Lent is upon us, and after the indulgence of pancake day, many people will be giving up for something for 40 days and 40 nights.
A Christian tradition, the sentiment around the Lent period is to follow Jesus’ example and give up their vices in a bid to get closer to God.
Of course today, many non-believers still take part in lent, and from a quick perusal of social media I’ve seen people vowing to give up; using their phone in bed (sensible),chocolate (questionable) and all carbohydrates and refined sugars (just plain silly if you ask me).
All jokes aside, this “all or nothing” mentality is not an unusual one and certainly not one simply reserved to lent. But how beneficial (or healthy) is completely giving something up? (Of course we are not referring to drugs, smoking or any other harmful substances or activities here - giving them up is always a good idea).
All or nothing
The all or nothing mindset can be an appealing one, the idea that we are willing to put our whole being into achieving something in order to enrich our lives in some way. However it can also cause problems by it’s very specific nature and its emphasis on black and white thinking. Failure or success. And nothing in between.
For example, you’ve decided to give up chocolate for lent. But in a moment of weakness, you cave and have a square of chocolate. An all or nothing mentality ingrained in your brain will more than likely make you think that you’ve failed, and that square becomes a bar and before you know it you’re eating chocolate every day again.
Wouldn’t it be more sensible to think about life more in terms of balance? Yes, you’ve had a square of chocolate but you draw a line under it and start again without guilt or bingeing?
It works in other ways of course. Maybe you’ve vowed to go to the gym every day, 5 times a week. It’s going great, but then one day you can’t get to the gym for some reason.
An all or nothing mindset can make you believe that in this scenario you have to choose nothing, when actually you could easily pop on a youtube workout at home and still get your exercise in. All or nothing thinking rarely allows room for flexibility, when in busy everyday life, flexibility is the key to achieving your goals.
Another problem with “giving up”, especially in relation to giving up things for a certain period of time is that it gets in the way of consistency. Consistency is one of the keys to a healthy lifestyle, small habits repeated every day that can lead to big changes.
However as chocolate is the most common thing to give up during Lent, and Lent is swiftly followed by Easter, again we are favouring an all or nothing mindset. Give up chocolate for 40 days followed by a massive chocolate binge over Easter - nothing consistent about that.
What really is the point in this?
It hardly shows a will of power if as soon as the time is up we return swiftly to the old habits. Ironically all or nothing mindsets are nothing about power or control but quite often the complete opposite.
So what will I be giving up this lent - well actually I’ll be giving up, giving up. I’ll be eating a little bit of chocolate (probably every day and probably a lot on some other days). I’ll be doing little things that I can every day to stay active (because little by little adds up to a lot) and I certainly won’t be punishing myself if I don’t make it to the gym one day or on those days that I eat a family bar of chocolate. To myself.