Stop Waiting for a Guarantee

Every few weeks, I get a message on Twitter or other social media like this one:

@NoMeatAthlete Curious about a plant-based diet, but worried about how it will affect my recovery from long rides. Thoughts?

Yes, I have some thoughts. And they don’t fit into 140 characters. Here goes.

Sometimes, you just need to try things. Without a guarantee that they’ll work. 

I’d actually be more sympathetic if you were worried about dropping dead on the spot from a lack of protein. Sudden death isn’t reversible and isn’t gradual, so you’d be right to want to confirm that it’s not a risk before diving in.

But feeling a little sluggish when you get on the bike? Noticing, after a month maybe, that your times are dropping off? Unless you’re a pro athlete, none of this is cataclysmic.

I’m not saying that will or won’t happen. Nobody can say that for sure. A lot of athletes choose this diet precisely because of what it does for their recovery … but it’s totally possible that for whatever reason, it just won’t work out for you.

And what then?

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Is This What’s Missing from Your Healthy Lifestyle?

If you’re like me, you’re always looking to improve … and maybe a little too much.

Whether it’s your diet, your mindset, your fitness, or your work, you know you can do better. And even if “be better” is illusory as a goal, the growth that occurs as you chase it is what life is all about, isn’t it?

But I’ve come to realize that you reach a point where the harder you try to do better and be healthier, the more you sabotage your own efforts.

A lesson learned

I’ve been traveling this month, and it’ll still be a few more weeks before I get home. From the 4th of July at the beach, to a vegan Italy tour, to a friend’s wedding in Cape Cod, it’s been a whirlwind of a trip.

And in the process, my habits have gone to hell.

Running has been spotty at best. I’ve eaten far more white flour and oil than usual, and far fewer salads and smoothies. Not once have I found a quiet 30 minutes for meditation or reading. And the amount of wine I drank in Italy … well, you get the point.

And yet I feel healthier. Happier. More fulfilled than ever.

In a word, content.

So what gives?

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If You Want to Stay on the Path, Build a Wall Around It

One day last week, I planned to run fairly early the next morning, and I set my alarm when I went to bed.

But a loud thunderstorm and hard rain woke me up that night, and I couldn’t get back to sleep for several hours.

When I finally did fall asleep again, it seemed like only a matter of minutes until my alarm went off, telling me it was time to get up and run.

I really didn’t feel like running. Not only was I tired from lack of sleep, but all the rain meant the trail would be muddy. On top of that, it was a dreary sort of morning, a far cry from the kind that inspires you to jump out of bed and get outside.

There was every reason for me not to run, and in situations like this, “later” offers an easy way out that I usually take. Sometimes later actually happens; often it doesn’t.

But on this particular morning, to hit snooze and skip the run didn’t even cross my mind. It wasn’t an option.

Despite feeling terrible, I dutifully got out of bed, put my shoes and shorts on, and ran.

Why was it so simple this time? Why not the back-and-forth conversation in my head that ultimately ends in procrastination? Where did this warrior-like discipline come from?

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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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