Usually we stop doing certain things because they’re bad habits. I consider my Facebook addiction a bad habit, for example, so I got off it for 30 days. 2 years back, I did the same for social media in general. Since then I realized how effective 30-day challenges are in terms of letting go of previous habits and building new ones. And so I started applying the same for food: I’ve done a month of no rice, another of no junk (spell: fast food, chips and soft drinks). I’ve attempted a month of no alcohol (and failed on the 27th day). The latest I’ve done, which I finished 2 weeks back involved not eating sweets. Sweets, for chrissakes!
In every challenge, the basic rule is this: choose one thing you think you need to let go of, and just don’t do it. For 30 days.
It’s so simple, and yet it’s a very big commitment. There’s so much teeth-gritting involved, that I won’t be surprised if normal people would think of it as self-deprivation. I mean, Vida, why the hell do you do this to yourself?
I disagree with that opinion, by the way.
When we let go of one thing, that thing will leave a space that we can then fill with something else.
And assuming we do replace it with something better (i.e. cleaner, healthier, happier, more trustworthy, more valuable), then it becomes more of an act of self-preservation. The only thing we’re deprived of, perhaps, is instant gratification, which I have said time and again doesn’t necessarily equate to enrichment. See, it’s actually the other way around. By continuously letting bad habits fill our spaces, we deprive ourselves of the freedom to fill those spaces with good stuff.
When I let go of Facebook, I knew something possibly more productive can take the place of all those hours wasted refreshing feeds. In that course of time, I revamped my blog, reunited with Twitter (which is a little bit more peaceful), read more online magazines (which provide a little bit more useful content), and generally became more productive at work. I never even bothered to reinstall the app anymore. I didn’t want to. It just didn’t make sense now that I have experienced how much more I can do with my time.
Letting go of rice forced me to find alternatives. Since I knew my usual meals will only be half as filling, then I started to eat more vegetables and fruits, slowly introducing myself to a somewhat healthier lifestyle.
It’s still a matter of choice at the end of the day. Which perspective do we want to look at it from? What do we fill our life spaces with? The answers won’t just fall on our hands from the sky. Most of the time, we need to be creative in thinking about it.
Which brings me to my next point: when we subtract from our default routine, we are forced to become creative in finding alternatives to fill the gaps it left behind.
Subtraction is creation, essentially. (P.S. I may have stolen this line from one of James Altucher’s podcasts.)
In one of our Capoeira classes, one of the rules we imposed during the game was to throw kicks using only one leg. It was a very simple rule, and yet what I found out about myself as well as the other students amazed me.
When we go about our game in Capoeira (or almost in any other sport, or even in many aspects of life), we often resort to certain default movements and combinations. There’s nothing entirely wrong about that. We repeatedly train sequences for muscle memory so we don’t have to consciously think of every move as we do them. But sometimes we overdo this “default-ness” to the point of restriction.
We restrict ourselves to what we – meaning our bodies – already know, such that we no longer allow ourselves to rethink, be creative, and do things that are outside of our comfort zone. Going back to our training session, upon imposing the one leg rule, we then catch our habitual combinations mainly because we can’t do them. And it’s because we can’t do them that we are forced to create new ones, and discover that there are a lot more ways of doing things than what we are used to. Subtraction is creation.
Applying the same concept to life, imagine if we completely take away just one or two small things in our daily routine for a couple of days. It could be as minute as pressing the snooze button on your morning alarm, or your favorite food (oh my, I eat chicken every single day), or a habit that’s been bugging you all your life, or maybe it’s a person that’s no longer good for you, or maybe… You pick. Then just don’t do it.