8 Stress-Free Ways to Start Healthier Habits Now

December is upon us, and while for most of us that means holidays and parties and more stress than is healthy, it’s also one of my favorite times of the year for thinking about change.

Why? Because you don’t want to be another victim of the New Year’s syndrome, where on December 31 you realize you’re in roughly the same place you were a year ago. Then you resolve to change, and while it feels real in the moment, it’s forgotten by February.

Instead, start now – in early December. So that you can reflect, get inspired, and make intelligent choices about the results you want to create. So that you can lay the groundwork, and take the first few steps to creating the new habits you’ll need.

And so that when New Year’s comes, you’ll be ready.

But there’s just one problem.

Although the month leading up to the day when everybody else likes to announce their changes can be mega-inspiring, it’s also mega-stressful. The sweets, the alcohol, the presents, the in-laws … not exactly a conducive environment for change.

The trick, then, is to start small. Make only the simplest, most stress-free of changes now, to lay a solid foundation for the year ahead.

If the changes you’d like to make relate to your health — or even if they don’t, but you could use some more energy and enthusiasm for whatever other crazy goals you have in mind — here are eight easy, nearly stress-free ways to lay the groundwork before January 1.

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The No Meat Athlete Holiday Gift Guide to Stuff You Actually Need (and None of the Crap You Don’t)

gift guide

Oh, it’s that special time of year. I know it’s not exactly fashionable to embrace the fact that Christmas comes earlier every year, but I’ll happily admit that I love it.

I’m a nut for this season. I like getting and giving, drinking a few extra Christmas ales, listening to crappy holiday albums (Taylor Swift’s Christmas is E.P. is downright sick) and, of course, watching made-for-ABC-Family holiday movies — my favorite is Holiday in Handcuffs, with Desperately Seeking a Santa a recently discovered close runner-up. (Pro tip: you can identify a holiday movie buff when they refer to Home Alone as “Home Alone 1,” which tells you that the sequels haven’t dropped off their radar.)

In the spirit of the holidays and rampant consumerism (come on, it’s fun!), Doug and I put together a special podcast-and-blog-post version of the NMA Holiday Gift Guide.

For the full experience, where we go into all the “whys” of our gift guide, listen to this 47-minute Black Friday edition of the NMA podcast at the end of this post. But if you’re in a hurry and don’t like listening to two idiots blabber on about why all this stuff is great, well, we’ve got you covered there, too — just check out the categorized list below to see our picks for the 2014 holiday season.

And for yourself …

bundle page image1Gift guides are great when it comes to shopping for others, but let’s be honest — they’re really for you, right?

So if you’re looking for something to reward yourself (in a way that’s a pretty darn good investment for your health and happiness), don’t miss the incredible No Meat Athlete Plant-Based Fitness Bundle. It’s one-time-only collection of 23 plant-based fitness, cooking, meal planning, and productivity guides, including:

  • All the NMA Roadmaps (5K, Half Marathon, Marathon, and Triathlon) and Wake Up, my 31-day goal-setting and personal development program
  • Rich Roll’s Jai Lifestyle meditation guide and Jai Seed cookbook
  • 3 months of meal plans from Yum Universe author Heather Crosby
  • The all-new Run Your BQ Essentials program
  • NMA Radio co-host Doug Hay’s guide to your first ultramarathon
  • More guides from vegan superstars Christy Morgan, Nicole Antoinette, Jeff Sanders, and many more!

All of these guides together would normally cost you $539.35, but now through Wednesday morning, you can save over 82% on this bundle of plant-based goodness — so check out all the details here. (Oh and PS — 5 percent of every bundle sale goes directly to Farm Sanctuary, our favorite animal-friendly charity.)

Listen to the audio version of NMA Gift Guide

Click the button below to start listening right now:

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Running

Altra Running Shoes

Gear

Kitchen/Food Essentials

Health & Wellness

Mental

Trips (for you and that someone you really like)

A little something for you

Check out the No Meat Athlete Plant-Based Fitness Bundle (available only until 10am Eastern time on Wednesday, December 3rd)!

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Winning Thanksgiving Recipes from Our No Meat Athlete Reader Contest

thanksgiving menu
For new vegetarians and vegans, Thanksgiving can be terrifying.

One of the most common questions you’ll hear — right up there with one about the big P — is “But what do you do for Thanksgiving?” I asked it, and I bet you did too.

It’s not nearly as maddening as “Where do you get your protein?”, but having eaten this way for a few years now, the Thanksgiving question misses the point, for me.

Warning: “We used to walk to school 5 miles in the snow barefoot, uphill both ways” old-man rant ahead.

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Leo Babauta on Habits, Simplicity, Running & Diet (Plus the New Zen Habits Book!)

leo

Today I’ve got new interview with author Leo Babauta, so the appropriate thing to do is to start by telling you all about his blog, Zen Habits.

