Fast Times

I’d like to invite you to live fast this week.

Whoo hoo!” you say. “About time we got some good partying goin’ on!

Ah, those were the days...

And in fact, there are going to be a lot of parties this week. In the U.S.A. it’s Thanksgiving weekend, a time when we putatively give thanks for the bounty of our year, with symbols like the cornucopia. The idea is to be reflective and cultivate an aura of gratitude for the blessings you’ve recieved (or your “good fortune” or the “perception of a random series of events aligning ever-so-slightly in your favor,” depending on your world view).

The reality is: we get together on Thursday and we gorge ourselves on a lot of good food, good company, and TV. Where I grew up, there was always a monster movie marathon on channel 9, so I’d watch Godzilla and Mighty Joe Young and King Kong again and again.

I’m not sure how much that really inspires thanks, but I am all for the idea of any holiday, regardless of the excuse, so I’m not talking about that today.

But everything needs balance, so I’m going to recommend that along with your feast, you try a fast.

“You don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone…”

Cinderella or Joni Mitchell, take your pick

When I grew up, my parent’s religious views included skipping breakfast on the first sunday of each month. The idea was that you would take the money you would have spent on that meal and contribute it to the church; as a child, I didn’t necessarily get that, but I can tell you one thing: that Sunday lunch tasted better than just about any other meal I had. As they say, hunger is the best spice, and by the time we got back from church I was very appreciative of that meal.

As an adult, I enjoy Lifehacking – which often takes the form of a fast. It’s simply doing without something for a period of time. I’ve done it with coffee, I’ve done it with soda pop, I’ve even occasionally done the “purging” type of fast where you don’t eat at all, just drink weak tea and broth.

I can’t speak to the health benefits of any of those, since I’m not a medical professional, but there is one benefit to every single one: discipline. By doing them, I can prove that I am, in fact, the boss of me, not my coffee habit or my craving for Krispy Kremes. Self-control is a muscle, after all, and exercising it in any way helps it get stronger.

Food, however, is not the only thing you can take a fast from. Your world is full of little habits that you can try to cut out for a while, just to see how it feels. Maybe it’s driving the car anywhere less than two miles away. Maybe it’s X-Box. Maybe it’s an hour of sleep in the morning that you sacrifice, to see what it’s like to add the equivalent of an entire workday to your life.

What’s the Point?

I have to emphasize here: I am not saying that any of those things are bad. Especially sleep – sleep is wonderful! The point of the fast is not to cut out a bad habit – it’s to more clearly understand the habits you have, and not take them for granted.

I’ve found that there are a couple of possible results from a fast:

  • I realize that life feels better without that particular luxury, and gives me time to enjoy something else.
  • I realize that life feels worse without it, and that makes me appreciate it all the more when I resume it.

Regardless, by actively engaging in a fast you are making yourself more powerful. You are proving that you can function without that particular luxury, and you may even find that you prefer to. You may also discover the opposite: this is something I do not want to sacrifice in my life, and I’m willing to accept the responsibility for this particular pleasure.

I recently undertook a gluten-free (well, to be fair, it’s “drastically-gluten-reduced”) diet, just to see if all the things I’d been reading about it were true. You know what? In my case, it isn’t. I haven’t experienced the promised weight loss, I don’t feel amazingly energetic, and my teeth aren’t magically healing themselves of all cavities.

But I did learn how to maneuver in our culture and avoid gluten. I saw, more clearly than ever, just how much we focus on that particular substance in our diets. And when I decided to try some gluten-rich food  again (ah, Krispy Kreme!) I discovered that I did, in fact, feel a little worse for it. I’m not saying that’s going to be everyone’s experience, but I know it’s mine. That means I can make the choice to be gluten-free not because I’m following a fad but simply because I want to.

Besides, it gives you a chance to eat a lot of quality ice cream and dark chocolate with no guilt whatsoever.

Choose Your Poison

That’s more of the Alice Cooper variety of poison rather than another big hair band:

I wanna love you but I better not touch,
I wanna hold you but my senses tell me to stop,
I wanna kiss you, but I want it too much…

So the practice I’m inviting you to this week is to pick out something that you indulge in on a regular basis – and don’t. See what happens when that thing, that taste, that pleasure, that vice, hell, maybe even that person* is gone from your life. What does that do? How does that change things? You can pick out an arbitrary time to resolve it, but I think this week is the perfect time (at least in the U.S.) because by thursday you’ll have a pretty good idea of how thankful you are, really, for that habit…and maybe then on Friday you can express some of the love that you have for it in a nice indulgent way.

Here’s some ideas, a quick ten-count of things you could pretty easily choose to “fast” for a few days:

  1. Soda pop (hint: try club soda & lime. You feel so sophisticated!)
  2. TV (and yes, Netflix counts!)
  3. Facebook or Twitter or your social media of choice (scary, isn’t it?)
  4. Chocolate
  5. Any media that includes commercials (including clothing!)
  6. Your car (try public transportation – see if you could make do without your car, because hey, what if you lost it?)
  7. Half of your closet (how many clothes do you really need?)
  8. Sugar (blue agave is your friend, if you try this)
  9. Your favorite vice (Cigarettes and whiskey and wild, wild women...“)
  10. Gossip (i.e., if someone’s not there, don’t talk about them. Harder than you’d think.)

There is No Fail

The best part about a voluntary fast: you can’t do it wrong. Maybe you last a week. Maybe a day. Maybe only a few hours before you have to have that CSI fix! That’s great: you’ve learned something about yourself, your life, and the things you love. If you love CSI that much, maybe that means you should expand your habit to include forensic crime novels, or explore other shows like it (Da Vinci’s Inquest, anyone?).

There is no virtue in foolish consistency, and if your fast feels wrong, be an adult and stop. You are totally entitled to change your mind. Just remember that like any subject, the amount you learn from it is dependent on the focus and time you give to it – so going without CSI for the next two hours might not really give you much information. Doing without your two-pack-a-day smoking habit, though…two hours can possibly tell you a lot.

I’d like to hear from you in the comments: what do you think you might fast this week? What do you think the results will be?

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