How many times have you given up something for Lent?
How well did you do?
Did you make it through the whole 40 days and 40 nights? Or did you get through the first week and then yield to temptation?
Even if you just momentarily forgot your commitment, did you throw in the towel the instant you realised your mistake and so go back to the way you were before?
Wanting to let go of habits or behaviours that we know aren’t good for us is one thing, but succeeding is something else.
All the language around Lent is setting you up for a tough time. Phrases like ‘giving up’, ‘I’m not allowed’, ‘it’s forbidden’ are like a red rag to a bull for the Mind.
Mind’s role is to move you away from pain and towards pleasure and so the mind will resist anything it thinks causes you pain. Especially if it thinks that action you are trying to resist has been making you happy for years; that’s the evidence Mind draws on.
And as soon as the stakes get raised (you’re exhausted/the boss is being unreasonable/the kids have smashed that vase your mother gave you and if you weren’t so tired you’d have remembered she said it was a family heirloom, as well). You may as well have Satan sitting on your shoulder tempting you, because your Mind is thumbing through the rolodex of ‘things that make her happy in a crisis’ and guess what’s popped up top of the list?
Mind then starts up the ‘Do It’ mantra. ‘Eat the cake, you know you want to. One bite won’t hurt. It makes you happy. Just one mouthful.. just one slice.. well, ok two..’ Sound familiar?
So how do we solve this conundrum, kick temptation’s backside and keep Mind on side?
Firstly, we change the language. We make our mission one of positive action and we lose any language that’s going to push buttons.
And then we get really clear on why we are doing this in the first place, because your mind is not going to be focusing on that when you’re surrounded by broken crockery, screaming children and your employer is on the phone demanding to know where that super-important document is and you know you left it in their office. (I have actually witnessed that scenario and no, I didn’t have the nerve to say ‘Haha, it’s behind you!’ even if it did feel like a pantomime written by Harold Pinter).
So, getting ourselves ready for Lent.
- Sit down with a piece of paper and write at the top of it write: I am Choosing to let go of (your vice of choice) because…
- Now list every positive reason for making this commitment
- Read though this list of reasons at least once a day
- When temptation strikes, get it out and read it through again.
So for instance, this year I’m giving up sweets. I’ve a serious extra strong mint habit that needs reining in. So my list reads:
I’m choosing to let go of eating sweets because:
- I want to stay slim
- I want my skin to look good
- I want my mouth to feel fresh when I wake up, not all furry
- I want to feed myself real food that nourishes it effectively
- I want my energy to feel balanced
- I want to keep my teeth
- I want to stay free from tooth decay…
You get the idea. This way my mind knows what I want, it knows that this behaviour has a whole host of positives attached to it and when the going gets tough, I can remind myself as soon as I walk into the newsagents and get distracted by the rack of sweets.
You can, of course, apply this technique to any behaviour you want to modify. You don’t have to be giving something up, you could be choosing to go running every day, or focus on the positives of your life or even just smile more.
And if you do trip up, if you give in to caffeine/cake/chocolate/moaning/whatever’s on your Lent list DON’T go all drama queen on yourself. Remember; you are not failing, you are learning – you are being human. You’re, not auditioning for the role queen of all perfection. Laugh at yourself, shake it off and keep moving towards the winning line.
Who knows, you may love this version of you so much that you sail on past Easter and into the bright, blue younger… Bon voyage! x