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Crafting Your Story

Do you have a narrative for your life and what you’re doing that motivates and empowers you?

The Importance of Narrative

The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren is towards the top of the best-selling books of all time, at 33 million copies. The main point of the book, if it isn’t obvious from the title, is to help the reader find their purpose for existing and then use that purpose as motivation.

The Bible is potentially the best-selling book ever, at an estimated 5 billion copies sold. What does it provide readers? The narrative of why they exist—in fact, it’s a narrative of why everything exists. You could make the case that the core of most religions is the story of who we are, why we’re here, and what to do with our lives—and that, in turn, is partially why religions are such a powerful force in humanity, because they connect so deeply with our need for personal narratives.

Further, let’s take a step back for a minute and realize that basically all books, all movies, and almost all forms of media ever are crafted around some kind of story. The news is communicated as a series of stories. Even science textbooks and business books are usually filled with stories or organized into some loose narrative.

Humans are storytelling animals. We’re story addicts. We sometimes have a hard time caring about something unless we can weave it into some kind of story.

Our movement has many different origin stories, depending on who you talk to. Some might point to Animal Liberation, the now-famous book published by Peter Singer in 1975. Looking back further, you might say that the antivivisection movement starting in the mid-1800s was the beginning of the modern animal rights movement. Or you could even look back much further to ancient civilizations, as Norm Phelps does in his book The Longest Struggle.

And regardless of where we started, we can have all kinds of different stories for where we are now, who’s doing what work, etc. These stories of our movement help us understand the pieces and how they connect.

In the startup domain, the narrative is what can keep early-stage employees engaged day after day in the face of incredible uncertainty. Here’s a quote from Scott Belsky on the Tim Ferriss podcast:

“In some ways, I use the analogy of driving your team in a car with the windows blacked out, so no one knows where they are and how far they are in the journey. And that is sort of what a startup experience is like, by the way. You don’t know where those milestones actually are. You don’t necessarily even know where you’re going and how far along you are. The only thing that makes that more comforting or tolerable is a great narrative during the journey. Okay, we just crossed the state line. There’s this on the right. There’s this on the left. Even if it’s not necessarily answering the question of how far are we and where exactly are we going, there’s something about being talked through it. And I think that one of the jobs of someone at the helm is to build that narrative.”

And these narratives—these stories of who we are and why we’re doing what we’re doing—are incredibly important for our movement, too.

Your Story

Chances are, you have a story of why you started wanting to help animals. (I talked about my story briefly in Vegan and Back Again.) That’s one of the things that people often tell each other, their “vegan story” or their “activist story”. Those stories are important because they help us explain how we got to where we did—they legitimize the journey and help convey it to others. These vegan stories also represent an opportunity to discover how people changed from point A to point B so that we can help create that journey for others.

But in addition to how you got where you are now, what narrative do you have for your current work, and your current journey? What’s your story for where you’re going? If you do work with a group, what’s your group’s story?

These stories are important for motivational, inspirational reasons, but they’re also a good way to remain focused as well. If you don’t have a compelling narrative of why you do what you do, then in time you might grow restless or dissatisfied. You might lose track of why you got involved with your work in the first place, and you might think something else is a better use of your time.

When we look back at the efforts of others, it’s easy to see that people work for years focused on the same thing in order to create the impact they end up having.

Similarly, cohesive narratives are how people are going to remember who you are, and that narrative is going to be how they explain your work to others.

“Do you know ____?”

“Yeah, I do! It’s amazing that they’re trying to end animal farming by getting ballot initiatives going in every city and state around the country.”

Organizational Narratives

In her book Grit, psychology researcher Angela Duckworth relays a parable about three bricklayers:

Three bricklayers are asked, ‘What are you doing?’
The first says, ‘I am laying bricks.’
The second says, ‘I am building a church.’
The third says, ‘I am building a house of God.”
The first bricklayer has a job. The second has a career. The third has a calling.

Organizations, and entire movements like our own, have the opportunity to create callings for people—reasons so strong for why you do what you do that your work seems to transcend normal activities and exist as part of a greater story. For me and many others, this work is a calling—and I can attest to the motivational power of viewing it that way.

People will work for free if there’s an inspiring narrative that they believe they’re a part of. Not only that, but the narrative will help them work better and more cohesively because they’ll know the vision through which to filter their actions. A strong, understandable story can serve as a way for people to take the right actions without having to always rely on asking someone.

