When I started this life project on June 20th, 2016, something in my life was off. Despite wonderful life coaches, self-help books, conversations about love on Love Bites Radio, and the support of my family, something had to be figured out.
By removing the clutter from my time, space, body, and mind one at a time, I found the answers I was looking for within myself. — answers to questions I didn’t even realize I had! The process felt both harder and more natural than those other methods because I had created it for me specifically.
That’s the core of My Year of Abstinence, I guess. It’s a self-self-help project.
I’m tickled that people are asking how they can make My Year theirs.
The following summarizes the emotional and practical process that guided me from one Challenge to the next. I hope you’ll see the following like a guidebook you take on a wild hike: have fun planning your trip but leave room for wandering now and then, too. I 1000% encourage you to adapt to what feels true to you. You never know what crazy experience will come from it.
Please keep me posted on social: @wordsfoodart, #MyYearofAbstinence / #YearOfNo
I’m here to answer questions: Jacqueline@wordsfoodart.com.
THE EMOTIONAL PREP
The following questions are written in journal form, but express however feels good for you: type, draw, talk into the voice memo app on your phone, whatever! Reflection and recording lock in the whys and help track significant experiences and changes. Dan Gilbert’s Stumbling Upon Happiness is a fun companion for this exploratory process.
- What about my life most feels “off” right now?
- In the past, how have I tried to fix that? What have I tried to add “in” that hasn’t worked? Self-help programs, therapy, books etc.? What was missing about them? Why did those avenues not work for me, and why did I not work for them?
- When do I feel the most uncomfortable in my own skin? The most frustrated? The angriest? The saddest? In what scenarios do I want to feel more self-assured? At peace? Calm? Happy?
- If there were three things in my life I could shift in a big way right now, what would they be? In what way would they move, and how would I feel if I got what I wanted in those ways? What practical changes would I see in my life, and what emotional?
- What does me “doing less” look like in my life? When I think of the idea of “doing less”, what happens in my body? Do I get anxious and scared? Does anything tense up? If so, can I identify the source of that anxiety? Do I feel calmer and lighter? Does my body relax and thank me for the thought? If so, can I identify why I don’t do that more for myself?
THE PRACTICAL PREP
At its core, My Year studies what new thoughts and actions come into play when a habit is removed over a period of time. But “bad habits” can only be shifted if we really want to shift them.
Example: In January, I failed to curb how much television I watch. Watching television can be considered a bad habit, but I didn’t consider it one for me. The removal of negative thought was the bad habit I really wanted to change, and the one I did successfully. The lesson? Focus on something that means something to you so that you’ll dedicate yourself to it wholeheartedly. That will help shift your inner reality.
Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit has some fascinating explanations for how this works inside our brains.
- Start listing habits that you’re curious to explore removing, from the practical to the cerebral. Some categories to get you started:
- Technology: Social media, video games, television, computer time etc.
- Food: Sugar, fast/processed/fried food, caffeine, takeout, dining out etc.
- Grooming: Makeup, looking in mirrors, spa/beauty treatments, buying clothes, buying products tested on animals/carbon footprint/high cost etc.
- Financial: General shopping, spending on ABC, online shopping etc.
- Time: Eating before/after, sleeping before/after, working before/after etc.
- Thought: This is harder to quantify. But if you sense anxiety or negativity around an issue, can you identify when that happens and try to stop it? I wouldn’t suggest this as a first or second Challenge, but it’s good to ponder when journaling.
- Which on that list feels the most pressing right now? Which do you really want to change, and why?
- How hard will it be to remove it – absolutely – for a period of time?
- What do you think might shift if you do remove it? (I didn’t have an answer to this when I started!)
- Can you do a Challenge/Year on your own, or will a partner to help you better stay on task (there is nothing wrong with peer pressure when it comes to this!)? As this is a self-self-help program, it leaves room for “failure” during a Challenge (I totally did!) and accidental cheats. Will you be able to keep going with the Challenge through to the end after them? How can you best set yourself up to keep on the hike?!
Now that the journaling is done, these are the loose “rules” I made for myself. Adapt them as you will.
- Remove one clear habit at a time: Keep it simple, and achievable.
- Focus around taking something out, not putting something in. Abstaining, not adding. Saying no, not saying yes!
- Make the habit something you really want to change.
- The thing shouldn’t require the purchase of something if you can help it.
- The habit should coincide with social interactions, physical health, and overall sense-of-self.
- Pick a habit / Challenge.
- Pick a length of time: (I found forty days more significant than thirty, for some reason. I adapted if needed as I went (like Zero Waste quickly expanded to two months when I realized one wasn’t enough).
- Pick parameters to measure against (use physical, social interactions, and overall sense of self if they feel right for you).
- Pick a mode of documentation (journaling, drawing, voice recording in a phone).
- Have a plan for what you’ll do if you “fail” or “cheat”. This is not about mastering self-discipline. It’s about personal exploration and making your own rules. It’s far more important to record why the “fail” or “cheat” happened, record it, and MOVE ON! It’s a part of the process!