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What to Give Up for Lent: 15 Meaningful Suggestions

Guideposts executive editor Rick Hamlin sees Lent as a time to remember that we have both physical and spiritual needs.
Woman with a pen thinking about what to give up for lent
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Every year when Lent rolls around I go ahead and launch into giving up something for 40 days. No, I won’t tell you what I’m going to try to give up because that would be bragging about being humble, which seems to go against the whole meaning of Lent. Suffice it to say, I’ll try.

Why Give Something Up for Lent?

The practice of giving something up for Lent originated in the Biblical story of Jesus going into the wilderness for 40 days and resisting temptation. This period of time was necessary for Jesus before He could begin his ministry.

I know people who use Lent to give up bad mental habits. One year my wife, Carol, declared that she’d give up worrying for 40 days. (Our friend said that would be like Fred Astaire giving up his tap shoes.) I’d be all for getting rid of fear and sloth and self-absorption for six and a half weeks. That would be some accomplishment. But then I’m always trying to tackle those demons.

I actually believe in giving up something material. It’s not about health, although I suppose there might be some health benefits to what I do. It’s about remembering that I am All Too Human and that I don’t really have to be a slave to the cookies at lunch or the chocolate bar in my desk drawer.

READ MORE: 5 Spiritual Benefits of Fasting

The Meaning of Giving Something Up for Lent

The reason we give something up for the 40 days of Lent is because it is a spiritual discipline. It’s a way of saying to God, “I know I’m a physical being with natural wants and desires but you’ve also made me a spiritual being with wants and desires that you are ready to satisfy.” When that urge for the thing I’ve given up for Lent comes—as it surely will—I remind myself of what’s most important in my life.

Woman writing down what she's giving up for lent in her journal
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How to Give Something Up for Lent

It can be tough to stick with your Lent fast. Giving something up for 40 days (not including Sundays) is no small task. You might find yourself slipping without even realizing it. You committed to not doomscrolling, but here you are reaching for your phone. You said you wouldn’t complain, but soon you find yourself venting about your day to your friend. Stumbling during the Lent season is normal, but there are steps we can take to stay committed to giving up what we said we would. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Add your Lent plans into your daily planner or calendar. Make it an active part of your day. Right before bed, cross out your Lent practice on your to-do list to mark a job well done.
  • When you feel the urge to do whatever you gave up, pray or meditate instead. Focusing on your body and breathing or reaching out to God for strength can help these moments go by faster.
  • Journal during Lent to keep track of how you are doing. Be honest. If you slip up, write it down and think about why you gave into old habits. If you are successful for a whole week, write about how this practice helped you or taught you something about yourself.
  • Do Lent as a family or reach out to others who are participating in Lent. Share what you are giving up (if you want) and figure out ways you can support each other through the 40 days.

15 Things to Give Up for Lent:

Woman complaining on the phone to give up for Lent
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1. Complaining

While venting about a problem you have is a great way to blow off some steam, we can sometimes fall into the habit of constantly complaining. We can start to only focus on the negative things that happen to us instead of recognizing the things in our life we can feel grateful for. Instead of focusing on the bad traffic during the morning commute or the spam calls that keep blowing up your phone, think about what great audio book you could start listening to in the morning, or friends you want to reach out to for a quick catch-up call. Try to commit to kicking the complaining habit this Lent season.

Man sitting at his desk late at night to give something up for lent
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2. Staying Up Late

After a long day of work or running errands, it can be tempting to stretch out your evenings to put off the next day’s tasks. This can lead many people to stay up later than they should, spending their time watching TV or scrolling on their phone instead of getting some much-needed rest. Try giving up staying up late this Lent. Start to wind down earlier in the evening by turning off your screens and making a cup of tea. Commit to a bedtime so you are getting that necessary 8 hours of sleep. It may take some time to get used to the new schedule, but 40 days might be just what you need to keep up this positive habit all year long.

woman looking in mirror to give up self criticism for lent
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3. Self-Criticism

Self-reflection is an important part of being a positive, well-rounded person. How can I be doing better for my family and friends? What internal biases do I have and how can I stop them? However, it’s important not to be too critical of ourselves, especially about aspects we have no control over.