So if you do work with a group or organization, what narrative are you going to give the work you do together? What’s your story for why all of you are working together?

Personal Narratives

It’s no accident that many people who accomplish a great deal with their lives talk about believing in the vision of what they were doing. Scientists, writers, politicians, and athletes all talk about believing in what they’re doing, doing it for some higher purpose than the thing itself: seeking truth; the love of the subject matter; the need to create; the belief in a better society; the desire to show others the extent of what is possible; etc.

To continue the seemingly endless, difficult work we must do, we have to keep our vision—our personal narrative—centered. What is your role in creating a better world for animals? How are you fulfilling that role?

Knowing that your life is part of a meaningful story that’s bigger than you is one of the greatest things imaginable, and it’s at the core of what it means to live a fulfilling life. (If you haven’t read the essay “A Meaningful Life” by Matt Ball, I highly recommend it.)

If you know your personal narrative and can articulate it, share it with others. Let them know what guides you, what gets you out of bed in the morning, and how your work might intersect with theirs. If we all share our personal narratives with each other, maybe we can find out how to work better together.

My Personal Narrative

I’ll start by sharing my own narrative for 2019.

My narrative is that I want to do anything I can to help bring an end to the exploitation of animals. In 2019, I’ll be working to do that in two ways:

  1. First, I’ll use data and technology to help our efforts at Mercy For Animals, where I work full-time; and,
  2. Second, I’ll find ways to connect and empower people already on our side. I will connect them with resources, ideas, information, and other people, and I will help them have an even greater impact by working together and by working smarter.

I’m currently focusing on improving my ability to execute long-term projects, such as AMP, and thinking about how to bring more people into my life and work in meaningful ways. Although I’m deeply saddened and angered by the realities of why we do this work, I try to practice acceptance of the world as it currently exists (while, of course, trying as hard as I can to change things) and joy in the knowledge that I’m helping create a better version of humanity.

One of the biggest areas I have for improvement is in my organizational skills. I’ll be trying to tame the mountain of papers on my desk and the plethora of digital spaces and applications that fill with notes and to-do lists. I’ll try to fix the underlying habits that lead to a cluttered and disorganized life.

That’s my story—or at least a very short version of it. What’s yours?

Next Steps: Creating and Using Your Stories

Going forward, here are some very practical next steps you can take if you’re looking to bring the power of stories into your activism:

  1. Your past story. Write down your story for how you got involved with helping animals. What is the beginning of that story? What are the main turning points along the way?
  2. Your current story. Now, write down your story of the work you’re doing now. What are you trying to accomplish, and with who, and why? What’s your vision? (You can also write down your organization or group’s story as well.) Make sure that your story inspires hope within you for your own future. Try to make it something that is exciting for you, that will make you want to get out of bed in the morning.
  3. Share your story. Finally, share your story with others and ask them what theirs is. You can write it out and share it online, or you can talk about it with friends and fellow advocates. When you meet someone new in the movement, you can swap stories and see what the overlaps and intersections are.

That’s it! See if you can notice a difference in how you approach your work and how motivated you feel when you have a clear and inspiring story in your head for what you’re doing and why.

And if you do notice a difference, please share it—I’d love to hear your story.

The Animal Movement Project (AMP) is a platform dedicated to building the movement for animals.

We share thoughts and ideas that can take the movement for animals from x to 10x. Our focus is predominantly on animals exploited for food since they account for more than 99% of the animals exploited by humans. The topics covered are often about ways to tie the pieces of the movement together or to fill in the gaps. We focus on connecting people, ideas, and resources to each other.

Recovery in Motion

I have a concept I like to call “recovery in motion”.

It started out with running.

Running is a rather paradoxical thing—it’s basically pure, nonstop physical suffering, but yet there’s nothing else that provides me with such a good feeling and a clear head. And, there’s no freedom quite like being able to go from point A to point B with nothing but your legs to propel you.

But basically every time that I run, there’s a point where it would be nice to stop running and just walk for a minute. (Many people would probably agree and say “Yeah, that point is any point that I find myself running.”) Maybe I just finished a fast, sprinty section. Maybe I’m hitting a wall and feel like I don’t have enough energy. Maybe my legs are sore, or I’m tired, or out of breath. Maybe it’s too hot or cold outside.

This is where “recovery in motion” comes in.

