How to create change one behavior at a time.

How to Make Behavior Change Infectious

“Take a long walk off a short pier.”

That’s exactly what I would’ve told you five years ago if you’d told me I’d eventually become a vegan. But that’s what happened — and I took several friends and family members with me.

So how did I go from a burger-loving girl with a penchant for fried chicken and ice cream sundaes to a strict vegan, quitting cold turkey overnight? And what does it mean for other behavior change efforts?

When I embarked on my journey to veganism, it was something that just seemed to happen with a bit of luck and determination. But after spending a summer working as a marketing assistant for Marketing for Change, I can see the behavioral determinants that were at play –– and how they can be applied to create infectious behavior change..

Step 1: The hook.

About two and a half years back I found myself in a Facebook blackhole (you can relate, I’m sure) and I came across a video of an American factory farm.

I’ll spare you the details, but what I saw was very sad and disturbing to me. This video made use of the emotion determinant — hoping to appeal to the emotions of people like me. And it worked.  

This urged me to reconsider my personal self-standards. I considered myself to be an animal lover, but I wondered how could I continue labeling myself as such now that I knew how the animals I ate were treated before they reached my plate. It forced me to think about the treatment and dignity of all animals, and what my role was in that process.

Step 2: Follow with the facts.

In so many behavior change campaigns, the impulse is to lead with information. The thought is, if only people knew X [the health risks of heavy drinking, the pollution caused by fertilizer runoff, the shameful practices of factory farms] they would do Y [give up drinking, stop fertilizing, install rain barrels, or go vegan]. But the truth is, the information is only interesting after someone has been emotionally hooked.

After I saw that video of a factory farm, I looked up any piece of information I could find on this topic. I wanted to make sure this was really happening. After reading about the meat and dairy industry’s common practices, as well as reading about the many health benefits a plant-based diet offers, the decision was simple.

No more meat, dairy or any other animal products — at all.

Step 3: Equip your evangelists.

Once I decided to become vegan, this didn’t just apply for my food. I also made changes in my makeup, the clothes I wear, hygiene products I use, cleaning supplies, etc., as many companies unfortunately engage in animal testing.

And then I became an evangelist for the cause. I worked to get my parents to go vegan and my friends to at least try veganism or vegetarianism.

My friends saw my lifestyle and were interested in the health benefits I talked about (I got rid of my cholestrol issues and cystic acne) and the other health benefits that have been making their rounds on social media and Netflix. Then they wanted to make the switch, or at least attempt to.

The were hoping to reap the rewards of eating clean, such as losing weight in a healthy way and having more energy, and avoid the penalties of the Standard American Diet, such as heart disease, diabetes and high cholesterol.

In the end, in our circle, veganism became our social norm; we all engaged in the same behavior: cutting out animal products. Positive peer pressure helps keep us on track. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have some awesome alternatives (AKA non-dairy Ben and Jerry’s, vegan burgers and non-dairy cheesecake, among others) to lower the “cost” (how hard it is to do) of sticking to a plant-based diet.

Now that I know how to consciously apply the behavioral determinants to make veganism fun, easy and popular, I can’t wait to “infect” even more people with enthusiasm for a plant-based diet.

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