A New Method for Creating Changes that Last

When it comes to the best way to create a new habit, there’s a great schism in the personal development world.

One classic approach is massive action. You go all-in, all at once, and you hope that by sheer force, lots of willpower, and a huge initial surge of motivation, you’ll be able to make your change last.

The other way is the small steps method. Here, you begin with the smallest possible step in the right direction, so small that you can’t possibly put it off for later. Then you repeat it each day, gradually taking on just a little more, and eventually, your change becomes a habit.

The big question, of course, is “Which works better?”

Most people say it depends on the person. That some people change better when they take massive action, and that others need to take it slow.

But I’ve never quite been comfortable with that, because I see both types of people in me — and in just about anyone I’ve talked to about habit change, too.

And after years of messing around with the two approaches, I’ve come up with a method of change that uses both. And it works. In fact, when I look back at just about every significant change I’ve made successfully, I’ve used this method … even before I realized that’s what I was doing.

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The End of an Era for No Meat Athlete (and What’s Coming Next!)

Get ready … for the times, they are a changin’.

When I started No Meat Athlete, I didn’t have any hopes of changing anyone. I thought from the beginning that people would like to wear t-shirts to announce that they were “No Meat Athletes,” but that was the extent of my vision for this blog and brand.

And so it was easy to say, “I think our logo should be fun. How about a vegetable that’s doing a sport?”

I have the drawing skills of three year-old, but luckily, my sister Christine is pretty good. (See her blog, where she accompanies every post with a little doodle.)

So we started here:


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A Look at Our No Meat Athlete Virginia Beach Group


Just like Miami and our other big running group successes, Virginia Beach came as a huge surprise.

In an area that’s home to several military bases and training centers — which means a transient population and (I figured) not a lot of interest in plant-based diets — one of our most active, tightest-knit running groups emerged.

And from my first morning with the group, I understood why.

My First Experience with the “Energy Lab”

We got up early on a Saturday to meet at leader Andrea Denton’s house, where we piled five into a car and drove 45 minutes to a 100-mile Tour de Cure cycling event … not to race, but just to support three members of the group who were riding.

When we arrived, I was surprised to meet another four or five group members, also not riding, just out there to cheer on their friends from the group. We brought out a big sign they had made that says “No Meat Athlete Virginia Beach — Energy Lab” and set up a table with lots of plant-based fueling options that they had made the night before, and long before we saw our three riders, other riders came by to grab some food (homemade Glo Bars were a hit) and ask what No Meat Athlete and the Energy Lab were all about.

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17 Ways to Finally Make That Change

Make it happen!

1. Make the first step smaller than you ever have before. Then do this tiniest possible action each day for a week before you let yourself do more. Or …

2. Go all-in, all at once — but set an end-date, instead of facing “forever.” Make it a 7-day or 30-day challenge, and once you make it there, then decide if you want to keep going.

3. Make a bet with a friend.

4. Get a partner to make the change (the same change, or their own) with you.

5. Burn the boats. Make a commitment you can’t go back on — an action that’s easy to take now, but that makes it very hard for you to go back on in the future.

6. Instead of starting now, like you always do, set a start date for the change. This way, you teach your brain that it’s important. Use the time until then to plan.

7. Start a blog or podcast about your change, and share it with everyone you know. Instant accountability.

8. Increase the pain, fear, and guilt you associate with the way things are — instead of doing what most people do, which is everything they can to ignore or soften the pain.

9. Tell the handful of people in the world whose respect you most value about the change you’re making, and set up a system where you’ll report to them every day or week about your progress.

10. Do the Jerry Seinfeld technique: Post a calendar in a visible place, and draw a big, red X through every day when you successfully do your new habit. Get a streak going that you don’t want to break.

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The Real Value of Commitment (and a New One I’m Making to You)

Pins on calendar

There used to be a quote on a Starbucks cup that started out, “The irony of commitment is that it’s deeply liberating.”

I always liked it and knew that somehow I could relate it to my running, but I didn’t quite understand how. Finally, I do.

This quote has a sister idea, which says that with constraints — take an artist’s committing to napkin-art, for example — comes the freedom to create. In this case, freedom from the tyranny of the blank white page.

Ever since I finished my 100-miler in 2013, I’ve been an aimless runner. It’s been pretty nice: I’ve loved the freedom to run when only I want to, unburdened by a training plan to specify mileage or pace. And I’ve done a decent job staying consistent.

But recently I signed up for my first race since then: the Richmond Marathon, mid-November, six months from now. I chose a training plan (or rather, I stitched together two of them), and I started training.

Since then, I’ve had to run what the plan says, when the plan says.

It was a hard transition at first. I mean, come on, run when I don’t feel like it?

But now, four weeks in, I fully appreciate the value of commitment to a plan. It’s not just that it ramps you up to the race distance. It’s that it forces you to stretch.

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Running on Plants in the Magic City: An Up-close Look at No Meat Athlete Miami

green bar

Members of the fabulous No Meat Athlete Miami group

When last fall we kicked off the No Meat Athlete running groups project, with 75 groups around the U.S. and world, I thought I knew pretty well which groups would thrive and which would have an uphill battle from the beginning.

Surely, I thought, the big, vegan-friendly cities that we all think of as such would provide the most fertile grounds for our running carrots to take root.

Turns out, I was completely wrong.

Eight months after starting, the running groups project has been a huge success, and for me personally, as fulfilling as anything I’ve done with No Meat Athlete. But in a million years I’d never have guessed who our most active groups would turn out to be.

In no particular order: Miami, Virginia Beach, Oklahoma City, and Sydney (that’s right, Australia!).

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3 Habits to Turn to When You’re Just Not Yourself

If you’re anything like me, you go through inexplicable rough periods now and then, those times when you’re just not feeling it. Not quite depression … just a funk.

You know what I mean: Things don’t excite you the way they usually do. You wake up at night wondering if you’re doing what you should be with your life. And those demons you thought you had licked start to inch their miserable way back into your life.

And during these times — whether as a consequence or the cause — you tend to do fewer of your good habits, and more of your bad ones.

So how do you break out of the funk?

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No Easy Task: How to Balance Food, Fitness, and the Rest of Your Life

The prompt for this final post in my partnership series with Garmin and Whole Foods asks how to balance food, fitness, and life.

More than with any other prompt, I feel qualified to write this one: one of the things I believe I’ve done best as an adult is to follow an (arguably) extreme diet and chase down (less arguably) extreme fitness goals, and do both in a way that feels … well, normal. And for the past four years, my wife and I have made this lifestyle work with young kids.

But while living it is one thing, explaining it is another. That’s kind of what this whole blog is about, what close to 700 posts and a book are here for.

I’ve thought hard about how to boil down the essentials of balancing healthy habits with the rest of your life into a tidy bullet list to make it seem oh-so-easy. And I’ve come to the conclusion that that’s impossible.

None of it is easy; it’s a choice you make — and sometimes a difficult one. What people chalk up to “balance” in someone else who makes it look easy might look more like obsession when you view it from the inside, on a day-to-day level.

So instead of an “easy ways” bullet list, I’m going to list three things that are hard to do. But if you do them, I think you’ll all most certainly be able to balance fitness and healthy food and the rest of your life.

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