I’ve learned that instead of stopping when my body says stop, I don’t actually have to stop—instead, I can play with the pace at which I run. I can slow down a little, or I can slow down drastically to just a little faster than a walk. I can run more efficiently, trying not to waste energy by bouncing up and down too much or letting my shoes drag on the pavement. I can focus on deep inhales, full exhales.

This does two things. First, it helps me recover, even if it’s a little slower than I might recover from stopping completely. Second, it shows me that I can keep going—I can persevere. When my first thought is “stop”, I can instead say “no—just slow down enough to recover.”

Although I discovered this concept while running, I’ve realized that it applies directly to many other areas of life, especially those areas where endurance in the long run is what counts—such as our work for animals.

Like many other people, I go through cycles of working extremely hard and then feeling rather burned out. “This problem is so big,” I think, “that I need to completely ignore everything else in my life, including my own health, to keep working.” It only takes a few weeks or months of this kind of pace before things deteriorate quickly. Your emotional resiliency fades, and you find yourself unable to control your anger or sadness. Your mind is slow and fuzzy. You’re tired, irritable. The quality of your work decreases, or you work increasingly on irrelevant matters.

At the point where your mind and body are telling you “stop”, you have two options: You can quit, or you can recover in motion.

Quitting is saying, “You know what, this is too much. I’m going to put this down and I don’t know if I’ll come back to it. I’m going to focus on other things—maybe nothing at all.” It’s stopping, with no plan to start again.

Recovery in motion is saying, “You know what, I’m really tired and burned out. I’m going to cut back on the hours I work, cut back on the projects I’m doing. I’m going to add back in some of those restorative activities I’ve been neglecting for a while—exercise, meditation, a regular sleep schedule, good food, spending time with friends. And in a week, I’ll see if I feel a little better, and I’ll adjust a little more if needed. And maybe I’ll slow down too much, and I’ll feel like I can work harder, and so I’ll readjust back up if that happens. And that’s okay.”

Recovery in motion is all about sustainable pushing and resting habits. You can push yourself hard—and I think challenging ourselves is great—but then you need to know how to back off and let yourself breathe for a minute. You can focus simply on putting one foot in front of the other, on keeping yourself moving forward while you rest.

Not only that, but each time you do this cycle of pushing and recovering, you learn a little more about how hard you can push. You actually grow your capacity to push harder the next time and to have a better sense of where your limits are.

So keep this concept tucked in your back pocket for one of those future times when you’re tired and thinking about quitting, when you’ve pushed yourself a little too hard or when your work habits have gotten unsustainable. Keep the concept in mind for when your friend or colleague is burned out and asking you for advice—“How do you manage to keep going?”

You can say, “You don’t have to quit—you can recover in motion.”

One last note. There’s a lot of talk about sustainable activism in our movement these days, thanks in large part to the efforts of In Defense of Animals and their Sustainable Activism campaign, and I believe this focus is very needed. Make sure to take care of yourself and find resources to help if needed.

The Animal Movement Project (AMP) is a platform dedicated to building the movement for animals.

We share thoughts and ideas that can take the movement for animals from x to 10x. Our focus is predominantly on animals exploited for food since they account for more than 99% of the animals exploited by humans. The topics covered are often about ways to tie the pieces of the movement together or to fill in the gaps. We focus on connecting people, ideas, and resources to each other.

Inspiration for 2019

2018 is over. 2019 is before us.

So where are we?

This article is a little different, but I hope you enjoy it. It’s my wandering ode to the changing of the years—and some words of inspiration to those who might be ending this year tired or feeling down, those whose flame is burning low.

Sometimes, it can be easy to feel like we’re not making progress. Like the problem is too big.

Change happens slowly. Even if day by day it’s hard to feel any progress being made, we’re pushing the flywheel and building momentum.

The important thing is that you stick with it. To remember that you’re making a difference, and that you’re not alone—there are hundreds, thousands of other people in this movement working with you.

It’s good to remember that as often as we’re down, others are down too. We all feel the same things, though we may feel certain things more strongly or weakly than others. If you know anyone who needs to be picked up a bit, who’s feeling overwhelmed or thinking about giving up, reach out to them. Tell them that it’s okay to feel overwhelmed.

