find the door

outside the boulevard is black
from rain. stand, soaked
shrug off that you heard
the sound of your name

How to Feel Settled in a New Place

Whether it’s for school, work, family obligations, or simply an attempt to leave a stagnant routine behind, most of us experience the disorienting business of picking up our belongings, and setting them down somewhere new. This action can take place on a small scale, such as when we leave our noisy, cockroach-infested downtown apartment for something a little quieter, if more rustic, on the outskirts of town. Or, it can be a massive move overseas or across the country, complete with an unknown language and a staggering sense of alienation. Regardless of the scale or reason, it’s difficult to conjure up those familiar adjectives about a new place — cozy, restful, Netflix-coma-inducing — and feel settled in a foreign environment. There are new neighbours (some maybe a little too friendly), new smells (hello, pulp mill), and new wildlife (that spider may be venomous). The following are some tips on how to feel settled in a new neighbourhood.

1. Surround Yourself with Familiar Objects that Bring you Comfort and Joy
Of course, this doesn’t mean schlepping every possession you’ve ever owned to your new abode. The key here is quality. It could be an evocative piece of original artwork, framed photos of loved ones, or perhaps a collection of rare beanie babies from your childhood (comfort is not about judgment). Ideally, display these objects in a place you will see every day. If they are well-chosen, they will remind you that you are still you, even if your new dig has hideous pastel wallpaper.

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Some of my favourite belongings: my plants, a hand-painted gnome, and 90 kilograms of books.

2. Go for a Walk in the Area Immediately Surrounding your House
Not only will this pilgrimage help to orient you, it will allow you to uncover the hidden gems in your neighbourhood that can often be missed when traveling by bus or by car. Perhaps there is a park nearby where you can direct your good intentions to go for brisk morning jogs. Or, maybe there is a corner store that sells emergency chocolate or wine. You may realize you live near a haunted-looking empty lot and make a mental note to avoid it after dark.

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Closed-up shops looking more than a little sinister on an eerily quiet Sunday afternoon.

3. Know your Amenities
What sorts of amenities does your new neighbourhood have? It is helpful to know of organizations such as immigration welcome services, women’s centres, LGBTQ support centres, government buildings, police stations, hospitals, and recreation centres. In many cases, it’s useful to simply strut into these places (if you think you qualify for their services) and introduce yourself as new in the neighbourhood. Often, you will be loaded down with information pamphlets, business cards, activity guides and, if you’re lucky, free welcome candies. This can be a gateway to finding relevant resources, such as community food box programs (because honestly, fresh produce should always be relevant).

veggies
This intimidating amount of fruits and vegetables comes from my community’s fifteen-dollar Good Food Box.

4. Draw a Crude Map of your New Surroundings
You can now beautifully render the amenities you found out about and re-name landmarks to better suit your purposes and personality. This also becomes a handy mental image to have on hand when old friends and relatives ask how far the nearest grocery store is from your new house, since, according to your map, it’s roughly three concrete buildings away from the public square, which is a gas-station away from your house. You will be giving lost drivers directions to nearby hotels in no time.

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Here is the most accurate map I’ve made of my new town.

5. Keep in Touch with Old Friends
Just because you’ve moved on to a glamorous dorm room or an urban studio apartment doesn’t mean you should forget those who have supported you through your humble beginnings. Through the magic of social media and good old-fashioned phone calls, you can report back all of your fascinating adventures. If you want to make it even more retro, invest in a pack of stamps and mail letters and postcards to your loved ones. Most people appreciate receiving mail that isn’t related to the third final notice regarding their student loans.

stamps
Pictured here: a fresh pack of good intentions.

So there it is, five simple steps towards feeling more settled in a new neighbourhood. If you have any advice you would like to add, please comment below. Stay tuned for a related poem on the topic of “settling in”.