Just four months shy of five years ago, I decided to begin an experiment whereby I would test my self-discipline over the course of several months. I labeled this process Doing Without. I suppose one might think of it as an atheist’s version of Lent, without the compelling reason behind it. The idea was that I would give up, for a month at a time, something in my life that I enjoyed. My original plan was to begin with doing without coffee for the first month, alcohol the second month, meat the third month, and so on. I had in mind that I would practice this for one full year. For each deprivation, I would reward myself with a replacement. It was, essentially, controlled asceticism with a reward for sacrifice.
Instead of coffee, I would go for long walks. Instead of alcohol, I would drink as much iced tea as I desired. In place of meat, I would allow myself as many vegetables as I could comfortably consume. Giving up coffee and alcohol the first two months presented no insurmountable challenges. All was well until the third month. Midway into the month, I allowed the work involved in doing without meat to derail the plan. It wasn’t as if my craving for meat made it impossible to stick with my plan. The problem was two-fold: my spouse was not interested in going meatless and the difficulty of menu planning was greater than I realized. I called the third month a temporary setback and went about moving on, giving up social media (except for this blog) for the next month. But like my lengthy experience breaking diets, my failure to adhere to my self-imposed sacrifices made me feel like I’d ruined the entire process. So, even though the miscarriage of meatlessness caused me to adjust the remainder of the plan with the intention of following through, it was a hollow intent. That hiccup in my performance made me feel inept and inadequate. My heart was no longer in it. Shortly afterward, I quietly gave up my doing without experiment. The experience left me feeling like an abject failure, in terms of self-discipline and otherwise. And, like my experiences with diets, the failure of doing without has haunted me ever since. It’s not like my every waking hour is consumed by guilt at my failure, but I haven’t been able to let the collapse of my grand experiment go.
I think it’s time for another shot at restoring my self-confidence and polishing my sadly tarnished self-image (recognizing full-well that another spectacular failure could do even more damage). It’s time to start anew. If I had the cajones, for the first month of my new doing without program I’d give up food, followed the next month by giving up water. That would be a true test of my will. Speaking of which, I’d best make sure mine is current if I decide to go that route. On a more serious note, one of my multitude of odd character flaws is that I simply cannot bring myself to start any major new endeavor that involves keeping a record except at the beginning of a month. So, I missed starting this process in April by only a few days. To put a positive spin on things, that lost opportunity for an April onset gives me more time to plan my newest doing without program. I will make a few adjustments this time around. For one, I will commit that, should an occasional misstep occur, I will dust my self-confidence off and continue on—a stumble will be no excuse to abandon the race. The new endeavor will be simpler and more flexible. Though I want to plan from the outset what I will give up on a month-to-month basis, I will not feel bound by either the order of my sacrifices or the list of items I intend to give up.
My mental abnormality that prevents me from beginning the doing without program in April does not prohibit me from getting in a little practice. So, between now and mid-month, I’ll decide what to give up in May. I may scale back a bit for the remainder of the month to ease the transition.
The mental acrobatics surrounding the planning for doing without must necessarily include some reflection on the core reason that I feel the need to do this in the first place. While it’s a test of my self-discipline, why do I feel the need to test it? What flaw in my character am I attempting to work through by engaging in a series of short-term asceticism exercises? I’m just asking the questions here. I don’t yet have answers, at least not ones I’m willing to share yet.
In the coming days and weeks, I’ll record my plans here on my blog and will comment over time on my progress. And, if I figure out what I’m trying to prove (or what failing I am attempting to overcome), I’ll write about that, too.