My Facebook feed is full of people asking “what are you giving up for Lent?” I was raised atheist, I don’t “get” the whole Lent thing on a religious level, but I totally “get” the idea of giving up things that have become a part of our lives and we think we need. That said, it doesn’t seem as simple to me as not eating meat or chocolate. If we’re going to reflect about hardship, and change, and rebirth, let’s really do it. So, here are a few things that I would suggest giving up for Lent. Things that I truly believe can change your life.
1. Media Punditry
No. I am not joking. Why? Because spending day in and day out listening to “news” about how the market is going to crash, we were all being poisoned, someone is conspiring to do something to screw us, and people fighting with each other all day will stress you out, whether you realize it or not. Whether it’s MSNBC or FOX. Instead, read a book, take a walk, watch a movie, ANYTHING. At the end of 30 days, I’ll bet you won’t go back. At least until the next major election, but at least you’ll know you can go cold turkey again when it’s over.
Look you only have so many hours in a day, and so much usable space in whatever combination of brain + heart + soul = you. Don’t fill it with angry garbage or you will, well, be filled with angry garbage. Take a 30 day break from it and see how you feel.
2. Solving Other People’s Problems
I believe that the impulse to solve other people’s problems is a generous and compassionate one. But there are two serious problems with it. 1) It makes it your problem, which means that your limited time and resources will be drained. However, more importantly, 2) It denies them the chance to figure out how to solve it for themselves, which is how we grow and become better and stronger.
This goes for helping my kids find something in the fridge that they could find themselves if they actually put their hands in and moved things around, and to trying to fix problems for other people that they created in their own lives. (You know, the drama people, right?)
Bonus ? More time to do things like play with my girls, and be there to help out my many friends who are facing very real problems that they neither created, nor can solve themselves.
3. Mindless Consuming
A lot of us have come up with behavioral tricks to help us mitigate emotions that we don’t quite know how to process. Do you need a cigarette, or beer, or workout to deal with stress? Do you automatically reach for a drink or a piece of cake to celebrate something? I’m not going to tell you not to do those things, but I am going to tell you not to do them mindlessly.
The next time you’re feeling stress, before you do whatever it is that you do, sit with it for a minute and identify it. “I am having this drink because I am stressed about the conversation I had with my partner. It triggered my fear of abandonment” is a much more empowered position than “what the hell, make it stop.” Knowing WHY you do what you do is the first step towards developing healthier habits and actually getting stronger, on more stable ground.
Eventually, yes, you might stop thinking you need that drink, cigarette, workout…. But one step at a time, as they say. And I say that the first step is awareness. So no, you don’t have to give up those things, but you do have to give up the “mindless” part and identify why you do the things you do. (And personally, I think that “because I want to” is actually a good enough reason to do something, as long as you know what the “cost” down the road will be and make a mindful decision to pay it. Hello, sluggishness associated with eating that entire box of Samoas.)
4. Meeting Other People’s Expectations
Take note of the times that you did something – or felt bad about not doing something – because you think someone else expects it of you. Did you choose to go to law school even though poetry was your love? Date someone who was what your friends wanted, but didn’t make you happy? Dress a certain way? Or, like me, feel really bad because you still haven’t put your laundry away and your husband is a neatnick who folds his the minute the dryer buzzes?
Give it up. The people who love you will love you for who you really are. And if they don’t, let it go. Your job on this planet is to be happy, and to become the best version of YOU that you can become. And you get to define that, not someone else. And if someone is making you feel bad, it’s hard to do your job. If it holds you back, you don’t need to hang on to it. (Like, you know, a leash?)
So, for a month, take note of every time that you do something that really goes against your grain. Or that you feel bad about yourself because you think that you are not meeting someone else’s expectations. Then ask yourself why you did it and if it is worth it. Sometimes it is – yes, sometimes you have to go to that work / family / social function that you don’t want to. And realizing that you are choosing to do something for a good reason makes it way less of a drudge, or grudge.
But sometimes it isn’t worth it – no, the fact that you don’t do your laundry in a timely manner doesn’t make you bad and it probably doesn’t annoy your partner (okay, my husband) as much as you think it does. And if it does, maybe you need to talk about why, and what it means.
5. Guessing You Know What Other People Think
You do NOT have the ability to read people’s minds. The next time your head starts spinning because you assume you know why someone was too quiet, or late, or forgot something or said something….. Stop spinning and ask. Use your words.
Otherwise, there’s a simple and predictable snowball to hell about to take place. You assume you know what someone’s thinking, you make a decision about something as a result of your erroneous assumption, it goes over badly….. You get the point. Just ask.
6. Expressing Your Opinion When It Really Doesn’t Matter
You know all those Facebook and Twitter fights you get in because someone posts something about their new exercise routine that is making them so happy and you just couldn’t resist telling them why you don’t like it? Or they’re new favorite band. Or….
It doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t.
The only time you really need to offer your opinion is when someone asks. Or, of course, if you just feel like picking a fight. But, if you do, ask yourself why, and if it’s really worth it. Give it up, just for a month, and see if your world isn’t more peaceful.
I know that none of this is conventional advice in terms of what to give up for Lent. If you still want that, I do have two:
1. Sugar. For 30 days, just give up anything with added sugar in it. Fruit is fine, but read ingredients and give up sugar for a month. I promise, you’ll feel amazing.
2. Cologne, perfume, body spray, heavily scented deodorant. This has more to do with the people around you than you, but it really will make the world a better place. Especially for those of us with asthma and allergies. Plus, it really doesn’t smell as good as you think it does, and the only people who should be able to smell it are those who are hugging you.
As for all those other things? Ya, they’re hard. If I were you, I’d do one at a time. Add a new one each month, and I bet that this time next year, you’re a new you.
Reprinted with permission from The Good Men Project