Change Is Hard

Most people that know me will not be surprised that reading business books was never high on my agenda!  Jack Welch of GE fame was almost as unknown to me as “Jack Welsh” of Llanfoist notoriety…  Only kidding the latter doesn’t exist as far as I know!

However there was one such book called “Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard” by Chip & Dan Heath, used extensively by senior executives of my last employer before my retirement, which introduced metaphors like the “rider and the elephant” which rung true to my rather limited mind and it goes something like this…


rider elephant

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt in his book, “The Happiness Hypothesis” developed a mental model, stemming from behavioural psychology, where he argued that humans have two sides to their psyche.

According to this model, the rider is rational and can plan ahead, while the elephant is irrational and driven by emotion and instinct.  To successfully navigate effective change you have to find the balance between the two and get the elephant and the rider moving together as one.

“Switch” argued a third aspect to this model, that success requires an understanding of the direction, situation and environment, or the path the elephant/rider combo is following.

“Changes often fail because the Rider simply can’t keep the Elephant on the road long enough to reach the destination.  The Elephant’s hunger for instant gratification is the opposite of the Rider’s strength, which is the ability to think long-term, to plan, to think beyond the moment (all those things that your pet can’t do.) …

To make progress toward a goal, whether it’s noble or crass, requires the energy and drive of the Elephant.  And this strength is the mirror image of the Rider’s great weakness: spinning his wheels.  The Rider tends to overanalyze and over think things. …

A reluctant Elephant and a wheel-spinning Rider can both ensure nothing changes.  But when Elephants and Riders move together, change can come easily.”

They then introduce three surprises which can be helpful in communicating the need for change:

  1. What looks like resistance is often lack of clarity.  Don’t say eat healthier.  Say eat more dark leafy greens.
  2. What looks like laziness is often exhaustion.  Change is hard…acknowledge it.
  3. What looks like a people problem is often a situational problem.  Make sure to think about their environment and support system.

Well, having now retired from the corporate world for a few years now, leading successful change management of others is a thing of the past for me now but it’s still relevant to successfully changing my own behaviour!

So, always assuming you’ve read this far and haven’t already stated dozing, nodding off or clicked elsewhere, I now turn from theory to practice!

My daughter Emma has recently adopted a vegan diet for three main reasons.  The first is ethical and the way we treat other sentiment beings, who just happen not to be human, the second is a result of caring for the environment and lastly desiring to improve her own health.

Now I too have been on a vegetarian journey, with only a couple of hiccups over Christmas week (organic turkey and crumbed ham) since writing my Eating Fewer Animals post three months ago.  This was the result of me reading a book of the same name that Emma lent me…

Now this morning Debbie and I were blissfully watching another Peter Davidson “Doctor Who” DVD – Caves of the Androzani for those readers of a curious nature – when Emma asked if we could watch together on Netflix a documentary called “What the Health” which I imagine subsequently is a take on the words “What the Hell”.

Although not balanced in terms of the arguments for and against changing one’s diet to plant based only, it does make the case quite powerfully for at least considering it with obesity, diabetes, cancer and other diseases being so prevalent in today’s “advanced” society.

Now my reasons for becoming vegetarian were largely the same as my daughter’s for turning vegan, however I put personal health above the environment.  This is due to me being a rather shallow, selfish 58 year old and sadly less imbued with what’s right and wrong vs. being selfish.  That said, my main driver was the same as Emma, namely a result of my decision to no longer blank out in my consciousness what goes on in factory farming.

I think that has been reinforced by “adopting” Molly, our rescue golden retriever, who really has brought a huge amount of happiness into our family.  How the people involved in puppy farms in Ireland can live with the reality of what they put these dogs through is beyond me ,but what it’s made me realise is that if we as consumers refused to “buy” dogs from this evil supply chain and only took on rescue animals, we could collectively very soon stop this evil trade.

Now living in rural Monmouthshire we are surrounded by farms and moorland filled with cattle, sheep and the occasional pig farm, quite unlike my Egham based experience where the closest I got to these beings was shrink wrapped in supermarket packs.  What I’ve realised walking Molly and Hamish through the countryside with Debbie is how alive, curious and often friendly (and often scared) these farm animals are to our transient presence.