We all have ups and downs, and it’s good to talk about these things. When it comes to the downs I’ve experienced, here are some of the thoughts and emotions I’ve had in 2018:

  • I’m not doing enough. I could work longer days, I could work more on weekends.
  • I’m not working on the right things. The things I’m doing won’t push us toward ending animal exploitation. I feel like the things I’m doing don’t matter.
  • We as a movement aren’t making progress. We aren’t significantly reducing suffering, and we’re not getting close to fundamentally changing the relationship between humans and other animals.
  • There are so few of us who care, and even fewer still who actually take steps to solve the issue. The problem is too big. Maybe it’s unsolvable.

The down days come, and that’s okay. “Never quit on a bad day,” the quote goes. There are plenty of up days too.

“Is it true?” vs. “Is it useful?”

Sometimes we might feel pessimistic about the future. But in many ways, this is self-defeating and downright silly. (In other ways, I’m sure it’s valid. But let’s focus on the silly for a minute.)

No definitive statement about the future is true, because the future hasn’t happened yet. Future events are subject to all the incredible twists and turns of the progression of the universe, especially when there are humans involved. Nothing is inevitable, whether good or bad, although some things can certainly be more or less likely than others.

In fact, our attitudes about things are often what serve to create the future. Our views can be self-fulfilling prophecies. As that one quote says, those who dare to try to create the future are the ones who do. Individuals can and do change the course of history. Individuals like you.
Of course it is very helpful to take a hard look at our current success. It’s good to acknowledge the facts. But it doesn’t make sense to attach any judgment or emotion to it unless those things are useful in getting us closer to achieving the goal—and it certainly doesn’t make sense to impose arbitrary limitations on what we think is possible.

I’m not going to say that doubt and self-criticism are never useful. I personally think that many good things in my life have come out of intense doubt and self-reflection about the value I’m adding to the world. How can we choose an effective path forward if we aren’t critically-minded about our selection? But the key is that these things are only good to the extent that they’re useful and constructive. Wallowing in self-doubt for weeks and months, or constantly dwelling in debilitating negative self-talk, are almost surely destructive.

So. 2019.

We have a lot of work to do. We’re not winning, yet. There is immense suffering that’s hard to watch, hard to listen to, hard to fathom.

But there’s also a lot to be hopeful about.

First off, you and I are not alone.

You’re not the only person working on this issue, you’re not the first person working on it, and you certainly won’t be the last. This knowledge should give you the freedom to step back and look at what’s truly important, not only what’s urgent. You don’t have to try to solve all of the problems, because there are thousands upon thousands of people thinking about and working on all kinds of issues, all around the world. The people at Memphis Meats are trying to make meat without killing animals. The people at the Nonhuman Rights Project are fighting for fundamental legal rights for nonhuman animals. People at Animal Equality and Mercy For Animals are conducting undercover investigations and spreading the footage far and wide online. Staff and volunteers with Vegan Outreach are handing out millions (millions!) of leaflets every year. And for every full-time paid staff member of one of these organizations, there are 10—maybe 100, or 1,000, or 10,000—people who are advocating for animals in small and large ways in their everyday lives. There are people dreaming up new initiatives. There are people starting new organizations.

There are people working constantly, day and night, for animals. People like you.

Should you dream big? Of course. We need everyone to be thinking about how we can actually get this thing accomplished on a national and global scale. But you don’t need to run around frantically. You can be deliberate. You can be thoughtful. We need you to be thoughtful about your work. We need you to try to actually create the biggest world-changing difference for animals. Starting with the first step, and continuing step by step, day after day.

Second, we are making real progress.

In 2018, laws for animals were passed. Companies made commitments to change their practices solely for animal welfare reasons. Vegan products continued growing. Veganism became even more of a household term. Animals were rescued. Tons of media attention was earned. More activists came into the movement. More people went vegan.

We continued pushing. You and I are still here. Those are two of the biggest wins we could’ve possibly had.

Truth be told, there will always be big problems to solve—this is something I came to terms with recently. Even if we were to end all animal farming tomorrow, there would still be a lot of suffering in the world for us to try to make progress on. So we should always celebrate the progress we’re making while continuing to look forward to doing more the next year.

Finally, I don’t know about you, but I have no intent of stopping soon.

I feel, like many do, that this is my life’s work—and I won’t stop until we reach the finish line. Next year, we will keep working. The year after that, we will keep working. And we will keep making progress, and we will keep pushing humanity forward, and we will keep creating a better world for all. And though some people will leave the movement, many more will stay—and many more will join. And year by year, day after day, we will accomplish this.

