In the time of an explosion of suggestions of what to do for Lent, I put forth yet another idea: the “negativity fast”. The negativity fast consists of refraining from saying anything negative for the duration of your choosing. Forbidden negativity includes, but is not limited to, complaints, pessimism, criticism, and even ostensibly harmless sarcasm. When it was first suggested to me, the idea of a negativity fast (especially the thought of refraining from sarcasm) seemed slightly terrifying. One girl told me that she would be willing to go on a negativity “diet”, but she didn’t think she could do a full-blown “fast”. Not being the most cheerful of persons, I decided that I probably needed to work on reducing my negativity output (I had been driving my family crazy with my darkly sarcastic comments). I declared that I would fast from negativity of all sorts for a month.
I failed. By the last week of the allotted month, I was constantly forgetting about the negativity fast. However, though I was not determined enough to finish it, I did take away some valuable lessons from it.
One thing that helped me was the support of friends. Two of my friends decided to do the negativity fast together with me, and with our collective encouragement and shared experiences we went pretty far. In fact, it was only when I stopped talking to my friends about the fast that I forgot about it. There is much to be said for the accountability that friends can provide during periods of sacrifice and struggle towards improvement.
The hardest aspect of the negativity fast was probably remembering that I was doing it. Many 9f us often spout negative words unthinkingly. I had to constantly remind myself that I was supposed to be refraining from such speech. The ease of speaking negatively opened my eyes to how I don’t even realize half the times I am unkind.
Besides the impulsive habit of speaking negatively, I was continually tempted during the month to say something negative despite the fast. In our culture, acerbic sarcasm and even rudeness is often seen as clever. We see such behavior applauded in movies, books, and social media. The wish to be seen as the witty originator of a snappy comment (whether or not the comment actually was clever) often overcame the better part of me which warned, “That comment is hurtful, and you’re on a negativity fast.”
The fast also helped me realize not only how negative I am towards others, but how negative I am towards myself. Too often, I found myself saying “idiot” to myself under my breath, usually over something of trivial importance. A mindset that seems to be common is that while it is rude to speak of others negatively, it is somehow acceptable to denigrate yourself. But it’s not—you are a child of God and deserve all the respect which others deserve from you.
Of course, we are to be positive all the time, but sometimes it’s beneficial to spend some time focusing specifically on rooting out negativity. In view of the benefits I gleaned from it, I’ve been thinking of trying the negativity fast again, perhaps for a shorter period of time…maybe a week. And what better time to try again than Lent?