When I started this life project on June 20th, 2016, something 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 change.
By removing clutter from my time, space, body, and mind, I found answers within myself to questions I didn’t realize I had! The process felt both harder and more natural than previous methods because I created it for me.
That’s the weird core of My Year of Abstinence, I guess. It’s a self-self-help project.
As some lovely people have asked for guidance on how to maybe do something like this for themselves, the following summarizes the process that guided me from one Challenge to the next. Use it like a guidebook for a wild hike: have fun planning but leave room for wandering, too. Adapt to what feels true to you.
Please keep me posted on social (@wordsfoodart, #MyYearofAbstinence) and I’m for you at Jacqueline@wordsfoodart.com.
THE EMOTIONAL PREP
Journal, type, draw, talk into the voice memo app on your phone, whatever! Just think, reflect, and record why, 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?
- When do I feel the most uncomfortable in my own skin? The most frustrated? The angriest? The saddest?
- What will my life look like in one year if that doesn’t change? In five years? Ten?
- In what scenarios do I feel the most self-assured? At peace? Calm? Happy?
- What does “doing less” look like for my life? When I think of the idea of “doing less”, what happens in my body? Do I get anxious and scared? If so, can I identify the source of that anxiety? Or do I feel calmer and lighter? Does my body relax and thank me? If so, can I identify why I don’t do that more for myself?
THE PRACTICAL PREP
Habits can only be shifted if we really want to shift them.
In January, I failed to curb how much television I watch because I didn’t want to change the habit. The removal of negative thought was the habit I 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?!
- Pick a habit/Challenge: Remove one clear habit at a time. Make it something you really want to change, and something you take out (no adding in!).
- Pick a length of time: For some reason, 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 meters to measure against: Use physical, social interactions, and overall sense of self if they feel right for you).
- Consider a mode of documentation: journaling, drawing, voice recording in a phone, etc. Just have a way to capture your thoughts and sensations so you can experience the experience!
- Have a fail plan: This is not about self-discipline; it’s about personal exploration and shifting your reality. If you accidentally cheat or a Challenge fails entirely, explore why it happened, record it, and move on! Embrace the process!