When I read The China Study in December 2004, I immediately launched a whole food plant-based Mission the Save the World.
I started with my own family.
Instead of organic chocolate-flavored yogurt and homemade mac and cheese, I imagined them consuming the lethal poisons found only in the corpses of pro-democracy Russian journalists.
I practically knocked the stuff out of their hands.
I threw out pretty much everything in the pantry.
I made them feel guilty.
I even made the cake for my son's 6th birthday party out of the stuff that's left over from juicing carrots. (I still get dirty looks about what they now call my “Compost Cake.”
And they were so grateful, and totally appreciated all my efforts and saw them as pure and unselfish expressions of my deep love for them.
You can imagine the damage I caused; in the family structure, in my relationship with my kids and wife, in my kids' relationship with food.
I was a one-man case study in how NOT to win friends and influence people.
And just in case you think I'm overstating the case, here's a link to an article my daughter wrote in 2014 for The Vegan Woman magazine.
And I quote:
“My dad was the first person in my family to discover the idea of eating plant-based. He buried himself in research about the benefits and impact of plant-based living, and armed with data, research and figures, he instantly went on a campaign against the rest of the family in an attempt to make us all transition with him. This led to him quickly turning from loving dad into tyrannical dictator.”
16 years later, it's easy to look back and see all my mistakes, and the assumptions, mindsets, and skillsets that gave birth to those mistakes.
Especially because I see the same mistakes rampant in the plant-based world. Among activists, advocates, educators, marketers, promoters, clinicians, researchers, bloggers, chefs, cookbook authors, and coaches.
- We assume that facts change minds.
- We assume that we know more about what's best for another person than they do.
- We assume that people want us to give them advice.
- We assume that when people know better, they'll do better.
- We assume that lifestyle change is a matter of making better decisions.
[Insert sound of game-show buzzer here. Make it extra loud.]
Most people in the world act based on these assumptions. If you don't believe me, check out Facebook or Instagram or YouTube comments. Watch videos in which an expert on one side “destroys” or “owns” some clown of a pseudo-expert on the other side.
And notice how many people are impressed by those arguments that call their own beliefs into question. Are thankful for the corrections. Are eager to adopt a new way of eating or being.
We fail to change other people for the better because we act based on our intuitions, which are rooted in the list of assumptions you just read. Which are all wrong.
So in order to become skilled at actually helping people change their minds, and more importantly, their actions, we have to learn how to inhibit our “natural” ways of responding and come from a totally different place.
A very counter-intuitive place.
The Coaching Mindset
What I'm talking about, essentially, is a coaching mindset.
By which I mean, the following set of assumptions:
- the person I'm speaking to has very good reasons (within their worldview) for the way they're currently acting
- the person I'm speaking to will defend their current behaviors and opinions pretty much to the death when challenged
- the person I'm speaking to is currently doing the very best they can, under their current circumstances and given their current resources
- the person I'm speaking to will happily change if they think it will benefit from that change AND they believe it was their idea
- once the person I'm speaking to is open to change, they will discover the facts that support that change without my help
So far, so good.
If you practice operating from this set of assumptions, I can pretty much promise you two things:
- You will have a much higher hit rate of getting people to change
- You will be much less of an asshole than I was with my family back in 2004
For lay people, the coaching mindset is all they need to become effective advocates for plant-based living, or any other worthy movement or ideology.
If you're a health and wellness professional, though, the mindset just gets you to the starting line. Once you're there, and once people give you implicit or explicit permission to talk about food and health (and/or ethics and environmental issues) with them, you need skills.
What are the skills of an effective coach?
I've seen a lot of vegan coach training, and it's very heavy on topics like shopping, pantry management, batch cooking, small appliance appreciation, recipes, eating out, and how to stop worrying about protein.
That's fine, but it's not coaching.
- Coaching is what happens when your client knows what to do, and still isn't doing it. Or doing it consistently. Or reliably.
- Coaching is the methodology you wield when your client has been eating clean for three months, and then admits that they went to a socially distanced picnic and ate an entire plate of cheese curls and fried lobster pickins, and has been bingeing ever since.
- Coaching is how you redirect your client from helplessness to agency when they proudly brag that they've stopped going to the supermarket so they can avoid the cookie aisle, and send their spouse to shop instead.
- Coaching is how you get a client who keeps “falling off the wagon” to adopt a saner, more sustainable approach to behavior change.
- Coaching is what occurs when your client “gives up” their favorite comfort foods and discovers an inner world of hurt and self-loathing that they've been eating to avoid their entire lives, and doesn't know how to get out of that dilemma.
And most of all, coaching is what you do when your client triggers your own fears, anxieties, insecurities, and judgments and threatens to tip you back into acting and speaking from those old disempowering assumptions.
Vegan shopping, cooking, and eating are like teaching someone how to read musical notes. Getting those skills into their lives is like teaching them how to play the instrument.
And just as your clients have to practice, make mistakes, learn from feedback, try again, and repeat that cycle over and over in order to pick out a pleasant tune, you as a coach have to practice facilitating their growth through their efforts and their mistakes.
It's not easy.
And from my perspective, the plant-based movement will grow or fall based on our skill at helping others change.
Lifestyle medicine will rise to the forefront of evidence-based care or remain a tiny niche branch of healthcare based on our skill at getting patients to adopt and maintain healthy lifestyles.
And the movement will grow on the ground, or fizzle and be replaced by the next dietary fad, based on our ability to entice, encourage, and empower others to take one step at a time on the path of plant-based health.
