This is Part 4 in a five part series
I’ve written before about the power of fasting to spur to spur creative growth. I’m writing another post about fasting because a) it really is super powerful and b) it’s one of the best ways I’ve found to get unstuck.
When preparing to write this post I poked around to see if there was any research on the mental benefits of purposeful deprivation. I was frustrated to find that fasting research has focused on fasting as a tool for weight loss. I find this ridiculous. The purpose of fasting is to grow not to shrink. And fasting isn’t limited to food—you can fast from social media, the internet, gossip, make up. All of these are beneficial and none of them are represented in the current literature.
For example, many studies indicate that vegetarians might be happier overall than meat eaters. Scientists have attributed this to chemicals in meat. This very well may be true. In my personal experience, the benefit of not eating meat has been entirely mental.
Since it seems very few other people are writing about the power of fasting, I will refer to my original post on the creative power of fasting:
“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.”
And here’s what other famous people have had to say about fasing:
“I fast for greater physical and mental efficiency.” – Plato (428-348 B.C.)
“Everyone can perform magic, everyone can reach his goals, if
he is able to think, if he is able to wait, if he is able to fast.”
― Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha
“Fasting is the first principle of medicine; fast and see the strength of the spirit reveal itself.” – Rumi
Fasting isn’t about weight loss. It’s about improving your mind and spirit. And it’s a great way to jolt you out of whatever rut life has tossed you in.
Steps to Effective Fasting:
1. Identify what you should give up
For a fast to be effective, you need to give up something matters to you. If you rarely drink, cutting out alcohol is not going to provide you a good growth opportunity. If you don’t care about clothes, giving up fashion won’t be a sacrifice. The key is to find something that is not bad in and of itself, but that you rely on in a potentially unhealthy way.
I call these Crutch Comforts. At the beginning of this year I made a list of Crutch Comforts and I’ve been trying to give up one a month. A few things on my list:
- Eating out
Reading was actually a recent addition. I never thought of reading as something that could have harmful effects. I read a lot, but I don’t think of it as an addiction. However, because I also write a lot, reading can have the adverse effect of filling my head with other people’s ideas when I need to be generating my own.
Make your list and then choose one thing you’re willing to go without.
2. Set a time frame
Fasts can last for any period of time. If you are doing an extremely calorie restricted fast, it’s probably best to start with a short period of time. Religions often prescribe 21 or 40 day fasts. Personally, I prefer to do fasts by month. Why? It’s easy to remember for one thing. I try to give up one thing each month. Choose the time frame that makes the most sense for your life and mark it on your calendar. When I did a 21-day fast recently I blocked it out on my calendar so I would be reminded of it every time I checked my schedule.
3. Choose one thing to ADD
The Lenten season is most famous for fasting, but the spiritual practice is also supposed to involve adding something to your life.
At its core, fasting isn’t about deprivation. Fasting is about giving up something hindering you so that you can focus on what really matters to you. Think about what you want more of in your life and how what you’re giving up can make room for that.
For example, maybe you want to exercise more. If you give up TV, you can use your normal Netflix time for working out. Or if you want to be better at keeping in touch with family, give up social media and use scrolling time to call your mom.
4. Tell someone (but don’t tell everyone)
A study from Dominican University found that students who shared their goals with a friend were twice as likely to complete them as those who kept their goals to themselves. Accountability is key to success.
Choose one person in your close circle of community to share your fast with. You don’t even need to ask them to “keep you accountable” (in my experience this usually backfires) just let them know what you’re giving up and for how long. Ideally, choose someone who will notice if you go back on your word. For example, I usually tell my roommate (who also happens to be a good friend) when I’m giving something up because we spend enough time together for her to notice if I’m cheating.
So if you’re giving up a food item, tell someone who you eat a lot with. If you’re giving up movies, tell the person who’s your movie buddy. Etc.
The key thing is: tell one person, not everyone. The more people you tell, the less your fast becomes about your spiritual growth, and the more it becomes about how your fast looks to other people. As Jesus said, “when you fast, don’t make it obvious.”
Accountability is a proven way to achieve goals. However (and this is a big however) telling too many people about your goals has been shown to decrease your likelihood of achieving them. When we start telling people we’re doing something, it makes us feel like we’ve achieved something. We’re then less likely to actually do the thing we’ve been telling people we plan to do. Cue vicious cycle.
So tell one trusted friend. And then don’t tell anyone else.
5. Pay attention
Now comes the important part: the fast itself. You’ve given up your Comfort Crutch. What now? Get the most out of your fast by taking the time to pay attention. Are you really struggling with what you gave up? Why? Lean in to whatever discomfort you feel. How do you feel? What’s different? I recommend keeping a journal or typing out quick notes in your phone whenever you have a revelation.
Have you ever done an intentional fast? Got any tips? Let me know in the comments!
Want more articles like this? Sign up for my weekly newsletter.