Why Fasting is the Secret to Creative Growth

Today is Ash Wednesday,* the day that marks the beginning of Lent for many people of faith around the world. Lent, for those of you who are not bombarded with reminders on social media about it every year, is a religious term referring to the 40 days leading up to Easter. It’s tradition for people to fast for these 40 days in preparation for Easter Sunday.

I had no idea what Lent was until I went to college and got band-wagoned into giving up something trendy each Spring. One year it was desserts. Another, Facebook. My friends gave up coffee or alcohol or carbs. In more recent years, I became suspicious of the benefits of Lent. It seemed like the things people gave up were less about some pursuit of spiritual discipline and more about personal benefits. Lent just seemed like another excuse to diet.

But in the past year I’ve awoken to the power of deprivation to spur personal and artistic growth. I’ve given up one thing each month since last August. Sugar. Coffee. Alcohol. Cussing. The practice started on accident. I did a spending fast because (shocker) I felt like I was spending too much money, and when it was over, I realized there were a lot of other things I consumed in excess and so I just kept going.

Fasting is most commonly known as a spiritual exercise and most religions incorporate it in some way. Muslims practice Ramadan. Hindus set aside certain days every week to fast. Christians fast during Lent. Jewish people fast to celebrate Yom Kippur.

When I started giving up things for set periods of time, I wasn’t doing it for spiritual growth. I was doing it for selfish reasons. I wanted to save money so I stopped drinking alcohol. I didn’t want to get addicted to caffeine so I gave up coffee. But what I’ve come to realize is that deprivation automatically forces growth.

In his book Emotional Intelligence, Dan Coleman writes that, “There is perhaps no psychological skill more fundamental than resisting impulse.”

This is an especially essential skill in a first world country where delayed gratification is not a given. In America, you can go your whole life without going without. This is a blessing. But instant gratification can quickly become a burden. When we stuff ourselves with an endless stream of food, entertainment, and material goods, we starve ourselves of the opportunity to want something.

Fasting forces you to be present in your life. Every time you say no to something, you are reminded that you are a rational being, capable of making choices. It’s so easy to glide through our days with our heads down and never look up. My default is to ignore the big picture of my life in favor of getting through another day. Fasting reminds me of the very simple, but entirely remarkable fact that I’m alive.

Sugar, television, expensive clothes, alcohol—all of these things are unessential. Fasting sloughs them off.

If you are feeling stuck or in need of a creative jolt, I invite you to use Lent as an excuse to give something up. If you don’t know where to start, think of the things you do on a daily basis. What do you eat? How do you spend leisure time? Then go with the thing that sounds the most terrifying to be without.

Give up your crutch for the next 40 days. You may be surprised to learn that you are perfectly capable of standing on your own.

*it’s also Valentine’s Day, an irony that gives me endless joy

Happy New Week!

Everyone I know loves the new year. We throw parties, stay up late, and most importantly of all, make resolutions.

I think what draws most people to New Year’s—more than the midnight parties and the ball dropping in Times Square—is the chance to start over. The new year is always a blank slate, a fresh opportunity, a second chance.

I’m no exception. I love making lists of ways I’m magically going to be better, completely different person than who I actually am because that’s the kind of delusional hope that January gives me.

It’s funny to me that most people love the opportunity to start a new year, but loathe starting a new week. I think this might have something to do with the fact that, as many resolutions as we make, New Year’s is not a real harbinger for change. It’s easy to ignore because it only comes once every 365 days. New Year’s is a red herring—we use it to give ourselves a spark of hope for change, without any of the work and drive that real change requires.

But if you want to wring the most joy possible out of your one wild and precious life, why only give yourself one opportunity a year to try?

Monday is a weekly reminder of our opportunity to start fresh. What if instead of making huge New Year’s resolutions that we’ll never fulfill, we made New Week resolutions? You don’t have to make the same mistakes this week that you made last week. You don’t have to wait until January to start improving your life. Start today. Heck, start now. Stop reading this and start working. I won’t be offended.

New Week resolution

Make a New Week resolution and stick to it! Mine for this week is to get up when my alarm goes off (because I don’t want to snooze button through life). What’s yours? Shoot me an email and let’s hold each other accountable.

Don’t Live On Autopilot

steering-wheel-2209953_640.jpg

Hey guess what? Today is a day!

It’s not a reset, it’s not a time to sleepwalk through, it’s not a dream. It’s a day.

Here are a few questions you might encounter today:

  • How’s it going?
  • How was your weekend?
  • How are you?

I don’t know about you but I typically answer these questions without really thinking about it.

“Well, you know, it’s Monday…so…”

“Good. Too short.”

“Living the dream.”

These answers are so boring and cliché they make me want to throw this keyboard across the room. Am I so unoriginal? Am I so out of touch with my life that I can’t even assess how it’s going? Am I really living the dream? If not, why would I joke about that?

Moral of the story: I don’t want to live my life from a script. I don’t want to live on autopilot.

I am the only one responsible for my life. There is no back up person who will take over if I choose to live like a robot.

If you didn’t wake up this morning, don’t panic, there’s still time. Wake up. Today is an actual day in your life. It’s not a freebie, you don’t get a do over. It counts.

Challenge for the week:  Think about the clichés and automatic responses governing your days. Pay attention when people ask you questions and answer them honestly.

Goal for the week: My goal for the week is not to lie about my emotions. This sounds simple, but it’s actually really difficult for me. I’d prefer if no one knew I had feelings, but that’s a story for another time. I think this could be a helpful exercise for most people. When someone asks how you’re doing, don’t lie about your emotions. If your boss checks in, don’t lie about your workload. If someone says no offense, tell them if you’re offended.

Don’t lie about your feelings. Don’t live on autopilot.

Let’s be honest, not apologize for our being, and take the driver’s seat of our life this week. Make today count. It will only happen once.

Like this post? Subscribe to the Monday Motivation newsletter for a weekly reminder to make the most of your life.