Your Next Step, If You Want These Skills
If you'd like to become a plant-based health coach, or are a lifestyle medicine professional frustrated by your patients' inability to “stick with it,” or are a plant-based enthusiast who wants to be more effective at spreading not just the word but the practice of healthy veganism, I invite you to check out the upcoming cohort of the WellStart Coach Training Academy.
It's not another “Show people how to be vegan” course. Instead, it's an evidence-based approach to behavior change, which you can apply to eating, to exercise, to sleep hygiene, heck, to just about anything.
You'll discover and master a simple, reliable process for helping people achieve traction on their most important goals.
You'll learn how to help clients navigate their most challenging moments, when the urge to binge feels overwhelming.
You'll find out how to enlist clients' neurology to manage their stress, rather than relying on cognitive approaches that seldom work in the heat of the stressful moment.
You'll practice powerful techniques of accountability and progress from the world of business coaching, where results rule and untested theories wither and die.
And you'll do so in a supportive plant-based community, free from the keto and paleo and carnivore proponents who are filling the ranks of so many health coaching programs.
If you're interested, and you'd like to find out more, check out WellStartCoach.com. Read the description, watch the videos, check out the testimonials, and if you'd like to move forward, sign up for an enrollment interview with me, where together we'll figure out if the program is a good fit for you and your goals. The program starts on October 5, 2020, and runs until the middle of January, 2021.
If you take the course and decide that it wasn't for you, you can request a full refund at any point during the course. (If you ain't happy, I don't want your money.)
If you can think of someone else who might benefit from this program, I'd appreciate it very much if you could forward this blog post to them, along with a short note introducing me and what made you think of them.
Warmly and gratefully
Become a Health Coach
New cohort beginning Fall 2021. Live classes will be 10-11:30am US Eastern Time on Wednesday, so this is a Europe- and Africa-friendly class. Also for folks in the US, Canada, and Central/South America who have flexible mornings.
Find out more and apply here: WellStartCoach.com.
New Audiobook: Use the Weight to Lose the Weight
Listen to Josh LaJaunie and me narrate our latest audiobook, about how to start moving when you're obese.
It's $10, and Josh and I split it evenly 🙂
This podcast is not underwritten by advertising, so I can experience complete editorial autonomy without worrying about pissing off the person paying the bills. Instead, I pay the bills, with your help. It's free for those who can't afford to pay, and supported by those who can. You can contribute to the growth and improvement of the podcast by . Click the “Support on Patreon” or “Donate” buttons on the right to help out.
The Plant Yourself Podcast theme music, “Dance of Peace (Sabali Don),” is generously provided by Will Ridenour, a kora player from North Carolina who has trained with top Senegalese musicians.
It can be found on his first CD, titled Will Ridenour.
You can learn about Will, listen to more tracks, and buy music on his website, WillRidenour.com.
Thanks to Plant Yourself podcast patrons – Kim Harrison – Lynn McLellan – Brittany Porter – Dominic Marro – Barbara Whitney – Tammy Black – Amy Good – Amanda Hatherly – Mary Jane Wheeler – Ellen Kennelly – Melissa Cobb – Rachel Behrens – Tina Scharf – Tina Ahern – Jen Vilkinofsky – David Byczek – Michele X – Elspeth Feldman – Leah Stolar – Allan Kristensen – Colleen Peck – Michele Landry – Jozina – Sara Durkacs – Kelly Cameron – Janet Selby – Claire Adams – Tom Fronczak – Jeannette Benham – Gila Lacerte – David Donohue – Blair Seibert – Doron Avizov – Gio and Carolyn Argentati – Jodi Friesner – Mischa Rosen – Michael Worobiec – AvIvA Lael – Alicia Lemus – Val Linnemann – Nick Harper – Bandana Chawla – Molly Levine – The Inscrutable Harry R – Susan Laverty the Panda Vegan – Craig Covic – Adam Scharf – Karen Bury – Heather Morgan – Nigel Davies – Marian Blum – Teresa Kopel – Julian Watkins – Brid O'Connell – Shannon Herschman – Linda Ayotte – Holm Hedegaard – Isa Tousignant – Connie Haneline – Erin Greer – Alicia Davis – Heather O'Connor – Carollynne Jensen – Sheri Orlekoski of Plant Powered for Health – Karen Smith – Scott Mirani – Karen and Joe Crabtree – Kirby Burton – Theresa Carrell – Kevin Macaulay – Elizabeth Rothschild – Ann Jesse – Sheryl Dwyer – Jenny Hazelton – Peter W Evans – Dennis Bird – Darby Kelly – Lori Fanney – Linnea Lundquist – Emily Iaconelli – Levi Wallach – Rosamonde McAtee – Dan Pokorney – Stephen Leinin – Patty DeMartino – Mike and Donna Kartz – Deanne Bishop – Bilberry Elf – Marjorie Lewis – Tricia Adams – Nancy Sheldon – Lindsey Bashore – Gunn Marit Hagen – Tracey Gulledge – Lara Hedin – Meg from Mamasezz – Stacey Stokes – Ben Savage – Michael K – David Hughes -Coni Rodgers – Claire England – Sally Robertson – Parham Ganchi – Amy Dailey – Brian Tourville – Mark Jeffrey Johnson – Josie Dempsey – Caryn Schmitt – Pamela Hayden – Emily Perryman – Allison Corbett – Richard Stone – Lauren Vaught of Edible Musings – Erin Hastey – Sean Owens – Sagar Naik – Erika Piedra – Danielle Roberts – Michael Leuchten – Sarah Johnson – Katharine Floyd – Meryl Fury – for your generous support of the podcast.
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