This Lent give up the bad habit of being too self-critical. When you look in the mirror, instead of focusing on the parts of yourself that you don’t like, list everything you love about yourself. When you make a mistake in life, take the steps to apologize and take steps to forgive yourself.

Man at his desk trying to give up procrastination for lent
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4. Procrastination

Everyone falls into the habit of putting off tasks that need to be done. I’ll do the dishes after one more episode. I’ll start my exercise routine later today instead. Use this Lent to give up procrastination. Do a task as soon as you decide it needs to be done. Make a habit of getting up to tackle it without a second thought. If you have a few things that need to be done during the day, do them all back-to-back so you don’t lose that productivity momentum. You’ll be surprised how gratified you feel after doing away with procrastination this Lent and beyond.

Woman sitting on the couch giving up binge watching tv for Lent
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5. Binge-Watching

With easy access to Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max and more, it’s simpler than ever to fall into the habit of binge-watching. It’s how we unwind after a stressful day or how we prefer to spend a rainy weekend. However, like our parents always said, too much TV isn’t good for you. You spend too much time staring at a screen and not enough time being social or active. Think about giving up those TV marathons this Lent. Instead try limiting yourself to one episode a night or skip TV time altogether and do something else with your time instead—relax after work by going for a walk or spend your rainy weekend listening to music and doing a jigsaw puzzle.

Happy couple going on a hike to give up staying inside for lent
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6. Staying Indoors

Because more people than ever work from home, with no commutes to get them outside, it can be easy to fall into the habit of staying indoors all the time. Or you might walk straight from the car into the house, or you might be a stay-at-home parent with no errands to run that day. No matter your situation, try to give up staying indoors this Lent and commit to some outside time. Go for a walk after your workday, spend your Saturday at a local park, or plan a hiking daytrip with the whole family. Soak up some sunshine (and vitamin D) and breathe in the fresh air. Just don’t forget the sunscreen.

Woman with her eyes closed meditating to give up something for lent
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7. Skipping Prayer or Meditation

How many times have you been stressed about something and didn’t take the time to slow down and breathe? How many times have you been faced with a dilemma and just tried to figure it out on your own without asking for help? You might have pushed through the stress and felt burned out at the end of the day, or you tried to fix everything alone and ended up disappointed.

Use this Lent to stop skipping those steps that can help you in these situations: prayer or meditation. Commit to praying more this season by turning to God with your problems or simply checking in with Him throughout the day. Make meditation a regular practice by finding a quiet spot and using a guided meditation app.

READ MORE: 10 Inspiring Prayers for Lent and Fasting

Woman looking at her phone to give up doomscrolling for lent
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8. Doomscrolling

Doomscrolling is the act of scrolling on your phone and reading only troubling headlines and bad news. Because of how much we are used to scrolling on our phones for information, we can fall into a habit of doing this every day for several minutes or even hours. Doomscrolling can disrupt your sleep and even heighten your anxiety. Here are some ways to commit to giving up doomscrolling this Lent:

  • Set a timer on your apps. Most phones come with a function to limit the amount of time you can spend on an app. Set it for twenty minutes so your scrolling has a definitive end time.
  • Use your phone for positive things. Follow pages or accounts with inspiring stories or messages. Read about people helping people or stories of hope. Let these pages fill your feed so your scrolling makes you feel uplifted and hopeful about the world.
  • Don’t use your phone in bed. A prime time for doomscrolling is in bed at the end of the day before we click off the lights. Commit to not using your phone during this time. Instead read a book, listen to calming music, pray or meditate.
A group of friends holding up colorful cellphones to give up social media for lent
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9. Social Media

Social media apps like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok can be the places where the most doomscrolling happens. Take a social media break during Lent by deleting the apps from your phone for the full 40 days. There are plenty of other ways to check in with your loved ones. Instead of liking their post about a job promotion, send them a personalized text message telling them congratulations. Instead of scrolling through an old friend’s profile, give them a call to catch up. Instead of using social media to be social, plan an in-person get together with your friends.

