When I was a teenager I lived off Cool Ranch Doritos, Twizzlers, and grape soda, and made my fair share of bad life choices. In my late 20s I started to make some changes towards being a healthier, more balanced person. As I saw the results of these changes I became motivated to do more. In my early 30s I made the jump to full-on veganism. This change was inspired by both my reading of The China Study, which discussed the numerous long-term health benefits of a vegan diet, and my desire to stay as lean and strong as possible for motorcycle racing. In the years since, I have noticed an astounding change in my overall health, energy, outlook, and the way I take care of myself in general. Many people ask me about my plant-based diet and state that it must take a lot of willpower to resist the temptation of unhealthy food. The truth is that after enough time passed, it stopped taking any effort at all. I explain this phenomenon by something that I call the “Take Care of Yourself" Pyramid.
The idea is this: Whatever side of the pyramid you are on, the path of least resistance is to continue rolling down that incline. To get to the other side, you need roll uphill (do work) first. If you drink a lot of alcohol, eat poorly, and smoke, it’s easier to keep doing those things than to stop. This is why it typically takes something major (such as a health scare) to motivate a change. You have developed the habit, it feels natural, and this lifestyle now has momentum. Changing is hard because you have to “roll uphill.”
But here’s the good news: the same is true for the “healthy” side of the pyramid! If you develop a habit of healthy behavior, this lifestyle will also have momentum. Being healthy will then be easier than being unhealthy! When you’re on the healthy side of the pyramid, rolling downhill is good, because it brings you farther to the healthy side of things. Once you’re rolling down the healthy side, there are few motivators that will cause you to do the “work” required to get back over to the unhealthy side. It’s not that such motivators don’t exist, but they certainly seem to be less effective than the analogous motivators from the unhealthy side (heart attack, stroke, high cholesterol, etc.).
The pyramid illustrates another important concept; you need to change enough so you start rolling the other way if you want it to stop feeling like work. If you cut down from a pack of cigarettes a day to half a pack, you will undoubtedly be making a positive change, but you may have only rolled part way up the incline. It will take you constant “work” to stay higher up the incline than you were before, so you’ll always want to go back to that full pack and you’ll always feel like you’re sacrificing something. If you quit entirely and start to see the benefits of not smoking on your health, not many motivators will have the power to make you go back.
A final thought: The farther you go down one side of the incline, the more work you have to do to change it. This works against you on the “unhealthy” side, and for you (assuming that you want to be healthier) on the healthy side. The healthier you become, the easier it will be to stay that way!
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