How To Use Fasting To Help You Focus On What Matters

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If you are like me, it is very easy to get caught up in the busyness of your day. Fires start on the work or homefront so you put on your fire hat, grab your hose, and get to work.

It is easy to get distracted from that which matters most.

Fasting is a tool that can help you stay focused.

One might ask, “Really, starving yourself will help you stay focused and motivated?”

Yep!

As I wrote about in Waiting On Things To Get Better? Me Too…,I became inspired to dig into the idea of advent and the Christian tradition of Advent. I was surprised to learn that historically the Eastern Christian and Catholic traditions practiced fasting during Advent.

Why fast?

I’ll use Advent fasting as the framework given the season, but these principles scale beyond Advent as I will unwrap later in the post. So, if you aren’t interested in Advent know that the article will move beyond that example.

Advent

The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God of hope, I look to you with an open heart and yearning spirit. During this Advent season, I will keep alert and awake, listening for your word and keeping to your precepts. My hope is in you.

Matthew Kelly

Fasting connects the body to the mind and the spirit if we let it.

As Bonhoeffer notes, to experience the hope and joy of our coming Jesus during the time of Advent we must be in the correct mindset. We must live in the fact that we are troubled and imperfect…that we need something greater to come.

As Kelly notes, we must yearn, focus, and hope in the Lord.

Anyone who has ever fasted knows that you can feel it in your gut…literally. You feel the need, a yearning, for food that you hope will come. If we focus on that feeling and use it to channel our thoughts we can recall our need, our yearning, for a coming Jesus. Advent fasting helps us focus our mind and spirit on the coming of Jesus and the hope we have in that coming. It helps us prepare to properly celebrate the miracle of God’s coming to earth as Jesus at Christmas.

Seriously, shake yourself of your jadedness and complacency for a moment. If you are a Christian you believe God came to us in human form as Jesus. Think on that…

I know it is hard to bring one’s mind to this realization during our day…that of course is where fasting helps us. When you get that hunger pang that might otherwise send your mind to food let it take you to your need for Jesus and your hope in His coming.

Beyond Advent

The Christian tradition has long practiced fasting as a means for linking the body to the mind and spirit…but other major religions practice fasting as well (Abrahamic Religions; Buddhism and Hinduism).

Fasting is a temporary renunciation of something that is in itself good, like food, in order to intensify our expression of need for something greater — namely, God and his work in our lives.

John Piper

We need not be limited to food. A helpful and increasingly common practice is a social media fast…for example.

The key is that we use the fast to recall the things on which we want to focus our attention. For Christians that is usually some element of the Christian belief system. That said, it could also be something outside of a faith tradition entirely. For example, you might decide to fast so you can recall your desire to write. When that hunger pang hits you will be reminded of your need to write to meet your goals. Or it might be a reminder to focus on your love for your family in order to deepen your ability to express that love.

You get to choose what thought or thoughts you link to the physical reminder.

Where you focus your attention, you will focus your effort.

Where do you need to focus your attention and effort?

Minimalist Manager Practical Steps

  1. Decide what needs your focus so you can live and work purposefully.
  2. Decide the rules of your fast.
    1. Duration (total length in terms of days and possibly hours within the day)
    2. From what you are fasting?
    3. When will you allow yourself to cheat?
  3. Decide how you will reflect and learn, and then act on what you learn. 
    1. Will you journal?
    2. Will you fast as a group?
    3. Will you fast with a guide?

Important Caveats

Don’t do it to draw attention to yourself.

When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Matthew 6 16-18

Do it safely.

As you probably have noticed I have not specified some plan or formula. There are tons of examples…just make sure your body and mind are getting what it needs to stay healthy or fasting will go from helpful to harmful.

Don’t let it BE your religion.

In my faith tradition fasting earns you nothing in and of itself. It points us toward Jesus. It does not save us. It focuses us, it trains us, it refines us, it reminds us…Jesus does the saving. Don’t let the practice become the end, it is a means.

Don’t be legalistic.

It is not the end of the world if you need/choose to cheat. For example, in the past I have given up alcohol for Lent. But when in a work situation where I would normally have a cocktail and it would draw unhelpful attention to decline a cocktail I accepted the cocktail. That didn’t ruin the fast!

Fasting can be a very helpful tool for helping you focus. Give it a try!

On what do you need to focus?

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