They say it takes 21 days to break a habit. I find that 40 seems to work for me. Each year I look around at my life and find the one thing that's begun to dominate my time or my thinking, and give that up for Lent.
One year it was TV. I'd reached the point where Jrex would come home from work and I wouldn't go say hi and would get pissy when he came to the TV room to say hello to me, "Wait 'til ____ is over!" I saw that and thought, "Hmm...warped? Yes. Acceptable? No." So I just stopped watching it. Ever since, it hasn't had the same hold over my time.
Another year I gave up novels. Read lots of magazines, watched lots of movies, but no novels. With that one, I'd reached a state where I read a novel every day or two. My job was boring, the computer files I worked with were huge, and my computer didn't have enough RAM. I'd read as a file opened, as I applied a filter, changed a color or saved. I saved frequently!
The hardest year was the one where I gave up all forms of media. I decided that for 40 days, the only thing I would read was the Bible. I didn't watch movies or TV either. I know I'm supposed to tell you it's my favorite book and how much I love it, but it's just not true. I usually read to get away from my life and reading the Bible is NOT brain-dead reading.
This year, I gave up sweets. I'd started going by the receptionist's desk just to raid her chocolate stash. Anything that was brought into the department, I 'had' to eat. I 'had' to have chocolate and pecans for dessert. I 'deserved' that sweet snack. On and on. In many ways this has been my least constructive fast: I'm breaking a habit, but not really altering my character much. However, it's been the most public one. Someone at work bought 30 boxes of Girl Scout cookies to help out her niece. They've been EVERYWHERE. All the people in my department know I've given up sweets for Lent. We eat together too often for me to get away with not eating sweets 'just because'. At meeting after meeting, the Girl Scout cookies are on the table and one of the other Creatives is laughing at me because I look so wistful.
It's been an interesting conversation starter. I'm sure most people assume I'm Catholic. The truth is, I'm following my Mom's footsteps and being a magpie of traditions. Fasting is one of the spiritual disciplines and I've seen how powerful it can be. The 'season of Lent' has become a convenient time to reconfigure my character.
I must say, Easter and the eruption of LIFE has taken on a whole new level of joy since I started my Lenten 'celebration'. Usually by Easter I can receive back the thing I gave up as a gift instead of demanding it as a 'right'. I tell ya, that box of Thin Mints in the freezer is sounding like a mighty fine gift! ;-)