If you haven’t yet decided how to participate in the Lenten season, but still want to be a part of this period of introspection and self-improvement, you’ve got plenty of time. During the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Holy Saturday, many people choose to give up something—typically a vice or an unhealthy habit—in a symbolic gesture of sacrifice, or they may take on an enriching project or activity in an effort to improve themselves or others.
Although Lent is typically a Christian observance, people of all religions (or none at all) can also participate. After all, the name comes from the Old English word len(c)ten, which translates to "spring"—and there's no better time than spring to purge the negative and usher in the positive.
Not sure how to get started? Below are some unconventional Lent ideas.
Are you and your family observing Lent? How have you chosen to take part?
- Purge an item every day. This can be anything from an uncomfortable sweater to a piece of art that no longer inspires you. Choose a different room, dresser or closet for your purge item each day. At the end of Lent, you'll have 40 items to donate—and less clutter throughout the house.
- Give up texting. Okay, maybe not entirely—but try replacing at least one text a day with a real live phone conversation (or, better yet, a face-to-face chat). It might take a little longer, but the relationship-boosting rewards are worth it. To take it a step further, substitute a phone call for a good old-fashioned letter.
- Cut out nighttime eating. According to a study published in the The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, nighttime eating was shown to trigger increased weight gain. Midnight snackers are also more likely to make poor food choices than those who eat earlier. If you must nosh at night, choose healthy, high-protein snacks that will fill you up without an excess of fat and calories.
- Give everyone in your family a compliment. When immersed in the daily grind, it's easy to take your family for granted. Make it a point to say something nice to your significant other and children every day. It can be as simple as "You did a great job on your book report," or "I appreciate you picking up the dry cleaning."
- Give up elevators. Studies have shown that taking the stairs can have a big impact on your health—and could even help you live longer.
- Every day, pass on a purchase. Maybe it's the coffee you usually buy on the way to work, or the pair of earrings that are calling your name. Whatever it is, make a conscious decision to not buy it, and stick the money into savings or a donation jar instead.
- Eat out less. You don't have to trade takeout for hours in the kitchen. Check out these 14 healthy and delicious slow cooker recipes for easy, one-pot dinner ideas that will save money and calories.
- Decide on dinner before lunch. The key to sticking to a healthy diet is having a meal plan. When you know ahead of time what you're going to make for dinner, you'll be less likely to grab take-out or eat something unhealthy.
- Don't watch TV while sitting. According to a Nielsen report, the average U.S. adult spends more than five hours per day watching TV. That's a lot of sedentary time. Even if you're only watching a fraction of that, sneak in some exercise while catching up on your favorite shows.
- Never check your phone while you're with other people. By looking at your phone in the presence of others, you're not only implying that other communications are more important, but you're also cheating yourself out of a potentially enriching social experience.
- Don't drive. If your destination is a manageable distance away and the weather is good, leave your car at home in favor of biking or walking. You'll burn some extra calories, get some rejuvenating fresh air and save on fuel costs. If you must drive, take the farthest possible parking spot and enjoy the extra few minutes of exercise.
- Go to bed 30 minutes earlier and get up 30 minutes earlier. Having an extra half-hour of quiet, well-rested time every morning—whether you use it to exercise, prepare a healthy breakfast or meditate—will get your day started on a positive note. For bonus points, stop using the snooze button.
- Give up gossip. It might seem fun and harmless in the moment, but talking negatively about others ultimately makes everyone feel bad, even the ones doing the gossiping. If you hear others bad-mouthing someone, point out something positive about the person. If they don't follow suit, leave the conversation.
- Give up paper plates. It may seem trivial, but when you use only "real" dishes, you may put more thought into the food you're preparing and approach meals more mindfully. As a bonus, you'll cut down on waste and promote eco-friendly habits for your family.
- Stop comparing. It's great to draw inspiration from others, but resist the urge to use their accomplishments as a benchmark for yours. Every time you're tempted to measure yourself against someone else—whether it's that super-fit woman at the gym, a culinary whiz in your cooking class or another mom who appears to have it all together—remind yourself that you are progressing at the perfect pace for you.