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“A habit cannot be tossed out the window; it must be coaxed down the stairs a step at a time.”
~ Mark Twain 

The ability to successfully change your habits is the KEY to any successful transition to a plant-based lifestyle.

And while a lot of people talk about WHICH habits to change, far fewer talk about HOW to change habits in the first place.

And the first principle to successfully changing any habit is what is called the Principle of One:

Don’t try to change everything at once. Tackle your habits ONE AT A TIME.

Changing any habit you are ‘used to’ is overwhelming. You can reduce the sense of overwhelm by ‘chunking’ the change down to one habit at a time.

Change ONE habit at a time, ONE month at a time.

And you absolutely MUST FOCUS ON ONLY ONE HABIT at a time.

When people change a single behavior at a time, the likelihood they’ll retain that habit for a year or more may be as high as 80%. If they try to change TWO behaviors at once, their chances of success may drop to less than 35%. And if they try to change THREE habits, their success rate can plummet to less than 5%.

A Lot More Tortoise, a Lot Less Hare

Simply put, you run into trouble (i.e. failure) when you try to change too much, too fast.

I’m sure you have all witnessed (or experienced) this. We’ve all had moments where we attempt to massively change our lifestyles in a short period of time. It rarely works. If we try to embark on strict diets or exercise regimes too fast, more often than not we end up crashing in a heap of frustration.

But the good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way.

When it comes to changing habits, patience indeed is a virtue. We need to apply a bit more tortoise, a lot less hare. And ironically, by achieving success after success with the ‘slower’ Principle of One, you will ultimately achieve your goals more quickly.

Changing Your Habit Step-By-Step

Here are 3 basic steps to changing one habit at a time:

  1. Choose one habit. It is ideal if you select a habit that you believe will have the biggest impact on your eating. For example, you may choose one of the following to start with:
    1. Cut out dairy
    2. Cut out oils
    3. Commit to eating one meal a day which is 100% plant-based
  2. Write down a plan. State what you will do each day. Make sure to DEFINE success in specific and measurable terms.
  3. Share your goal. Tell your family or friends what you want to do. Make sure to report your progress daily. Accountability is an important ingredient to success.

Why Changing Habits Is Not Necessarily About Willpower

Many people ask—“Don’t I need a lot of willpower to succeed?”  In fact, the reality is that you don’t REALLY need willpower. You don’t need to ‘will’ yourself to take a shower or brush your teeth.


Because it’s a habit. A behavior you’ve practiced a lot. A behavior that is easy to do.

Willpower isn’t as important as you think. Focus however is. To learn more about the myth of willpower, check out this article.

Simply focus on one habit a time. And build on each habit change sequentially. You will quickly find yourself living a 100% whole food plant-based lifestyle.

Always remember that habits aren’t destiny. If you know what you want and you focus on changing habits one-by-one, you can achieve the eating behavior—not to mention the life—you’ve always wanted.

Rosane Oliveira, DVM, PhD

President & CEO, Plant-Based Life Foundation | Dr. Rosane Oliveira combines a lifelong passion for nutrition with 25 years of genetics research to create programs that help people develop healthy habits on their journey towards a more plant-based lifestyle. She is a Visiting Clinical Professor in Public Health Sciences and was the founding director of the first Integrative Medicine program at the UC Davis School of Medicine. She completed her postgraduate studies in Brazil and did her postdoctoral training in immunogenetics and functional genomics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.