“Changing a bad habit is never easy, but research suggests that replacing a bad habit with a good habit is the best strategy for success.”
This week marks the beginning of an important season in the Christian church called Lent. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday (February 17 this year) and continues until Easter (April 4). Historically, the church undertook a season of fasting from food during Lent as a spiritual practice. In fact, most major religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, include fasting as a practice. Today people practice all types of fasting for health reasons and weight loss, and scientific research has shown specific benefits of fasting for short periods of time, including increased mental clarity.
Although fasting is traditional abstaining from food, in the early 1900’s, William Henry Ward wrote “A Lenten Prayer.” In this poem, the author suggests several negative habits we can fast from, including discontent, bitterness, worry, and complaining.
Why do we complain so often? Unfortunately, it has become a bad habit for many of us. We complain when things are hard, when we don’t understand something, and especially over things we cannot control. Complaining, like most bad habits, feels good in the moment. We feel like we are releasing some form of stress or commiserating with others. In reality, we are spreading more stress. Complaining is contagious. A fast from complaining will not only benefit us individually, but also collectively.
Changing a bad habit is never easy, though. Research suggests that replacing a bad habit with a good habit is the best strategy for success. Ward’s poem also models that, suggesting that when we fast from these negative habits, we instead feast on the positive. Feast on optimism, appreciation, and enthusiasm, and gratitude. Being grateful has been shown to improve physical, mental, and emotional health. In addition, grateful people sleep better and have greater mental strength.
I tried to put this into practice with a group of students this week. I asked them what they are looking forward to in the coming year. They said things like seeing family members, going to school, and getting a new dog. Instead of complaining about what we are missing, we were able to look ahead with gratitude for the good things that are coming.
During the 2021 season of Lent, I am challenging myself to fast from complaining and feast on gratitude. I encourage you as a family to decide what negative habits you can fast from and replace with positive habits. I am grateful for this community of Dalat. In the midst of a pandemic, there is nowhere I would rather be.
Written by Shawna Wood
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