As the holidays approach, many people are starting to think about their New Year’s resolutions. But, what motivates people to make these changes, and what factors enable people to sustain them? The Nutrition & Health Foundation, an organization that aims to inspire a healthier society in Ireland, conducted over 600 in-depth interviews that help answer those questions. Their report, entitled “Motivational Aspects of Behavioural Change,” presents findings that can inform vegan outreach strategies. Specifically, their study aimed to address:
- What motivated people to make changes to their lifestyle habits?
- What factors contributed to their success?
- What prevented people from implementing desired changes to their lifestyle?
Here are some of their findings to consider:
- Women tend to be motivated by an internal desire to improve their appearance, lose weight, and/or improve their health.
- Men tend to be motivated by external influences such as advice from doctors and other health care professionals.
- The term diet is considered a “restrictive term” and a barrier to change as it doesn’t showcase the positive aspects of healthy food choices.
- Advice from family and friends is not a significant factor in motivating people to change. However, the support of family and friends is vital to help people sustain lifestyle changes.
- Individuals who attempt dietary changes on their own are less likely to sustain the change. Families that attempt a change together are more likely to be successful.
While it’s important to note that this research does not take into account how ethics and values impact motivation and behavior change–key reasons that many people choose to be vegan–the findings still offer some insight into how we can be more effective in our activism.
Consider the Impact of Words: Language is key and the word “diet” does not inspire. When speaking with people, focus on positive, life-affirming terms such as “abundant vegan food choices,” “compassionate living,” “animal-friendly cuisine,” etc.
Provide, Don’t Push: Support friends, family, and aspiring vegans once they’ve committed to change, but avoid trying to force them to change as that can backfire. If you know of someone who resolves to go vegan in 2013, here are some ways you can offer positive support:
- For a holiday gift, showcase the wonders of delicious vegan cuisine. Bake some brownies or cookies, or veganize their favorite food and include the recipe. If the person likes to cook, give him or her a vegan cookbook. Or, consider a gift certificate to a nearby vegan restaurant.
- Another gift idea is to give the person a gift certificate to a local supermarket so s/he can stock up on vegan products. As part of the gift, you can offer your time by taking him or her on a supermarket tour to show the best tips and strategies for shopping vegan.
- Help the person veganize a favorite recipe for their holiday meal.
- Offer yourself as a resource or mentor to discuss challenges and provide resources.
- If the person lives with other family members, empower him or her to engage the whole family in exploring new foods together. If he or she is the primary cook in the house, suggest that vegan meals be prepared for everyone. If not, encourage the person to get involved in cooking and offer to prepare vegan meals for the whole family to enjoy. In addition, you can encourage the person to do the food shopping and replace non-vegan products with vegan versions for everyone in the house to try.
- Check in periodically by phone, email, or in person.
- Watch a vegan film together and discuss it as this can provide inspiration.
- Invite the person to vegan events, restaurant outings, etc.
Know Your Audience: Appeal to women’s internal motivators by showcasing the benefits of vegan food choices in regards to potential weight loss and disease prevention. If you have experienced these benefits yourself, share them with other women. Since men tend to be moved by healthcare professionals, try to tap into these individuals at your outreach events. Invite a vegan doctor or registered dietitian to give a short presentation or answer questions after a film screening. Health professionals among your volunteer team are great assets at outreach tables and food sampling events as they can lend additional credibility to the benefits of vegan living.
During the holidays, the message of peace and joy is promoted on cards, on television commercials, and in songs. Yet throughout the entire year, vegan activists are connecting people to the message of peace for all living beings and showing them that going vegan is the most powerful way to create real change. As we learn to enhance outreach strategies and be mindful of our approach, we can inspire far more people to choose a lifestyle of compassion.
We invite you to read the full research report from the Nutrition & Health Foundation for more information on motivation triggers and barriers.