Giving up something habitual for 40 days is a difficult task, but so is doing something unselfish for 40 days in a row. It’s a lot easier to curl up and go comatose with a steady stream of Netflix than to participate in family, friendships and charity.
According to psychologist Jeremy Dean, author of “Making Habits, Breaking Habits: Why We Do Things, Why We Don’t, and How to Make Any Change Stick,” concentrating on giving up a certain habit is retroactive.
“An odd thing happens when we try to suppress thoughts they come back stronger,” says Dean on his Huffington Post blog. “It turns out that thought suppression is counter-productive. Studies of people trying as hard as they can not to think about white bears, show the thought [of white bears]just comes back stronger. The same with habits: if you try to push the thought of cake out of your mind, suddenly it will be everywhere.”
A common theme of this year’s Lent was students not just giving up bad habits, but also incorporating new habits, usually on an altruistic plane, into their lives, because giving up a habit is better accomplished through a two-fold process.
Writes Dean: “Breaking a habit is all about replacing it, not destroying the old one. That’s why it’s much better to plan a new good habit to replace the bad old one. Try to learn a new response to a familiar old cue. For example, if worrying makes you bite your nails then when you worry, do something else with your hands, like making a hot drink, doodling or chewing gum.”
Jackie Posek, assistant director of Catholic Campus Ministry, gave up Diet Coke for Lent, and also explained the meaning behind sacrifice during Lent.
“I’ve been thinking about Diet Coke; I mean, I love it,” Posek said. “Lent is about recognizing an impulse for what it is. I mean I drink so much Diet Coke, like it’s not healthy. It’s poison for your body, yet I continuously do it.”
But Posek took the two-fold approach to supplement her Lenten promise by vowing to better forge her relationships in her life with friends and family.
Posek said men and women who exist solely in the earthly physical world without tapping into an inner spirit get bound up so much in what they do and produce. And people get focused on attaching their identities to external things, which becomes pride.
“The question to ponder during Lent is what if you lose your status, your job or something that you have been putting your whole worth in?” Posek asked. “That’s original sin. It’s not recognizing our inherent worth-that without all those things we are still okay.”
Posek said Lent is when you retreat inward and reevaluate yourself and try to deny the physical attachments in life.
“You can get very critical at the weaknesses of others,” Posek said. “But when you recognize your own weaknesses, you become much more passionate. I just think about the fact that I struggle with such a little thing as Diet Coke. It’s human.”
Aside from sacrificing Diet Coke, Posek committed to being a better person. She said cultivating relationships and being a good daughter and friend takes energy.
“Sometimes I just really feel like zoning out and watching Netflix,” Posek said. “But, it’s like, one more Netflix episode, or I could call my mother. Sometimes I don’t want to give my energy.”
Posek said she is anticipating drinking a Diet Coke when Lent ends. But she is happy with her sacrifice and using that energy to do better things.
“I’m thinking about it, and I’ll probably go back to drinking it every day again.” Posek said. “That’s a good reminder of how human I am.”