This article follows “10 Routines, Practices and Habits that changed my life (1)”
4) Becoming Vegetarian/Vegan
I was studying in Singapore for a semester. Some of my friends were British Hindus, and one week per year, they were to be fully vegetarian. I loved to experiment with new things and habits, so as a challenge to myself, I decided to not eat any meat for a whole week. That seemed like a lot for me, as I was eating meat twice a day (“to have enough protein”).
One day, we went out with other international students, for a “prawning night”. We were fishing for prawns, in an artificial pond in the heart of Singapore.
I caught several prawns. I gave a few to friends, and released others, since I would not be eating them anyways. I even caught a King Prawn, which is said to be rare. I released him too.
Afterwards, my friends were shoving a wooden stick into the live prawns, and roasting them on the barbecue. I had none of it.
At the end of the week, I felt much happier and lighter in my body. I really felt good, and from that experience, I decided to have one meal per week where I would eat no meat. That was already a big step for me. I loved that meal, and increased to two and then three. I started to read books about Buddhism, such as Buddhism for the Dummies, and the book Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. These books opened my eyes.
When I went to the supermarket, I no longer felt attracted to buying meat. I was vegetarian at home, but omnivore outside. I would however allow myself to eat meat if I was travelling to another country, and to taste new foods.
Soon, I had no appetite for meat and even felt disgust at the idea of eating animals anymore. I was a happy vegetarian.
I pushed the experiment further, when I read Brendan Brazier’s Thrive Foods. I loved that his vegan recipes that were protein and nutrient rich, and that he wasn’t just a random hippie but an accomplished professional triathlete explaining all the nutritional aspects at a sophisticated level (that is where I learned about alkaloid forming foods, nutrient to weight ratio, …). It was a whole new way about thinking about nutrition.
I noticed the shift when I was in Brazil for a negotiation program. We were at a Churrascaria with friends/fellow negotiators. In that restaurant, it was an unlimited supply of meats. I asked just for a small portion of each meat, to sample and taste. I ate a chicken heart, a piece of beef, and others. I had the thought:
“It tastes good, but I don’t need to eat that anymore.”
I feasted on the vegetable buffet instead.
5) Going alcohol-free
I come from a background where alcohol is part of the Culture. Growing up in France, where people drink wine and beer, alcohol seems like it is part of life. It could be hard to conceive to give it up.
Alcohol consumption, though, is decreasing in some countries especially among young generations. In France for example, (ranked #4 worldwide in alcohol consumption), the consumption between 1960 and 2018 has been divided by 3.5, decreasing from an average 200 litres consumed per year per person to 80 litres (as cited in Brouillard, 2020, unpublished).
I used to drink very moderately, and when I entered business school, I was among those who didn’t party, and drank very little. I didn’t like beer. It wasn’t until my last year that I partied like an animal and got drunk to the point of feeling sick and doing stupid things. When I graduated, I drank less and less. I would challenge myself to go out in bars, and have as much fun as I could without drinking. I would chat up to girls and hang out with friends, to overcome my social anxiety, but I did it sober most of the times.
I don’t quite remember exactly what made me shift to becoming completely alcohol-free.
I just remember that the feeling of a single sip of alcoholic beverage didn’t sit well with my meditation in the morning. I would feel hazy, clumsy, and I didn’t like it. So I stopped.
Now and then, there have been occasions where I had a glass of wine. I had a shot of Chinese rice-wine for the wedding of one of my best friends. But overall, my life is more fulfilled without alcohol.
If you need alcohol to “loosen up”, learn to loosen up without !
If you enjoy the wine for the sake of it (pun unintended): enjoy it !
6) Total news detox
Back in business school, everybody was hooked on the news. You needed to be up to date to all the latest information in the business and political world. That was our reality. My dad had offered me great advice: “What if you made the BBC website your homepage so that when you open your web browser, you instantly know what is happening in the world?”
I applied that advice, and for some years it was my default. We would get free newspapers (the media know that students will turn into avid readers and consumers later in their careers), and today, the business school is equipped with hyper-large screens that display the latest news.
I don’t remember how or why I stopped. At first, there was a step where I progressively stopped watching TV, and the evening news. It has been at least a decade or more since I haven’t watched the news. I recall a few exceptions such as watching the news during the terrorist attacks in France in 2015. I remember how captivated I was, and how safe I felt in my girlfriend’s apartment with her. Like a docile sheep afraid of the big wolf outside.
The funniest part was when I was working as a negotiation and conflict resolution trainer delivering trainings in North and West Africa. I had no clue what was happening in the world ! One day I asked whether we would be doing our next mission in Algeria, and my boss told me: “Well, after the terrorist attack that just happened, I don’t think so.”
I was laughing from the inside. I think that this naiveté born from ignorance has been a great asset. Ignorance was bliss indeed.
One day, I was leading a training for managers in Beirut, Lebanon. As I was speaking, I stopped in the middle of a sentence as I noticed that my audience was distracted and not paying attention anymore. I asked them:
“Is everything OK?”
“Have you not heard?”
“No, what is going on?”
“There were explosions.”
We took a break so they could check in with their loved ones. That was during the bombings next to the U.S. Embassy and a hotel in Beirut.
That experience showed me that you can be safe even though you seem close to the danger.
Other experiences showed me that Paris was as dangerous a city (or even more dangerous) than Tehran, Erbil or the favelas in Rio.
The point of reducing or cutting off completely from the fear-based news is to shut off the noise. I don’t recall a single time watching TV news where I felt better after that experience. The only positive point I see is the sobering effect news has on you: “So many people are suffering, my situation is not that bad.”
That is true, but I think that others can benefit from our joy much more if we are not living in a place of fear.
During the terrorist attacks in France, I heard that US media portrayed the situation like it was our second French Revolution. The truth was that most people were totally fine in France. There is nothing wrong in staying informed about what is happening in the world, but thinking that this is “reality” is where we can get it wrong. That is a small fraction of reality, and you get to choose how much you want to amplify the bad news and the fear. More on the research on psychological effects on this article by Metamora Films.
If you’d like to learn more, check out part 3 !