Like most personal growth enthusiasts, I am highly susceptible to fad challenges. That, and my willingness to sell out for the sake of content creation, would have made me an excellent BuzzFeed employee circa 2016.
As I approach my 6-month anniversary in Japan amidst coronavirus halting all travel plans, I figure that March is an opportune time to hunker down and establish sustainable habits for a settled life. This time period also overlaps with Lent (March 2nd - April 14th), and the part of me that was trained to be a good little Catholic girl is always keen for fear-induced penance. Over the next month, I’m hoping to reset my lifestyle using a guiding framework that I am coining “practical asceticism” - more on that in a later post. I plan to be on my best behavior for the next 31 days as I experiment with grounding practices for intentionality, balance, and holistic wellness.
I’m putting it here so I can hold myself accountable.
Here’s my plan:
1. Morning Routine
As a teacher, my weekday morning routine is remarkably similar to what it was during high school, which is waking up at the last possible moment where I won’t be late for school. It usually involves some amount of scrolling and rushing, both of which I hope to eliminate.
Common consensus is that nothing good ever happens between 3 to 4 AM. In my life, nothing productive ever happens after 10 PM.
I figure that if I don’t have screens to occupy me, one of two things will happen: I’ll simply lay in bed, or I’ll engage in a less stimulating activity like reading, both of which are wins. If an early bedtime means that I wake up earlier than I need to, then that leaves more time for conscious rest the next morning!
3. Intermittent Fasting
There was a period of time in 2021 where 16/8 fasting was second nature to me (probably because I was glued to a desk), but I have since devolved into eating whatever I want whenever I want. It’s a vicious cycle; when I eat, I put something on to watch, and when I watch something, I have the urge to eat - and before I know it, it’s midnight, I have no snacks left, and the YouTube algorithm is recommending me video essays on the criminal psychology of murderers and how to build an A-frame house in the Midwest.
Depending on how I feel (and my willingness to suffer), I may throw in a 2-day fast sometime this month.
4. Mindful and Clean Eating
All roads in my life point to minimalism, including this. Though I am fairly reserved when it comes to inviting household items into my life, I have almost no limits on acquiring consumables such as snacks and canned goods and sauces. As a result, I wonder if I’ve substituted the thrill of spending at the mall for the thrill of spending at the grocery store. There must be a reason why I’d get unreasonably excited to visit farmer’s markets or purchase Trader Joe’s latest GMO fruit-hybrid (apple-pears, cotton candy grapes) back in the States. What would my experience be if I focused on “essentials” only?
Diet is such an icky word and concept, but I guess that’s what I’m embarking on. Most meals that I cook for myself are fairly healthy and balanced (a fortunate vestige of my Californian upbringing), but my downfall is access to a devastating variety of new and appealing Japanese snacks. While I love sweets, I also understand that I should not be eating dessert(s) literally every single day. I want to find solace in my willpower instead of in sugar.
On the whole, I’d like to be more discerning about what I’m consuming and more importantly, why I’m consuming. Food rightfully represents so much more than sustenance; it is culture, comfort, entertainment, and the chance for social interaction. Choosing to eat primarily for the purpose of health will be a challenging reframing, which is why I rate this a 5/5 on difficulty. Eating can be a sacred act if I give it the honor that it deserves.
5. No red meat
As part of my exploration into effective altruism, I have been considering animal welfare. A tiny offering to start: I will not use red meat in anything that I cook for myself. I think that 3 out of every 4 weeks, I do this by accident, so might as well formalize it.
I’m about a decade late to making ethical decisions about eating animals (depending on who you ask), which I will blame on the importance of sharing food within immigrant cultures. Well, I have no family out here to break bread with, so I can make personal decisions about my diet! Maybe one day I’ll take further steps but for now, eating whatever is available at restaurants and social events is such a boon to my mental health that I’m hesitant to give it up.
I have been openly critical about animal activists who give little thought to human lives, but I acknowledge that suffering is suffering, and animals who are raised to become food are suffering. While my activism will always center people, I can spare some thought and personal sacrifice for animals. Also, animal agriculture is definitely killing the earth and I’d like the planet to not degrade past habitability.
I’d also like to issue an apology to all my vegan and freegan and MyVegan and vegetarian and pescatarian and no-red-meat and vegan-except-when-my-boyfriend-cooks friends (and my one “only-chicken” friend, in case you’re reading this) who have served as excellent role models for compassionate and environmentally-friendly eating throughout the entirety of my adult life. In the end, I was convinced into action by old white men, which I acknowledge is extremely offensive.
6. No buy month
Exactly what it sounds like. I will only spend money on bills, gasoline, weekly groceries, and anticipated purchases (for example, I know I’ll need to pay for car maintenance and perhaps some government documents). If I complete my journal sometime this month, I will also “allow” myself to purchase a 100-yen replacement. As mentioned, I will only eat out during the social activities that I’ve already committed to.
Since I believe that I have everything I need, let me act like it.
No Nut November, except it’s March. Honestly, this is not really a sacrifice, but rather the natural course of (non)action. However, pretending like it’s a cool experiment and not what would have happened anyways is less depressing, so roll with it. It also means no masturbation, which every third guy I meet swears makes some kind of huge difference so maybe they’re onto something. Likely not, but it is a small enough sacrifice that the amusement of trying outweighs the cost.
8. Effective Altruism Donations
I have donations set up to automatically withdraw from my account each month so I don’t even have to think about it, but I’m including it within this list because giving seems intertwined with the theme of this month. And it gives me another opportunity to offer myself as a conversation partner for any discussions you might like to have concerning giving and/or morality at large!
9. Try Something New
There is a three-day weekend in March, spanning from the 19th to the 21st. I endeavor to have a Big Experience during this time, one that I won’t broadcast on the internet, but that you are welcome to message me about!
Is it penitent? Not really, maybe the opposite, but it feels like it belongs in this list of experimental forays.
10. Run a half marathon
A fitting way to end the month.
I feel very excited to implement these changes. I’ll be back with reflections around mid-April, fleshing out what “practical asceticism” means to me and extolling the virtues of self-denial and mild suffering, if all goes well. If you want to try any of these things alongside me (or have your own challenges in mind), I’d love to connect! As always, I am cheering you on.