For most people, New Years marks a clear point for making a lifestyle change that is intended to last a lifetime. Lent on the other hand, for the religious, is a time of temporary self denial or restriction to increase focus. There are several reasons that a greater percentage of people are successful with Lenten fasts than New Years habit changes. Even if you do not celebrate Lent, these ideas may help you be more successful with your own behavior change.
The first reason many are more successful with habit change during Lent (even if it is temporary) is that they are striving to sacrifice for something that has personal meaning to him or her. Religion is one outlet for existential energy for many people. Existential energy is about those things that give your life meaning, becoming a better person, and those things about which you are passionate. When we strive after these things, we often feel more energized and more motivated to meet the goals we have set for ourselves.
Many have argued that dieting and weight loss can have a spiritual or religious motivation with the belief that the body is the temple of God. Even if that does not align with your belief system, you can utilize existential energy to help you stay motivated. How can your goals help you to be a better person? A better parent? Make a difference for a cause about which you are passionate? It’s not just about losing weight or getting healthy – but more about what will doing so allow you to do for something bigger than yourself?
The second reason people are more successful with habit change during Lent is because the goal is to be disciplined for a temporary period of time. When I was in graduate school my mantra was “I can do anything for a limited amount of time”; I had to tell myself that so many times that mother continues to remind me of that statement when I complain about anything temporary. And yet, Lent is just long enough for someone to get used to a new behavior and start to form a habit. It is a try (a new way of living) before you buy (into permanent life change) idea that has convinced many to stick with their new behaviors. On the other hand, at New Years, not only are you facing an entire year, but the goal is lasting life change; such overnight revolutions are intimidating and set you up for failure.
March 10th, 2011