If you’re Catholic, you know all too well what this Wednesday signifies: A generous application of ashes on your forehead and a momentary farewell to chocolate, pizza or whatever your guilty pleasure is until Holy Thursday (or Easter Sunday, if you want extra brownie points). But even non-Catholics may appreciate the idea of Lent, especially if health and self-improvement are part of your M.O. Here are a few reasons why everyone—regardless of religion—may want to consider taking part in the 40-day journey.
You’ll be 60 percent closer to forming a new habit
Eliminating sugar or abstaining from meat for 40 days is enough time to make a dent into transforming an unhealthful habit all together. But instead of thinking of Lent as an opportunity to break the bad, reframe it into forming the new. Creating a new routine will shift your focus from “resisting temptation” to replacing it with something more beneficial or healthier, notes author Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit. That’s the reason why an organization like Alcoholics Anonymous works, he told NPR. Instead of going to a bar or out for a drink, you go to a meeting instead. And it might also help to know there’s a proven number of days that can transform a habit. According to a study in the European Journal of Social Psychology, the magic number is 66 days. So if you make it through the Lenten 40, you’re already three-fifth of the way there.
You’re in good company
Considering that there are 1.25 billion Catholics in the world, chances are that you already know someone who’s partaking in Lent. And knowing others are in it with you can be crucial when you’re trying to change habits, according to Duhigg. When you have a moment of weakness, knowing that someone else is succeeding can be a motivator to keep going, he says.
It’s good for your emotional health
While the common assumption is that Lent requires sacrifice, there’s also the option of doing something enriching instead. Some examples include volunteering a few hours each week, praying, reflecting or meditating daily or performing random acts of kindness. Since studies show that showing kindness can reduce stress, Lent could be a renewal of sorts. Plus, your actions are likely having ripple effect as well. Research has found that witnessing acts of kindness also inspires others to be more generous.
Whether you plan to transform an unhealthy habit, reboot your New Year’s resolution or demonstrate a little more kindness, making a Lenten promise could very well have some life-changing potential. What are you giving up (or doing more of) over these next 40 days?