And that gives me hope. And it gives me enough fuel to keep the fire burning for 2019.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Now is a good time to say that if you’re ever feeling the need to just reach out and connect with another advocate, please consider me a resource! I’m always down to have a phone chat with those who are dedicating their time to helping animals.

Here are some more 2018 recap resources, if you want to catch up on everything we’ve accomplished together!

The Animal Movement Project (AMP) is a platform dedicated to building the movement for animals.

We share thoughts and ideas that can take the movement for animals from x to 10x. Our focus is predominantly on animals exploited for food since they account for more than 99% of the animals exploited by humans. The topics covered are often about ways to tie the pieces of the movement together or to fill in the gaps. We focus on connecting people, ideas, and resources to each other.

Imagine: LA Vegan Meat Competition

Imagine Los Angeles in the summer, June of 2019.

It’s hot outside—sweaty, breezy, beach weather. People pack the coasts during the day and wander the streets at night, hopping from restaurant to bar, from bar to other bar, from other bar to food truck.

It’s in this vibrant setting that the first Los Angeles Vegan Meat Competition is held.

Local chefs and food scientists have been working for months to perfect their recipes for the competition—celebrity chefs like Marcel Vigneron of the restaurant WOLF and Betty Fraser of Grub; food scientists like Ted Russin; and food entrepreneurs like Amelia Posada.

And the thing that’s similar about all of these individuals? None of them are vegan, or even vegetarian.

But despite diet or beliefs about animals, everyone loves a good competition, and these foodies are in the business because of their love for…well, good food. They, and dozens of other competitors, are in the Los Angeles Vegan Meat Competition because they like challenges, and because they want the chance to beat out everyone else for first place. The media attention alone is good enough, not to mention the drama and controversy around some of the meat-loving chefs entering a vegan food competition.

Not only that, but these people own businesses—new recipes are good for them, and the vegan community is a thriving base of consumers. From a strictly economic standpoint, it’s a no-brainer for them.

This is the beauty of competition: It can bring people together around a common purpose based solely on the spirit of besting each other and accomplishing a challenge, even if the competitors might not care as much about the object of the competition.

The result? A fairly easy way to make friends out of unlikely folks for a short time, to get media attention around the animal-friendly (vegan) future of food, and to create a huge amount of new products in a short amount of time.

The only problem, of course, is that for the time being the Los Angeles Vegan Meat Competition doesn’t exist. It’s just a story in our imaginations, in this article.

But it could exist—and hundreds of other vegan product creation competitions could exist too, in every city around the globe. Not only that, but dozens of other types of competitions could exist. Competitions to create new forms of animal advocacy. Competitions to saturate a city with anti-speciesist education. Competitions to create new organizations and institutions that help us build a food system without exploiting animals.

Everyone loves a good competition.

Maybe the first competition is to see who can create the second one.

Vegans Creating Vegans

Not all behavior change is created equally.

Let’s say you have $1,000.

You could take that $1,000 and stash it under your bed for the next couple decades. Each passing year, everything in the world would get slightly more expensive—inflation would be at work, slowly increasing the prices of everything. Your $1,000 would deteriorate in value, losing purchasing power.

Or, you could invest that $1,000 in a simple savings account, something with a very low interest rate. Over time, you would slowly accrue interest—not a ton of interest, but about enough to counteract inflation. This would be a bit smarter than stashing it under your bed, and your $1,000 would retain about the same amount of value that you started with.

But what if you were to take that $1,000 and actually invest it in something?

A first obvious and pretty standard option is investing it in a diversified stock and bond portfolio with a certain risk profile, something that more or less guarantees decent returns without too great a risk of losing your money. (Nevermind all those stock market crashes.) Your money would grow some small percentage each year, but that growth compounded over a couple of decades would yield significant growth. In fact, given decent returns you could expect your money to double in about a decade, maybe less.

Side note: I’m not a financial advisor.

You could just as easily invest in a company you believed in, or invest in your own project. Investing $1,000 into creating your own vegan waffle business could yield thousands of dollars and a solid company if you put in the time and effort.

However you do it, these investments (if made wisely) can greatly increase the value of that original $1,000, transforming it into something much bigger than what you started with.

Your money can be self-replicating—money can make more money.