Woman recycling at home to give up being wasteful for lent
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10. Being Wasteful

The Lenten season is a popular time for spring cleaning and downsizing the clutter in our homes. This means lots of trash headed to the garbage cans. Use this as a chance to give up being wasteful and focus on going green this Lent. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Take the time to recycle.
  • Take up composting to lessen your waste even more.
  • Instead of throwing unused clothes away, see if friends or family want them.
  • Put your unneeded furniture on a local Facebook page and you might find a neighbor who could use it.
  • Plan your meals ahead during the week so you don’t have a bunch of spoiled leftovers in the fridge that will inevitably end up in a landfill.
woman staring at chocolate cake trying to give up sweets for lent
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11. Sweets

For many people, Lent is a time to give up a kind of food. Whether you are interested in the spiritual benefits of fasting or simply looking to cut out an unhealthy habit, resisting the temptation to eat a favorite food shows true sacrifice and discipline. For example, you can give up sweets for Lent, whether that’s chocolate, sugary drinks, ice cream, or dessert. While the human body does need sugar to function, too much sugar can be unhealthy and even lead to a sugar addiction.

Guideposts contributor Jeanette Levellie wrestled with a sugar addiction and found comfort through prayer and distractions. “Whenever I felt powerless or overwhelmed by my urges,” she said, “I learned to shift my focus. I’d walk around the neighborhood and revel in the wonders of nature, work a jigsaw puzzle with [my husband,] Kevin, or get lost in a novel.” Let Lent be the time to commit to cutting back and you might even find yourself continuing even after the 40 days are up.

Two men looking at a home to give up gossiping for lent
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12. Gossiping

Diplomat and former-First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.” Talking about other people behind their back may be a tempting practice, particularly if it’s someone you don’t get along with. However, doing so can leave us feeling more bitter than before. Use this Lent as a time to give up on gossiping. If you find yourself wanting to talk about others in a negative way, stop yourself and think of something nice or constructive to say instead. Try including friends in this Lent practice so you all can hold each other accountable for making the group a gossip free space.

Woman sitting isolated by the window thinking of what to give up for lent
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13. Isolating

How many times has a friend asked how you are doing, and you responded “fine” even if you weren’t? When we are going through difficult times, we may feel the urge to avoid others and never ask for help. What I’m going through is not a big deal. I can handle it myself. I don’t want to bother others with it. Yet asking for help is a vital step in bringing ourselves to a better place, no matter what we are going through.

This Lent, stop the bad habit of isolating yourself and commit to being more open with your loved ones. You can also use Lent as a time to help your loved ones who are feeling isolated. Reach out to a friend when they are going through a rough time. If they respond they are “fine” give them the space to share more with you so they can ask for help if they need it.

woman sitting in a cafe with her friend talking about giving up sarcasm for lent
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14. Sarcasm

After Laura Boggs’ daughter told her that Laura’s sarcastic comments were getting hurtful, she took it as a chance to give sarcasm up completely for Lent. It was harder than she thought. Would it be hard for you as well? If you are the type to throw a sarcastic joke into a conversation, try giving it up this Lent. Instead of automatically making fun, take a minute to think about the thing you are cracking a joke about. Could making this joke hurt others? Is it worth putting a negative comment out there? And why do you turn to sarcasm so quickly?

For Laura, giving up sarcasm for Lent helped her see the ways that her demeaning comments were really her way of putting herself down. “Humor isn’t a bad thing,” she said. “In fact, it’s a great thing. But not when you hide behind it, afraid to really reveal yourself, flaws and all.”

Man outside eating a salad to give up unhealthy things for lent
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15. Ignoring Your Body

How many times have you walked away from your work desk with tense shoulders and an aching back? Have you gone for a glass of water and gulped it down, not realizing how dehydrated you are? Are you so busy during the day that you accidentally skip a meal? All of these are moments in our day to day when we don’t listen to our body and what it needs.

Use this Lent as a time to give up ignoring your body. Pay attention to it throughout the day and give it what it needs to be healthy and comfortable. If your muscles start to hurt during the day, try a simple stretching exercise to loosen them up. Keep a bottle of water with you so you can always hydrate when your body needs it. Set a timer so you don’t skip meals and be sure to pick healthy foods that your body will thank you for.

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