If you've heard a lot about Lent this week, it's because the occasion--during which Christians of many denominations and other observers traditionally fast or forsake luxuries--starts Wednesday.
Inc. recently spoke to three entrepreneurs about their Lent practices. Along with their fasts, these entrepreneurs plan to use the six-week period to form better habits around faith, health, friends, and family.
"I just eat way too much chocolate," says Theresa Ceniccola, 46, founder of the 3,800-member International Christian Mompreneur Network and owner of a marketing consulting business in Virginia Beach, Va. "It will be a sacrifice to not eat chocolate every day. I want to replace it with something positive."
Last year, when she gave up wine, her concomitant goal was to complete 40 minutes of prayer on each day of the 40-day Lent period. "But I got to day 18 or 19 and let it fizzle," she says.
This year, she again intends to accompany her fast with a daily prayer practice. She believes she'll keep her daily 40-minute commitment this time, by dividing it into four 10-minute segments.
She knows that two of those segments--"in the morning after my workout, and at night before bed"--should be easy.
"It's the stopping at lunch and sneaking it in somewhere else that are the hard part," she says. "I'd rather flip through my emails or check on Facebook."
The prayer piece helps her frame her motivation the right way. "Lent should be about reflection, prayer, getting closer to God, and spiritual growth," says Ceniccola, a mother of three.
With the prayer piece, all this is possible; without it, Ceniccola admits, her motivation can become too self-centered, focused on questions like "how much weight am I going to lose?" or "how much money am I going to save?" by giving up wine or chocolate.
Ceniccola intends to keep a journal of her 40 days. She's convinced that journaling is essential to maintaining her prayer practice. "Looking back, I can see how when I started last year, I did quite a bit of writing," she says.
One of her favorite teachings in Proverbs is 3:5: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding."
In a Lent context, the passage provides her with a helpful reminder that not everything in life is within her control or understanding. "I tell myself daily, turn it over to Him," she says. "It's really hard for me to do because I like controlling things," she adds.
Taking it one step further, Ceniccola notes that she chose to be an entrepreneur precisely because it allowed her to be the boss, and to be in control. It's all the more reason she appreciates the tests on self-control that Lent's practices can provide.
Your body is your temple.
For Brian F. Califano, 44, CEO of New York City-based AcceleratingCFO, becoming an entrepreneur also provided the chance for him to be his own boss after 20 years of working as a senior finance executive for large companies including McGraw Hill, Viacom, Computer Associates, and the National Hockey League.
When he co-founded AcceleratingCFO with Scott Margolin in January 2014, he knew his life would change drastically.
"I went from being comfortable and making a good salary to complete disruption," he says. "It's been an enjoyable time, but also stressful."
For example, in building a clientele for AccleratingCFO, which provides outsourced CFO services for emerging companies and expects $300,000 to $500,000 in 2015 revenues, Califano has spent his fair share of time networking and eating out with customers and prospects.
These circumstances have challenged his dietary disciplines, to the point where Califano recognized he needed to cut back on carbs and lose weight. His particular food vice over the past year-plus has been pretzel nuggets.
"At times when you're on heavy deadlines and tight timelines to get things out, it's just so easy to reach for that comfort," he says.
Working in Manhattan, he has also succumbed to the ever-present street-corner temptation of warm pretzels, especially when awaiting the train home to Long Island after a workday in the city.
So this year, he is giving up bread for Lent. He tried giving it up last year, too, and says it worked "to varying degrees." He believes he'll have more success with it this time, just because--with AccleratingCFO now up and running--he'll have more time and energy to devote to it.
Likewise, sometimes it takes an initial failure before a new habit can stick. You learn from what derailed you the first time and adjust. In the same way Ceniccola now knows that the habit of daily prayer requires journaling and flexibility, he now knows that avoiding carbs means avoiding workplace stress, too.
"It's a trite expression that your body is your temple and you should treat it as such, but it's true," he says. "Watching what I eat will go a long way to getting me to a better place, spiritually. You feel better and have more energy not only for work, but for family and friends."
An information diet.
Another entrepreneur who believes his Lent practices have put him in a better spiritual place is Andrew Weyrich, CEO of Weyrich Enterprises. One of the many businesses Weyrich has founded is the "Sinner2Saint" app, which people can use during Lent (and which Weyrich, 38, calls "the first personal trainer for the soul.")
Last year, Weyrich attempted giving up several forms of electronic contact: Google chat, texting, Facebook, and email. He does not hide how challenging it was.
"I will admit that later on in the 40 days of Lent, I broke the texting part of it," he says. "It was too difficult. People thought I had disappeared."
Another reason it was difficult was because it was so extreme, especially for a techie like Weyrich, who is "on the computer all the time."
Like Ceniccola and Califano, Weyrich sees a strong connection between his Lent habits and improvements in his spiritual life. "Being connected all the time gets my eyes off God," he says. "The more silence I can get to, the more I can hear God and pray."
This year, Weyrich plans to give up meat and to work on "some challenge areas in my personality." He knows he's upset friends or family with some of his behaviors, and hopes to use Lent as an occasion to improve those behaviors.
For example, he wants to decrease how often he gossips. He also wants to be less blunt and brusque in the way he talks or corresponds with others. "Sometimes the way I communicate can be too direct," he says. "I want to become more humble and more gentle in my approach. God and others have shown me I need to work on that."
The overall idea is to be more loving and charitable and gentle in both his thoughts and his words. His priest has given him advice about how to do it--advice that anyone could learn from.
For instance, if you are tempted to gossip, do your best to gossip positively about someone. If for some reason you find yourself inclined to spread negative gossip, try to omit names and places. Try to say what you need to say without defaming another individual. "Of course, the best thing is not gossiping at all," says Weyrich.
The Lent experiences of all three entrepreneurs share a common trait: The knowledge that changing your habits is not easy. You might fail the first time you try. You might see that partial changes, rather than extreme resolutions, are the best place to start.
Still, Lent is the season for trying--and for recognizing that the path to self-improvement is lifelong, season after season and year after year.