I never thought it possible, but Lent is in vogue this year. Non-Catholics and Catholics alike are taking it upon themselves to give up something in the name of self-improvement. While I like to think I’m always in fashion, I was ahead of the curve on this one. Three years ago, I learned firsthand that less is better than more. As an overstressed marketing director, I found my days fueled by shopping, mocha lattes, cell phones, and a packed day planner--all of which were distracting my attention from my soul work—and shrinking my savings account.
I had a nagging feeling that, however full my life seemed, something was missing. I needed to streamline, but had no idea where to start.

Then I recalled my childhood Lent experiences, where big change involved forgoing my daily requirement of Ring Dings for forty days and forty nights. Back then I obeyed the wishes of my parents and church more out of will power than personal sacrifice. But those early Lenten lessons stuck. As an adult, I learned that sacrifices during Lent are meant to be life-changing. In fact, some believe that truly experiencing Lent can make you a new person. I was once again ready to change. To accomplish this, I chose to give things up “Lent style,” one vice per month, serially throughout the year. Each time I left my traditional comfort zone, I learned a lesson about myself. The biggest lesson was not about what I had given up, but what I had gained.

January: Drinking

After a not-so-memorable New Year’s Eve party, I woke up on January 1st uttering those famous last words, “I am never drinking again.” I managed to sip club soda with a splash of cranberry and lime for the next 31 days.   

Life-Changing Tip: I noticed how much peer pressure there was to have a cocktail after work. I had to overcome feeling like an outsider among my friends.

February: Shopping

My financial analyst applauded me from the sidelines as I decided to give up my biggest vice, shopping—albeit during the shortest month of the year. As a recovering shopaholic, this was no easy task.
Life-Changing Tip: I discovered many articles of clothing in my closet with the tags still on. I began to take inventory of what I owned to determine which of the items I was purchasing I was truly using.

March: Elevators

Considering myself in shape, I thought a few extra flights of steps per day would be no problem. As I crawled the ten flights to work each morning, I was surprised to find how winded I was by the time I got to the top.   
Life-Changing Tip: There are plenty of opportunities to stay active that don’t involve going to the gym. 

April: Newspapers

Starting in college, I was required to read the newspaper every day, and I continued to feel pressure to be informed about everything. But the overwhelmingly bad news was depressing and killing my love of reading. Instead, I swapped the daily news for poetry and began the day with peace.
Life-Changing Tip: When I didn’t force myself to read cover to cover, I was able to revive my joy in reading.

May: Cell phones

My cell phone bill was topping $100 per month because I always went over my minutes.   Plus I was always running late and using my cell phone to call in my excuses.
Life-Changing Tip: Without the phone, I was forced to be on time and to learn quickly that my communication needed to be as clear as possible. Now I take responsibility for my time and my plans.

June: Dining Out

I grew up cooking with my mother and grandmother, preparing homemade feasts. But I used my hectic life as an excuse to avoid the kitchen. I wanted to not only save the money I was spending on restaurants and take-out, but also bring back my love of cooking.
Life-Changing Tip: Cooking at home helped me slow down and learn patience. I was also able to exercise portion control and use fresh ingredients—which benefited my weight and health.

July: Television

Television had become my electronic roommate. I kept it on from the minute I walked in the door after work till I fell asleep. This month, instead of getting sucked in to the latest reality show, I took action by running errands, taking walks, and preparing dinner, all things I had generally left to the weekend.
Life-Changing Tip: I was surprised by how much time I spent mesmerized by TV. Today, I always watch while doing a task, folding laundry, organizing photos, or even exercising--which makes viewing active.