Since I now live in a state that has very few Catholics, I’d forgotten that today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. I haven’t seen a single person walking around with a smudged black cross on their forehead to symbolize repentance. In fact, Lent wouldn’t have been on my radar at all if it weren’t for having spent the weekend in New Orleans at Mardi Gras. You’re supposed to get all the sin out of your system by Fat Tuesday, so starting the next day you can give up something significant to sympathize with Jesus’ 40-day Biblical struggle in the desert.
I haven’t given up anything for Lent in years, mainly because I’m one of those spiritual-but-not-religious former Catholics who doesn’t realize that Easter is coming until it’s here. Even when I was a churchgoer, I never quite understood how depriving yourself of chocolate or video games made you a better person. This never became clear to me in Sunday school, or even at my Catholic high school and college. Wikipedia provides a better explanation than I ever found as a child: during Lent, you give up a vice that keeps you distant from God — or, as I see it, from evolving as a person. Giving up a vice makes a lot more sense to me than banishing the Nintendo Wii.
This Lent, a 46-day period (the six Sundays aren’t counted among the symbolic 40 days) from February 25 through April 11 this year, I’ve decided to give up one of my unhealthy habits as part of my personal development. I woke up this morning thinking about what I could give up. Here are the possibilities that came to mind:
Gossip: I’m not sure it’s necessary to give up my brand of gossip. I love talking about people and their lives, because they’re endlessly fascinating to me. While some would call this gossip, I don’t, because I don’t have malicious intent. I just want to know who got engaged, and how it happened, and how long they’ve been together….all the things that Darren and a lot of other men will never, ever care to ask.
Worry: I wish. If it were easy just to stop, but genetic disposition and years of practice have given my brain’s worry circuits a life of their own.
Procrastination: Nope. I think I would have to give up Facebook and Gmail for Lent, which just isn’t realistic.
Regret: Bingo. For the next 46 days, I’ve decided to give up regret.
My psychology studies have taught me that if you’re giving up a persistent habit, it’s easier to replace the habit with something healthy than go cold turkey. For example, smokers are supposed to chew gum or eat carrots instead of lighting up.
Here’s how my replacement behavior will work: If I feel a twinge of regret for something I “should have” done but didn’t, I’ll think of at least one reason why things might turn out better because I didn’t do it before, and what I can do about it now. For example:
My regret: I wish that I’d started a couple of articles about Reschool Yourself earlier so I didn’t have such a deadline crunch.
Why might things be better because I started late? Just yesterday, I had a conversation with a friend about the project that informed the way I’m able to talk about it. My articles will now be stronger because of this.
What can I do about it now? Start writing.
I don’t really believe in regrets, because I know that every action has brought me to this moment, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling them. In the back of my mind, I still hear the little voice that says, “Things would have turned out so much better if you had done x, y, and z.”
This Lent, I’m hoping to practice living without regrets. My mantra will be a quote that hangs on the wall of the Jackson Free Press writing classroom and says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. – Chinese proverb.”
Oh, my people are so wise. Whatever I think I should have done 20 years ago, I will just do what I can now, and assume that it’s meant to be.
Your Two Cents: Leave a Comment!
Even if you’re not religious, what unhealthy habit would you like to give up for Lent? What healthy behavior could you replace it with?