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It’s Lent – Give Up Something Good!

From what I’ve heard, there’s a lot of chocolate that won’t get eaten over the next few weeks…

A lot more lonely bottles of wine standing abandoned on the supermarket shelves…

Quite a few biscuits left to go stale in tins around the UK…

It’s Lent!

Of course, none of that will matter at all, come the end of Lent, because the vaaaaast majority of those giving this stuff up will quit their abstinence, and then make up for lost time in style by eating and drinking a LOT more than normal!

Giving this kind of stuff up doesn’t tend to work. I’ve written about that before here:

Are You Invoking The Pendulum Response

and here:

What Could You Live With?

but clearly, we like to try.

Awesome - I love a trier, I really do. It’s brilliant to see people making efforts to improve their health. How about this though - instead of the traditional methods, why don’t we channel that giving-stuff-up energy somewhere REALLY good?

Why don’t we try and give up something that will actually be of massive benefit if we could lose it from our lives?

How about:

  • Saying mean things to yourself about yourself?
  • Spotlighting and hating on your physical imperfections?
  • Beating yourself up when you mess up?

How about giving up all that self-critical thinking and replacing it with:

  • Being nice to yourself, daily.
  • Noticing things you like about your physical, emotional and mental self?
  • Giving yourself a mental high-five for jobs well done?

A little bit of self-compassion. Wouldn’t that be a thing!

WeeeeeellllI. Isn’t that just a pointless exercise, I hear the tiny, skeptical gremlin in your head say? If giving up foodstuffs for 30 days has little value, why is this different?

Thank you, gremlin, for your attendance here today. Now shove off.

It’s not the same. Challenging your thinking regularly will, over time, change the way you think. Doing it for 30 days will have an impact on the next 30 days. Even if you aren’t strict about doing it daily, every time you challenge the self-critical gremlins in your head, every time you flip a thought from negative to positive, every time you reject an automatic response and consciously respond instead, you make it more likely you’ll do it again in the future.

Can’t say that for a sugar fast. Giving that up for 30 days normally tends to cause a huge likelihood of a MASSIVE relapse.

You know, that rumbling build up you get close to the end of giving up something like sugar? That feeling of compulsion, the urge that builds, the excitement that comes with knowing that in 1 week, 6 days, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 - you can have SUGAR AGAIN!!!!!!

Yeah, that doesn’t seem to happen when we try to challenge habits of thought.

AND (I know, all the reasons!) this isn’t just about giving something up, it’s about replacing it with something else, something good. We tend not to do that with sugar fasts, we just leave a hole where the banned substance was. Nature abhors a vacuum, don’cha know? And habits won’t die just because we chop them out of our lives and willpower our way through the day. Habits are, however, more amenable to being replaced than removed.

It’s not easy - I’m not saying that. But I’ve not met anyone (and true, I haven’t met everyone in the world, so there may be people who are) who’s desperate to start criticising themselves again after consciously aiming to stop.

It’s, unsurprisingly, not a habit we’re keen to hold onto. Whereas chocolate, wine, biscuits…they matter to us more than we think. We use them in ways we are only even slightly aware of. I wrote a little of that here:

The Real Reason You Eat Chocolate

These foods are interwoven into our lives as coping mechanisms, little pleasures, social interactions and the rest. Giving alcohol or sugar up for a month isn’t going to change all those bonds, connections and functions.

But to make efforts to bring into focus an unhelpful habit of thought, that’s powerful. Once you’ve noticed something like that, it’s hard to unnotice it. You pull it into consciousness. That’s where you can work with it.

So I know I’m over a week late to the Lent party, but when you’re looking for something to give up, propel yourself out of the traditional Food/Beverage aisles and have a pootle down the Thought Habit aisle instead. Down there, you’ll be able to choose something that will really impact your wellbeing - physical, emotional and mental - for both your present and your future.

And who knows, perhaps that little bit of self compassion might actually help you get your sugar and alcohol habits under control…

If You Don't Try It, You'll Never Know (infographic)

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