(One important note here is the role of time. Legitimate investments often take many years to pay off in significant ways. This is also true for investments in yourself, investments in your organization, and investments in the movement.)

The Same with Vegans

As it is with money, so it is with vegans.

…sort of.

We’re going to be talking about “creating vegans” here, but you could think of it as empowering people, creating activists, helping people become animal advocates, etc. Whatever floats your boat.

The main question is: how can you make your impact compounding, or self-replicating?

The “Recidivism” Scenario

We can create vegans who eventually go back to eating animals. This is deteriorating impact. It’s like a wooden fence that rots in the weather over time, or that money you stashed under your bed. In this situation, we’re losing value over time, undoing previous work.

The “Lonely Vegan” Scenario

We could also create vegans who stay vegan, such as by focusing on reducing the recidivism rate. This is flat impact. It’s like a wooden fence that we coat with weather protectant wood stain, so that it stays pretty much the same for years—or like the money we invest in a simple savings account, gaining a little bit of interest each year.

The “Vegans Creating Vegans” Scenario

Or, we can create vegans who create other vegans. This is compounding impact. It’s like investing money in developing a wooden fence that creates other wooden fences, or a wooden fence that starts a wooden fence company for you and makes you thousands of dollars in profits.

Cool, huh?

Return on Investment

Let’s say we put some finite amount of energy into creating new vegans.

What kinds of returns do we get in each of these scenarios?

(Feel free to skip this section and head straight to “Examples” if you’re not as interested in quantified impact speculation. For those who are interested, stick around.)

“Recidivism” Return on Investment

Say we work for some length of time on getting people to go vegan, maybe a decade. Maybe we get 10 new people to go vegan each year because of our work.

But, because of recidivism, maybe all 10 of those people go back to eating animals the very next year. After a decade of work, we’ve gotten 100 people to go vegan for a short length of time, but then everything goes back to the way it was before.

Our return on investment in this scenario is very small, and finite. As soon as we stop doing work, our impact stops. Everything goes back to normal and it’s almost like nothing ever happened.

If we say each person in the US is responsible for the deaths of approximately 300 animals due to food (including fish, bycatch, etc.), then that’s 300*100=30,000 animals spared.

Obviously, this doesn’t sound like a very good way to create lasting change for trillions of animals globally.

“Lonely Vegan” Return on Investment

Let’s assume we put in the same amount of work as last time, with the same results—we work for a decade, influencing 10 people a year to change their behavior to help animals—so we still end up with 100 people who have gone vegan thanks to our influence.

But in this scenario, all of those people stay vegan indefinitely. After you stop working, there are still 100 people out in the world choosing to not eat animals. They’re not influencing other people, but they’re still responsible for sparing those animals from being brought into the system.

If we still assume 300 animals spared per year per vegan, then each year these 100 people keep another 30,000 animals from being born, raised, and killed. After ten years, that’s 300,000 animals. After thirty years, it’s almost a million. Your return on investment keeps growing year after year while all of those people are still alive.

Your impact in this scenario lives on even after you stop doing work, which is much better than the first scenario.

But there’s a much better scenario, if we can create it…

“Vegans Creating Vegans” Return on Investment

This is the compound interest scenario, the holy grail of what we want to accomplish.

Imagine that whenever we influenced someone to go vegan, they then started influencing other people to go vegan. And imagine that those new people influenced others… and so on.

Let’s say you spend a decade getting 100 people to go vegan, then you stop working—you retire from activism.

What happens now?

Well, those 100 people are staying vegan, just like in the last scenario. So their personal impact keeps growing.

But now, they’re also constantly influencing others. Let’s say instead of influencing 10 people a year like you do, they only influence 1 person per year.

The year after you stop working, your original 100 influence another 100 to go vegan. The next year is another 100. Then another 100.

Your original impact essentially multiplies itself every year, making your original investment way more impactful.

And if we further assume that every new vegan is out there influencing others…

Year 1: 100
Year 2: 100 + 100
Year 3: (100 + 100) + (100 + 100)
Year 4: ((100 + 100) + (100 + 100)) + ((100 + 100) + (100 + 100))…

Instead of adding on 100 each year, we’re now doubling the number of vegans each year. Assuming this trend were to hold true for twenty years, you would be personally responsible for kicking off a chain of events that led to 100,000,000 new vegans, which would reduce the total number of animals killed each year for food by 1.3%.

Not bad for one person putting in ten years of work.

