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So, how’s your New Year’s resolution going? Have you been utilizing that new gym membership you got last month to lose weight? Are you cutting back on the smoking, if not kicking the habit outright? Hell, do you even remember what your resolution was? Well don’t feel to bad about not keeping up with it; statistically speaking, at least a third of us break our resolutions before the calendar even flips over to February. And wouldn’t you know it, we’re right in the thick of resolution-breakin’ season!
With the celebration of Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras yesterday, it would appear this is the last stand for our resolutions. We’re talking about a holiday that centers around booze, soul food, and (Depending on where you live) pączki. Unless you resolved to become an obese boozehound in 2016, these things, despite how fun and delicious they are, go wildly against pretty much every resolution ever made. Fortunately, there’s a chance to redeem yourself and feel like you accomplished something starting today with Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.
(I will preface the rest of this with the very important disclaimer that I am not some holy roller trying to proselytize or lead you all on some hackneyed journey to salvation. This has nothing to do with religion. Im just trying to offer the best self-improvement advice that I can, as it has worked for me and a lot of other non-religious folk I know in the past. Proceed accordingly.)
I’m sure most of you are familiar with the concept of Lent, even if it’s just from watching 40 Days and 40 Nights. If not, the gist of it is that you give up something, usually some sort of vice, from Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday. I have found that observing this Lenten tradition has been much more effective for breaking a bad habit or starting a good one than just making a resolution on January 1 for two reasons: The time horizon and the specificity in which you declare that you will give something up.
We’ll start with specificity first. It seems like most New Year’s resolutions and broad and generic, which isn’t helpful when trying to achieve a goal and can lead to rather liberal interpretations as to what constitutes success. When you give up something for Lent, it’s pretty cut and dry. “No candy” means exactly that. It doesn’t mean you can cheat and sneak a Milky Way from the secretary’s candy dish, it means none. It’s binary. Having a clearly defined rule or goal is much easier to follow than an open resolution.
Lent also has the advantage of a clearly established timeframe. Your suffering begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Sunday, and that’s it. I think what makes a lot of people trip up with New Year’s resolutions is that they don’t set up smaller, intermediate goals they can reach in a short time frame in order to accomplish their larger goal and they get overwhelmed and give up. Lent, on the other hand, is inherently designed for you to give up something for a short span of time, which makes giving up something for 40 days easier to follow through with and accomplish.
And the best part is that once it’s over, you’re free to take the experience of the prior 40 days and apply it to your life in any way you see fit. Maybe you discovered you can completely live without whatever you gave up, or maybe cut back on it significantly. Or you can just go back to acting the same exact way you did before you started. Either way, you’ll still finish feeling pride in what you accomplished and will come out of it somewhat improved, even if it’s only temporary. You probably can’t say the same for your resolution, so why not give it a shot?.
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