This eased my decision to become vegetarian considerably and I have to say it’s remarkable how easy it’s been given the variety products easily available in all the local supermarkets.  I just haven’t missed meat to the extent where I would ever revert back to my previous eating habits.

Becoming vegetarian though seems a long way at first sight to going vegan and doing without dairy in the forms of cow’s milk, cheese and eggs.

This is where the “What the Health” show kicked in and reminded me about the consequences to male born calves and chickens of the milk and egg industry.  Of course I’ve known about the culling of such new born males, but recessed it to the outer corners of my memory, the same of course with the separation of new born female calves and chicks from their mothers.

When you’re busy earning a living 24×7 it’s easy to shut this out of your mind, less so when you’re retired and you have time to think wider and be in the position to make rational decisions.

So the upshot of it is that this particular “rider” is guiding my “elephant” along the path of transitioning to oat and soya milk rather than cow’s, with eggs to follow a similar exit further down the track when I can work through the alternatives.

Will I keep it up or complete the journey?  All I can say is I hope so, but change is hard, however the rewards to me and particularly those animals spared in future will be great and so I have great hopes.

Two previous corporate bosses that I highly respected, both American as it happens, but with very different personalities, typically ended their conversations with me over the years with “take it easy” and “be well”.

Farewell salutations that now I share with you all too dear readers!






Change Is Hard

Eating (Fewer) Animals

I weighed myself after a shower this morning and got a shock when it registered 13 stone 9 1/2 pounds!  This is 4 pounds, or two bags of sugar I like to think of it, lighter than when I weighed about two weeks ago…  Now I do walk the dogs a lot more and climb the Brecon Beacons occasionally with Debbie (who is the slimmest I can remember in 27 years of marriage) but that can’t be the full story.

No, it seems that Emma coming home from Glasgow has triggered off more than just frequent trips to the leisure centre for swimming and sauna for me dear readers.  It’s also led to a fundamental change in my eating and drinking habits so let me explain.

When I was still working, over two years ago now, I got into the habit of drinking wine to relax every night & unwind.  I don’t think I was alone either as I’m sure that I’ve read somewhere that Runnymede in Surrey has the highest incidence of hazardous home drinking in the UK.  Moving to Wales on a retirement income curtailed somewhat the excesses but not entirely.

However in the same way that I stopped smoking almost overnight years ago when I married Debbie, I’ve now limited my drinking to the odd pint of beer when out of the house and we plan to drink at home only for celebrations such as Christmas or the New Year.

I’ve also started going to the local library in recent months too, something I’ve not done since leaving university.  Now I’m a creature of habit when it comes to books and tend to stick with a regular diet of my favourite authors like Tolkien (Frodo Baggins) or MC Beaton (Hamish Macbeth)!  However on a recent occasion Emma borrowed “Eating Animals” and recommended I read it.

In all honesty I found it hard going on multiple levels given I knew its likely content but had consciously chosen to blank out from my conscious thought.  The game changer for me however having listened to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recently was remembering  his answers to the question if there was anything he wouldn’t eat.

Remember Hugh’s nickname is “Hugh Fearlessly Eats It All” but he replied he wouldn’t knowingly eat factory farmed chicken and pork.  Indeed when looking at Mr Foer’s book there was an endorsement at the bottom of the front page from Hugh recommending the book to all “flesh eaters”.


Reading the way these living creatures are treated so cruel in life and death yet largely within the law I have resolved to do the same.  Hugh still eats meat and fish but is aiming to reduce it significantly and I plan to do the same.  I think me giving up seafood would be tricky given my lifelong love of shellfish and crustaceans, but maybe I can avoid factory farmed fish and those from non sustainable sources.

To be transparent I’m really looking forward to our Christmas Day organic turkey from the local farm at Raglan.  However the days of “all day breakfast”, ready meals or buying chicken and pork are over for me, at least for now, while I see if I can make the change.

Interestingly, both Debbie and I had already reduced hugely the amount of beef & lamb we were eating, perhaps as a result of her low fat diet that she’s followed since moving back to Wales.   She loves fresh vegetables too so I think there is a chance I can succeed become mostly vegetarian, although I would never impose my choice on anyone else for sure!

So there we have it, a call based 50% on health and 50% conscience.  I don’t think I could go vegan permanently and eliminate milk and eggs but you never know, so watch this space for further weight updates and see how I do!

Eating (Fewer) Animals