But that would be dumb, because you already know about Zen Habits.

I’d like to think that’s because I’ve linked to it more often than to any other blog, and that I somehow manage to mention Leo in just about every podcast episode we make. But that’d be giving myself too much credit.

In truth, the real reason is that so many No Meat Athlete readers have come from Zen Habits — a massively popular blog that’s twice been named by Time Magazine as one of the best in the world. It was Leo who gave me my first big guest post opportunity, A Beginner’s Guide to Trail Running back in 2010, and whose support of NMA since then has been helpful beyond measure.

But Leo’s impact on me goes far beyond this.

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Can’t Keep Up? 7 Small Steps for Simplifying Your Life

water drop

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about personal development, but our most recent podcast episode about daily rituals reminded me that I left out a critical part.

That part? Simplicity. While the rest of the post was really about growing and becoming more, simplicity for me is about making room for this growth, by being happy with less.

You don’t need to be a minimalist to enjoy simplicity. All you need to do, really, is do it. Like everything else, start small and try to take daily action … then one day, you’ll look up and realize you’ve changed.

I’d love to call myself a minimalist. But if I’m honest, I can’t — one look at my office, with books, journals, NMA shirts, product samples, and to-do lists scattered about confirms this.

But even without going to the extreme, I’ve eliminated some gigantic distractions from my life over the past three or four years, and gained an appreciation for the simple over the complex. And it’s been transformative.

Not quite minimalist

Just a few of the things I purposely live without now: a smartphone, a microwave, cable TV, paper towels, a running watch, a coffee machine, and clothes in excess of 33 items per season. Oh yeah, and you might be aware that I don’t eat animal products, another minimalist choice, even though simplicity was never the aim of that one.

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A Photo-Update on our Amazing NMA Running Groups

It’s been two months since our running groups started, and still this project brings me more joy than anything else we’ve done at No Meat Athlete.

Though I had planned on starting small with the running groups — say, 5 or 6 of them across the U.S., in big, vegetarian-friendly cities — I realized pretty soon that a plan like that required actual patience. And since I clearly don’t have that, we went ahead and started 75 of them, any place where we had three or more people interested and someone who would lead. Not just across the U.S., but around the world.

Since then we’ve added a few more, even in places like Tokyo and Moscow: anyone who wants can start one.

Not all the 80+ groups are actually meeting and running yet, but I’d estimate that about half of them are. Some get double-digit turnouts, some get just two or three dedicated runners each week. But the NMA groups are happening, and as long as they keep happening, I believe that they’ll grow.

I’m writing this post to share some pictures from a few of our incredible groups who have posted them to their Facebook pages, so that you can share in the joy I get every time I see a bunch of people in carrot shirts, connecting over what makes us all alike. We’re pretty darn weird, and I’m so glad that people are having so much fun celebrating that.

Here goes nothin':

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The Moment When the Fear Dissolves

A few months ago I started a personal blog, inspired by the week I spent with author (and one of my heroes) Seth Godin. I was hoping to publish a new post for each of 30 straight days, but I failed at that, quite miserably.

But one post there was about fear, something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently. It’s something I’ve let control me at times in the past, but recently — really, right after the events that inspired this post — things have been different: I’m beginning to understand what people like Seth and Steven Pressfield mean when they talk about “dancing” with fear.

So today I want to share that post, from early August.

The most valuable part of my five days with Seth Godin last week wasn’t the chance to ask him specific questions and get his input on what I should do next.

It also wasn’t the vegan lunches he made each day or the magic tricks he performed or the stories he told (all of which were marvelous).

Instead, for me, it was his admonition that I and the other 14 people there stop living in fear.

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A Beginner’s Guide to Personal Development

I’ve mentioned a few times that I’m kind of a nerd for personal development, but I realized the other day that I’ve really never taken the time to explain it.

The name doesn’t exactly sell it well; I much prefer self-improvement. (Both are better than self-help, though.) I say “nerd” because there’s nothing cool about it … “trying” isn’t looked upon so favorably by the masses who determine what’s cool. But I’d argue that reading or listening to something motivational, inspiring, or educational every single day is without a doubt the most important daily practice in my life.

My nerddom is to the point that more than once (in the past year alone) I’ve bought out-of-print cassette tape programs from the 1980’s on ebay, and either listened to them on a boombox in my car (really) or converted them to MP3’s. Which, I’m told by some new friends, is lame because not only do people not listen to cassettes anymore, they also don’t use ebay anymore.

But although I like to think the themes I learn from these books and tapes underlie my posts — those of taking responsibility, dancing with fear, thinking big, persisting, engineering habits — I’ve never written explicitly about personal development here. So that’s what I’m doing today.

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