While this is obviously a contrived example, this is the basic power of compounding, self-replicating effects.

How to Create Compounding Effects

The real question is, how can we set up our work in a way where we maximize the chances of achieving these kinds of compounding effects?

No matter the type of work we’re doing, there are ways we can increase these odds.

Teach People to Teach

Currently, a lot of our approach to individual outreach and volunteer engagement looks like “let’s get this person to do this one specific thing.” That specific thing might be changing their diet, or leafleting, or protesting. But our goal is usually measured in terms of how many people we’ve gotten to do that thing.

The best case scenario for this type of work is “flat impact”, although “recidivism” is more likely in most cases. Many people will stop doing the thing we want them to do, like go vegan. Out of those who continue doing it, very few will make the leap to the next step—teaching others to do what they do.

“Teaching people to teach” is exactly how we can focus our efforts to have a bigger impact.

What does this look like?

First, we could experiment with setting the bar higher to begin. Instead of just giving people information on how they can personally change their attitudes on behavior, we can also emphasize how important it is to share what they’ve learned. If we start the conversation by focusing on how the person can begin impacting others, it could make it easier for them to make the behavior change. (For example, if they start by trying to consider how they could share this information with their friends and family, then it might be a given that they already somewhat agree with it and that they’re going to change their own behavior.)

Second, if we think that the majority of people wouldn’t like the approach stated above, we could still invest more of our time and energy in identifying those who would be interested in helping out. When we notice someone who is particularly interested, we can spend more time talking with them. We could figure out ways to connect with people who are always coming back to our websites or social media pages. We could create new programs just to find those people and help them get active and stay active.

Technology is an amazing tool that can help us. We could hold “digital conferences” on any topics we want, essentially for free, using video call / webinar technology. We can build applications and websites that help people connect and learn. Even old means of communicating with large groups of people like phone trees can be recreated, improved, and tested using modern digital technology.

And whenever we find ourselves helping someone, we can ask “how can they now help others?” And so on.

Activists training activists, training activists, training activists…

Teach and Train Ourselves

If your current ability is at X and you never focus on getting better, then you’ll perform at X this year and next year. Ten years from now, you’ll still be at X—you might have even decayed to something less, like 0.7X. Best case scenario, maybe you’re at 1.5X or 2X, if you’ve picked up some new techniques here or there.

However, if you focus on constant improvement then you unlock the power of compounding effects. 1% improvement every day for a year takes X to 37X. 1% improvement every day for a decade takes you from X to 5,929,000,000,000,000X. That multiplier is a number so high you and I don’t even know the word for it.

Self-improvement and constant learning aren’t a nice-to-have. They’re essential for anyone who wants to make a difference in the world.

Create Organizations and Institutions

As individuals, our time on this earth is very limited. However, there are ways that we can “cheat death” and extend our own personal impact far into the future. One of those ways is through the establishment of institutions.

If you set up an institution with a framework for operating and a means of sustaining itself, it can go on to become its own self-replicating organism. One example of this is organizations like Mercy For Animals or Vegan Outreach. These groups are legal entities, there’s an official board of directors helping to guide the direction of the organization, and there are structures in place that more-or-less ensure that funding will come in, people will get hired, etc.

The official structure provides stability, and the momentum invested in the organization over the course of a decade or more creates an inertia that can carry it forward into the future. In our movement, The Vegan Society is one of the longest lasting entities—founded in 1944 and continuing to operate to this day.

There’s a lot more work to be done in this area.

Going Forward

Keep this question in mind: how can I create compounding, self-replicating impact with the work I put in? If I were to stop working right now, would my impact for animals deteriorate, stay stagnate, or keep growing? How could I make it build on itself and grow even faster?

None of us lives forever. How are you going to make sure your impact for animals lives on after you’re gone?

(If you want more reading somewhat related to this, check out Nassim Taleb’s article called “The Most Intolerant Wins: The Dictatorship of the Small Minority”. The discussion about the propagation of religions based on the rules of the religion is very relevant.)

The Animal Movement Project (AMP) is a platform dedicated to building the movement for animals.

We share thoughts and ideas that can take the movement for animals from x to 10x. Our focus is predominantly on animals exploited for food since they account for more than 99% of the animals exploited by humans. The topics covered are often about ways to tie the pieces of the movement together or to fill in the gaps. We focus on connecting people, ideas, and resources to each other.